Updated: Jan 31, 2022
All dog owners know that providing enough exercise is vital to keeping their dogs happy and healthy, and the sedentary dog that does not get enough opportunities to stretch his legs will soon become bored, unhappy and potentially destructive. However, it is equally important to challenge your dog’s mind as well, and to keep them mentally occupied in order to stimulate their intelligence and keep them thinking and sufficiently entertained. This is particularly true of the most intelligent dog breeds such as the Poodle and the Border Collie, which often suffer due to a lack of enough mental stimulation, and relish intellectual challenges and new stimulus!
As well as going a long way towards keeping your dog happy and on an even keel, making provision for your dog’s mental development and giving them the chance to exercise their brain cells can actually help to keep them more alert and active into old age. Challenging your dog’s brain can prolong the mental acuity of your dog and slow their natural decline into age-related memory loss, and generally slow down the mental effects that aging has upon your dog.
Read on to learn about seven ways to keep your dog thinking, and provide a challenge to their mental skills.
Give your dog every opportunity to face new stimulus Many dog owners fall into the mindset of thinking that their dog’s planned walks and periods of play are the only appropriate times for their dogs to go out, ie, when the centre of attention and the point of the exercise is to provide something specifically for the dog. But there is a lot of merit to involving your dog in other aspects of your day to day life as well when possible, and allowing your dog every opportunity to be able to get out there and take in the world around them and face additional stimulus. If you need to pop to a friend’s house, run an errand in the car or walk to the letter box, consider taking your dog along for the trip. Not only will they welcome spending a little extra time with you, but they will also get the chance to see some new sights and take in some new smells, which will give them something to think about! Dog-friendly activities with other people, such as geocaching, orienteering or hiking are all great for your dog as well!
Make new friends for your dog Dogs engaged in play with other dogs are learning, thinking and gathering feedback on their actions all the time, and one of the most stimulating and engaging activities for dogs is being involved in play with other dogs. Socialise your dog well, and give your dog plenty of opportunities for playing and socialising with other dogs within a safe environment, and all of the dogs involved will benefit mentally as well as physically.
Rotate their toys and games regularly Your dog may have a whole toy box full of toys, games and other things to entertain himself with, but he is likely to only be interested in playing with a select few of them at any particular time. While most dogs have a favourite toy or two, they are also generally keen to receive new ones, and relish the novelty value of something new to play with. While your dog may appear to be bored with the contents of his toy box, if you remove all but a few toys and change them out every couple of weeks with other alternatives, you will be able to give your dog an ongoing source of new stimulus and entertainment, and give him some opportunities to make his own games.
Work with your dog’s natural skills If your dog has a particular propensity for something such as swimming, fetch or hunting, try to work with your dog to provide outlets for their natural talent. Enabling the types of activities that your dog would undertake naturally can go a long way towards making for a happy, well balanced dog that is having all of his needs met. You can keep this informal simply by playing with your dog on your own, or consider getting involved in canine sports or hobbies such as agility or flyball.
Keep on training It is important to keep refreshing your dog’s training skills over the course of his life, and continue to work on and fine tune his obedience and abilities. Consider also, teaching your dog some new tricks (regardless of their age)! and upping the game in terms of what your dog understands and can achieve. You may be surprised at exactly what your dog proves himself to be capable of with a little encouragement!
Teach your dog problem-solving games You can really get your dog thinking and solving puzzles by making it worth their while to do so, and once they realise a reward is in the offing, the thinking dog will often become quite tenacious! Puzzle games come in many guises, from a physical puzzle toy that decants a treat for successful completion, to the types of games that you can arrange and manage yourself. Playing hide and seek with your dog, either with yourself or a favourite toy, or getting your dog to sniff out a hidden treat from a variety of vessels are all quick, easy and fun!
Make exercise mental as well as physical Use the opportunity given to you by your dog’s normal playtime to up your game, and get them using their brains as well as their legs! Games of fetch and retrieve, hide and seek, and extending the boundaries of their normal training commands such as stay and come will all get your dog’s mind working to anticipate what is coming next. You can also use the wider range available to you in outside play to hide toys or treats (if you can be reasonably sure that another dog will not find them first)! and turn your walks into a treasure hunt!