Health & Wellbeing
15 Fun & Easy Ways to Mentally Stimulate Your Dog
Say bye to boredom, and hello to one happy pupper!
Katy and Shell are two style-savvy dog mums celebrating the best in pet-friendly living. A professional pet photographer and dog lifestyle writer, together they share dog-friendly inspiration, pet product reviews, dog treat recipes, expert pet advice and on-trend dog brands with discerning pet parents around the world.
Need a few ideas to mentally stimulate your dog when they’re bored?
Whenever boredom kicks in for Ziggy and Sunny, we definitely need a few go-to enrichment activities handy.
(We must admit, the boys loovvve to sleep the day away…until around 3pm that is. This time of day is known in our house as WITCHING HOUR. And it’s a whole two hours before we finish work and go on our daily walk!)
So, how can you keep your pooch entertained and content?
Well, that’s where this list of fun and simple mental exercises for dogs comes in!
From enrichment toys to new tricks and sniffs, here are 15 of the best ways to give your dog mental stimulation when they need it.
Why it’s important to mentally stimulate your dog
It may come as a surprise to know that mental stimulation for dogs is just as important to their overall health and happiness as physical exercise.
Why? Because dogs are intelligent animals. They need tasks to complete, jobs to do, and activities to keep their brains occupied.
While dogs who don’t get their daily walks can develop weight and mobility issues, dogs without enough stimulation are prone to destructive behaviours, and even depression.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can provide mental enrichment for your pup.
Let’s check them out!
1. Puzzle feeders
You can buy many different types of puzzle feeders from most pet stores. There are bowls with hidden compartments, and toys that trap dog treats inside. You can also make your own puzzle feeder using existing toys, tied-up old towels, or even ice cubes.
Good dog puzzles with treats inside should keep your dog engaged for 30-45 minutes.
2. Puppy play dates
Try as you might to prevent your pup from being bored, no one is better at entertaining your dog than other dogs!
As pack animals, socialization is a necessary part of canine life. That’s why trips to the park or doggie play dates are one of the best ways to provide mental stimulation for dogs.
If your pup is anxious around other dogs, you may wish to consider giving them a CBD treat beforehand. Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest this can relax dogs, but always consult with your veterinarian before administering any new supplement.
3. New walking routes
You probably walk your dog at least every day, and that daily routine can become…well, a little boring.
It’s not just you that might find your stroll around the block samey. Dogs can also become accustomed to routes, sights, and smells – so mixing up the daily walk is a good way to introduce more mental stimulation into their lives.
Try to pick routes that vary in terms of environment, walking surface, and most importantly: lots of different smells!
4. Hide & seek
Many childhood games are simple and intuitive enough for dogs to join in. A popular choice is hide and seek!
Either you can play a traditional game of hide and go-seek, where you tell your dog to wait, then hide around the house or the garden.
Or, tell your dog to sit and stay, while you go and hide treats around the house. Not only is this a fun way to mentally stimulate your dog, it’s an effective distraction technique too (we often play hide and seek with Ziggy and Sunny when we’re expecting a delivery or a knock at the door, to prevent the inevitable doggie chorus!)
5. Training classes
Dogs bred for specific jobs like herding and retrieving are natural workers, and often crave things to do.
One way to satisfy that need for tasks, is to enrol them in dog training. Professional dog trainers know how to capture a dog’s attention and keep them engaged, while also giving dog’s new mental exercises, tasks and challenges.
6. Regular new toys
New pet parents can often be surprised at how many dog toys, bones, and chews a pup will go through each year!
The truth is that dogs, just like children, need a consistent supply of new and interesting objects in their daily lives.
When buying dog toys, try to introduce a new interactive dog toy or dog treat puzzle each month.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to purchase a new toy every month! Simply rotating the enrichment toys your dog has access to is an effective way to keep your dog mentally stimulated, without blowing the budget.
7. Stimulating scents
Dogs experience the world primarily through their noses, so it makes sense to focus on scent when trying to capture their interest.
The best way to keep dogs mentally stimulated with smells? Regularly introduce them to new ones! This will encourage them to investigate the smell, and add it to their vast mental library of identified odours.
One way to find new smells is by taking trips out of the house, or introducing new aromas into your home with pet-safe aromatherapy oils. These fun scent games for dogs are a great idea too!
8. Change up the routine
A good routine keeps your house (and your dog) organised and efficient. And as naturally habitual creatures, a stable routine is a key part of any dog’s wellbeing.
However, an overly rigid routine can begin to wear on dogs and humans alike. Finding that balance between stability and surprise is an important factor when it comes to providing enough mental stimulation for dogs.
So, try switching up your daily activities. Try walking your dog along a different route, changing the time of their regular walk, or introduce new toys into their playtime (see tip #6!)
9. Spend quality time together
Did you know you occupy a big percentage of your dog’s thoughts?
Cute, right? But it also means you have the biggest effect on their mental health.
Spending quality time bonding with your dog by playing, cuddling, or just hanging out with them, tells them that their feelings are reciprocated, and helps to keep your dog mentally stimulated.
10. Get in the car!
Unless your dog gets anxiety during car rides, one way to add excitement to your dog’s day-to-day life is to go for a drive.
Driving to a whole new location is great, but even a short trip with a few interesting views from the window can be enough mental stimulation for them.
Just be sure to use a harness or car seatbelt for dogs to keep your pup safe and secure.
11. Let your dog explore on walks
Allowing your dog to take in the sights, smells, and sounds of their environment on walks provides great stimulation for them. So try to be patient and allow enough time.
If you come across something that piques your pup’s interest, such as an object or animal, let them investigate at their own pace (as long as it’s safe to of course!).
12. Agility training
Agility training has many benefits on a dog’s physical health and mental wellbeing.
It’s an exciting way to challenge your pup mentally, as they will need to problem-solve their way through an obstacle course. You can also mix up the obstacles so that your pup has something new to focus on every time.
For fun ideas you can find around the house or at the dollar store, check out this great agility training YouTube video by professional dog trainer Kikopup.
13. Teach an old dog a new trick
Teaching new tricks is a fun way to mentally stimulate your dog, while also reinforcing obedience training. Who said you can’t multitask, right?
Try teaching your dog something new, like “roll over” or “speak”, and then reward them with treats when they do so correctly.
Playing fetch is a great way to engage your pup both mentally and physically.
It’s one of the easiest mental exercises for dogs, plus it’s a great way to bond with them while making sure they get some exercise at the same time!
15. Pet-friendly holidays
We all love a holiday – that includes your dog too!
Taking your dog on holiday keeps their senses stimulated and engaged, not to mention the fun you have as a family exploring new places together.
Recap: Providing mental stimulation for dogs
From puzzle feeders and play dates to new environments and quality time together, these 15 activities and tips should help keep your pup’s mind active and engaged.
Make these activities a regular part of you and your pup’s routine – and enjoy the strengthened bond that will form as a result of your extra effort!
As you’re interested in dog enrichment, you might also enjoy these topics:
Before you go…!
As you’re interested in dog enrichment, you might also enjoy these topics:
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Pretty Fluffy is the ultimate lifestyle destination for dog lovers.
Thank you for being part of our dog-loving community!