Dogs. A human’s best friend. Sometimes they are the joy of our lives, and sometimes the bane of our existence. We love having healthy and active dogs, but sometimes they wear us out with their activity and energy. You know that your dog needs to have physical exercise to stimulate him and keep him healthy. Did you know that your puppy can be mentally stimulated in order to wear him out and calm him down?
Bored puppies tend to get into trouble and mischief, finding ways to entertain themselves that are likely not your preference. Dogs who dig in the yard or chew on shoes may simply be searching for something interesting to do. Provide dogs with access to mental stimulation to keep them interested in “appropriate” activities and stay out of trouble.
Practice these four tips to mentally stimulate your dog and keep him in good health:
- There’s more to teaching your puppy tricks than simply entertaining your friends. When dogs practice and perform tricks, they are exercising their minds to stay sharp. Many dogs know how to “roll over”, “play dead”, or “shake”. If your dog has mastered these, now is the time to try the literally hundreds of other tricks you can teach your dog.
Try teaching your dog tricks that require multiple steps to complete. More complicated tasks may take more time to complete, but will keep your dog mentally stimulated for a longer time. If you are not sure which tricks to attempt, do a simple online search. You’ll find dozens of options including how to give a high-5, jump through a hoop, spin, fetch, open and close a door, or even put his own toys away.
Work on tricks with your puppy at a time of day when he is not already exhausted. For instance, after a long walk is a bad time to practice tricks. But in the morning after breakfast might be a good time.
- Take just one step into a pet store and you will easily see that toys are great for stimulating puppies. Many mental stimulation toys require your dog to get food out of something. For instance, the “Kong” toy allows you to put peanut butter, soaked dog kibble, or some other treat inside. (Kong toys come in different sizes and strengths targeted at your dog’s particular needs and abilities by age and breed.) Your puppy will ideally spend a great amount of time trying to get the food out of the narrow end. Once he has mastered that, consider freezing your filled toy overnight before giving it to him. This will require him to work at it even harder and stimulate him mentally. And because this is not very interactive, you can use this toy as a way to mentally stimulate your dog while you are engaged in a separate activity.
- Some dog breeds enjoy games and activities more than others do. If your dog breed is smart and active, you need to supply him with mentally stimulating games. One of the simplest games to play with your puppy is hide-and-seek. Using dog treats, of course. Simply command your puppy to sit and stay while you place some treats in plain sight. Release your dog while telling him to go and find the treats. If you need to at first, lead him to some of the treats until he finds them all. Once he has an understanding of the game, begin to hide the treats to make the game more challenging. Puppies are great at using their noses to sniff things out. This game allows him to be physically as well as mentally active.
- Training your puppy to obey works as a fun, mentally stimulating activity. Practice a very strict heel that requires your puppy to stay directly beside you while walking. If you walk more slowly, your dog must slow down too, meaning he has to concentrate very hard. Add in turns and twists to keep him on his toes—literally!
A long “stay” or a “down stay” requires the dog to stay still while you are moving around. Try sitting, squatting, standing, jumping, or even moving in and out of the room as he is required to “stay”. While this may seem cruel, it helps to mentally stimulate him as he must pay careful attention. Not only that, but this works as a good reminder that you are the “alpha” in any situation. The more your dog become accustomed to this activity, the longer you can extend the time you expect him to stay.
Physical exercise clearly works as an important part of keeping your dog active and healthy. And, of course, you must always be kind to your dog and allow him to have plenty of time for fun and freedom. But including mental exercise and stimulation in his life actively works to aid your dog in becoming well-trained, focused, calm, better behaved in various situations. Ultimately, mental stimulation allows your dog to be happier. And that’s what every dog owner wants!