Mental Stimulation for Your Dog

Photo: Alvin Trusty

Suspect your pooch may be a canine Einstein? If so, you need to exercise your pup mentally as much as physically. Mental stimulation is great for dogs and brainy challenges encourage fulfillment, reinforce obedience, and are key to ensuring a happy dog. We've compiled below some of our favorited tried and true ways to keep our own dogs mentally agile—check them out and try these exercises on your own pooch!

Same Dog, New Tricks
So your dog can sit, stay, shake, and roll over like a pro, but don't stop there! Teaching your dog new tricks is a great combination of several mentally stimulating activities: it maximizes the bonding and interaction time between you and your dog, reinforces obedience, and has your pup spinning his wheels to grasp a new task. Try to see if you can teach your dog to master all of the basics, and if he's already aced all of these, move on to the less essential, more fun commands like 'High Five' or 'Play Dead'. While these aren't crucial to his safety, your pup will definitely get a brainy exercise and have lots of fun learning these new tricks.

Hide N' Sniff
We love the canine version of Hide N' Seek because it stimulates a dog's sense of smell so much. To play this game, you need a pretty smelly treat like dried liver or small pieces of jerky (we recommend dried treats so you don't leave gunk all over your house). Start simple by showing your dog the treat, then placing it underneath a cup and having her figure out how to tip over the cup to get the treat. Once she's figured this out, get two cups and hide a treat under only one cup, having her figure out in which up the treat is hidden. Continue to add cups until you're playing with up to five cups, and then you can graduate to a small obstacle course (e.g., hide the cup holding the treat behind a stack of books). 

Work It
Unlike humans, dogs love to work (yet another reason why dogs should be running this place). Take your dog with you on errands such as shopping at dog-friendly stores, visiting friends, or returning books or movies. Make sure your errands involve lots of walking and give your dog commands frequently during the journey. This means making your dog sit and stay at every stoplight, making him heel indoors, and if he gets lucky enough to be offered a treat, make him do the whole routine—sit, shake, and lay down. Not only will the various surroundings be stimulating to his senses, the frequent commands will make the entire errand like a long, sustained mental obstacle course for him.

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Published on by Beatrix Chan.

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