Taking care of a dog is more involved than providing food, water and shelter. To truly thrive, a dog’s mind needs to be mentally stimulated on a daily basis. The stimulation will keep him from getting bored and misbehaving, and it will also keep him healthier. All of a dog’s senses help to stimulate his mind, and each sense needs to be exercised daily.
A dog’s strongest asset is his nose. He is sensitive to smells and explores his environment by discovering new odors. He should be introduced to new odors several times a week. The easiest way to introduce him to new smells is to take a few extra minutes during your daily walk. Let him sniff around and discover what was in the area before him. If your dog likes car rides, take him on errands or a drive in the country with the windows down. His mind will love deciphering all of the brand new smells. Another way to stimulate a dog’s mind via smell is by hiding treats. Rub the scent of his favorite treat in various areas of the house or yard and send him on a scavenger hunt for the prize.
Just like his nose, a dog’s ears are more sensitive to sound than a human’s are. One seemingly silly but very simple way to enrich your dog’s mind via his ears is to make noises at him. He will spend time trying to figure out what the noise is and you’ll get a few laughs due to the funny faces he’ll likely make. Be sure that the noises aren’t too high pitched, as that can hurt his ears. Music is also good for dogs. Upbeat music will stimulate brain activity, while classical or new age music will calm him down and relax him. Playing music for your dog if he is alone during the day is a great way to keep him calm while working his brain at a more relaxed pace. Turn it off at night, as dogs need quiet time to sleep.
Of course, visual stimulation is one of the most common ways to stimulate your dog’s mind. A mobile or moving toy will keep his mind stimulated. A laser pointer is often thought of as a cat toy, but dogs are just as interested in them. Use it to move in slow motions, stopping and starting to keep his interest. Fast movement will wear him out physically and lose his attention more quickly than slow movement, which keeps him energized and thinking. Another good way to stimulate your dog via sight is to take him to the dog park. If your dog is comfortable with other dogs, the mental stimulation of seeing and interacting with others is great for his mind.
Stimulating your dog through petting, cuddling and brushing is beneficial to you both. Your dog will feel loved and gain trust in you, and you'll release endorphins that will make you happier as well. When petting and brushing your dog, pay attention to his cues. Not all dogs like the same kind of physical stimulation. Some dogs will feel uncomfortable having their belly rubbed but others will beg for it. Many don’t like their paws touched. If your dog starts to seem uncomfortable with the way you are petting him, move to a different spot.
Just like every other sense, exercising your dog’s taste buds will help to stimulate him mentally. Your dog should be given new treats and tastes several times a week. For added mental stimulation, feed his treats to him in a toy or even an empty water bottle. He will need to figure out how to get to the yummy goodness inside, which will have him working his mind and learning problem-solving skills.
By Leeann Teagno
About the Author
Leeann Teagno has been writing professionally since 2006. An English major, she continues to study information systems management at American Public University. Teagno is an organic gardener, cook and technology buff with past employment in mobile communications. She also volunteers at an animal shelter and operates a home bakery.