Proper exercise for dogs is important to their overall physical and mental well-being. But often, mental exercise is given short shrift when looking at fulfilling a dog’s needs.
Dogs that are bored or anxious can develop mild-to-severe behavioral problems. Providing your dog with brain exercise is easy to do.
Here are six ideas to try:
1. Train your dog to learn a new behavior
This video demonstrates how to work simultaneously on the “down-stay” exercise for your dog while getting your own workout.
You’ll need treats for your dog — consider using your dog’s daily allotment of kibble as rewards to help with weight control.
Here are 52 tricks you can teach your dog.
2. Enroll your dog in a continuing education class
People can take continuing education classes… why not dogs? After your dog “graduates” from obedience training, consider enrolling her in a “dog sports” course, such as agility training or scent work.
Or try a “brain games” class, where your dog can learn to ride a skateboard, discriminate colors, and more.
To find out what classes are available in your area, visit the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
3. Play nose work games
A dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times stronger than a human’s. Allowing her to “see” the world through olfactory senses stretches her mind and keeps her entertained.
You can teach your dog the “find it” or “seek” command with a nose work or scent game. As an enticement, select some smelly treats to have your dog find. The treat might be as simple as her regular kibble. Or it might be her favorite toy, or a favorite treat she doesn’t get very often.
Have your dog sit in the “stay” position and place a treat slightly out of her line of sight. Then tell her to “find it.”
Encourage her as she’s searching for the treat and praise her when she’s getting close and when she finds it. If she’s having trouble finding the treat, give her clues by making a scent trail for her to follow (or point out the treat to her).
As your dog masters the basics, you can up the game by placing treats or toys a little farther away, or in places where she won’t see them right away, such as on a windowsill or a chair.
4. Go on sensory walks
Similar to nose work games, sensory walks stimulate your dog’s olfactory senses while providing physical exercise. If you normally walk a straight line with your leashed dog next to you, consider designating certain times or areas during your walk for free sniffing. This video demonstrates how to teach our dog the “go sniff” cue.
Vary your walks, and search out places that have an abundance of new smells.
5. Arrange a dog-human “date”
Bring your dog with you on outings. Riding in the car and seeing new faces and places can be mentally stimulating for her and helps reinforce socialization.
Before setting out on your “date,” research dog-friendly places (such as coffee shops, restaurants, home improvement stores, garden/nursery stores). Check with the store manager first, and make sure your dog is on her best behavior during your date.
6. Give your dog an interactive puzzle toy
Dogs are natural problem solvers. Puzzle toys keep her focused on a task and boost her confidence.
You may need to experiment with several different types of puzzles until you find one that keeps her busy and engaged.