You know that feeling you get when you just can't seem to turn your brain off? For a lot of people, it can lead to a sense of restlessness or boredom, which can often pave the way for less-than-productive habits or behaviors. Dogs can experience this restlessness too, not only from lack of physical exercise but due to being underwhelmed mentally as well.
If you're wondering how you can keep your dog healthy and happy, considering his mental stimulation and adding activities to keep his brain busy can help you achieve that goal.
The importance of mental stimulation
Even if a dog has had her physical needs met through regular exercise, a lack of mental stimulation can yield destructive behavior. This isn't done with a premeditated vengeance to ruin your nice things, but as an attempt to keep a bored mind occupied, even if only for a few minutes. Like a person's brain, a dog's brain never stops working, and failure to give this organ the attention it needs can result in barking or whining, scratching, chewing and even using the bathroom indoors. This can be especially true for dogs who are born and bred to utilize their mental capabilities to achieve a certain goal, like working dogs, hunting dogs, and even canines who act as guardians.
Fortunately, mental stimulation can be done in a number of ways, both in person and over distance with the help of a little creativity and tools, like dog toys.
How to keep your canine stimulated
When considering what activities could keep your dog mentally stimulated, it might help to think about what keeps a person's brain busy (in a good way). Often, projects that are goal-oriented or have a marked starting and stopping point can lead to a sense of accomplishment and may motivate us to continue playing. This same logic can apply to our dogs as well. A great way to keep a dog mentally engaged is training — not only will this lend a higher sense of self-esteem for your dog, but it also requires that he use his brain to learn new tricks and skills, and helps develop a closer bond and sense of trust between dog and guardian.
Combining physical and mental stimulation can be a great way to keep certain types of dogs busy as well. Agility courses will require that a dog recognize his surroundings and follow your lead to complete a course. Taking scent walks is another way to combine the best of both worlds, and simply involves allowing your dog to indulge in smelling his surroundings rather than tug or lead him away. This can be especially helpful to scent hounds, though it will benefit any dog as their sense of smell is how canines obtain nearly all of their information, which helps them navigate the world around them and their place within it.
Finally, a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated is to simply reserve playtime for you and him. Playing games like hide and seek will encourage a dog to use all of his senses to find you, and requires a certain amount of focus on the target at hand — you. If your dog is a fetcher, fetch either on land or water is another great game to keep them focused while offering the added benefit of physical exhaustion.
Keeping pets stimulated while you're away
Keeping pets mentally stimulated may be easier done in person, especially if dog owners have the time and willingness to interact with their dogs. But what can you do to keep your pet busy while you're not home? Interactive games, like puzzle toys, are a great way to give your dog something to do in those moments when she's alone, and the guaranteed reward for solving something correctly often engages dogs enough to keep them busy for long stretches of time. Another great item for food-motivated dogs is a Kong toy, which can be stuffed with treats and items like peanut butter, then frozen to allow for patient licking to reach the reward.
You can keep your dog's brain busy by utilizing their nose while you're away as well with items like a snuffle mat. Snuggle mats are essentially shaggy fleece rugs that dry food can be hidden inside of, which requires that a dog sniff around and investigate the mat in order to reach the food. Toys like snuffle mats and puzzle feeders are also great options for dogs you tend to eat too quickly as it forces them to work for their food, which takes time and focus to accomplish.