When we can’t get outside to play, it’s time to try some inside games! As we all know, dogs are intelligent creatures. Like we exercise their bodies, it's important to exercise their minds and keep them mentally sharp. Getting their brain working prevents them from being bored and turning that boredom into destructive behaviours like barking or chewing items they shouldn’t be.Keep reading for five easy ways to incorporate mental enrichment into your dog’s life today.
Mental energy vs physical energy
Imagine going for a nice long walk at the beach for an hour, then getting home and feeling relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated. Now imagine spending an hour doing your taxes or writing an essay. How do you feel? Ready for a nap! Dogs are very much the same. Your canine best friend has a lot of energy to burn. Some dogs are able to run for hours and still have more fuel in the tank, but spending 10 to 15 minutes making them really concentrate and THINK is exhausting. They’ll be ready for a nap just like you would be after a mentally strenuous task.
Training sessions with your pooch
Replace the time you would normally spend on your walk with a training session. Rather than heading out and exploring, teach your dog a trick they’ve never learnt before. This not only exercises their brain, but also their heart! Another benefit of regular training is that it strengthens your bond with your dog by creating new ways to communicate positively together.
Some fun things you can teach your dog today:
- Paw – Hold a closed fistful of treats to your dog’s chest and let them sniff, lick and try to get to the treat. When they try pawing at your hand, say “paw” and release the treat. Repeat until your dog paws on command.
- Spin – Point to the ground with a treat under your thumb. Make a stir-the-pot motion with your finger, luring your dog in a circular motion with the hidden treat. Once your dog completes the rotation, say “spin” and release the treat. Repeat until your dog spins on command.
- Touch – Hold your open palm one centimetre in front of your dog’s face and wait for them to touch it with their nose. Once you feel contact give them a treat with your other hand. Repeat until they’re consistently targeting your hand, saying the word “touch” as you bring your hand out. Repeat until your dog touches on command.
Ditch the food bowl! Get interactive toys, puzzle feeders and brain games
Turn breakfast and dinner times into mental enrichment. Interactive enrichment toys are designed to keep dogs engaged and give them an outlet for some of their energy. Interactive toys stimulate a dog’s natural impulses to chew, gnaw, chase and forage. They also keep their minds busy with the opportunity to solve problems in exchange for a reward, not only giving your dog’s brain a workout but also allowing your dog a positive sense of achievement.
Some interactive and enriching ways to feed your dog:
- Cardboard boxes filled with their dry food - they can destroy this and be rewarded when the food falls out making for an extended and fun dinnertime.
- Snuffle mats – you can buy these from a pet store or if you're feeling crafty, make one yourself!
- A muffin tin – Stick their dinner in some of the muffin spots then put a tennis ball on top of all of them. Your dog will have to sniff through all the spots and push out the ball to reveal their dinner.
- Scatter feed – Toss their dinner across the lawn or in a specific area then let them sniff and search for their dinner using their nose and brain as they go.
- KONG toys and treat feeders.
Dogs dig for many reasons including escaping the heat by digging to a cool patch, hiding things they find valuable or just for the fun of it! Owners can play into this natural behaviour and turn it into a productive use of energy. Bury toys or dry long-lasting chews in a sand pit and let your dog dig out the buried treasure. By using their nose and digging to find the hidden treasure, they’ll use a bunch of brain power and physical energy at the same time. After they find the treasure they may even play with the toy or go have a chew, continuing to use productive energy. Providing your dog with a sandpit can also help stop them digging in other less ideal places.
Sensory gardens are designated spaces that aim to engage all of your dog's senses - smell, sight, sound, touch and taste - in order to get their brains firing in all cylinders. The idea is to create as many textures and surfaces as possible for your dog so they can explore and investigate to their hearts content. To satisfy all their senses, consider items that smell, taste, look, feel or sound interesting and unique. Some examples are clamshells with water for paddling or clamshells with sand for digging, garden objects like pinecones, rocks and logs, textured paths and surfaces, dog-safe plants and ramps are all great and cost-effective options to start a sensory garden.
Including mental stimulation into your dog’s life and routine will increase their overall happiness and well-being. Mental enrichment builds on your pooch’s natural instincts as well as builds confidence and gives them a sense of accomplishment. It also lowers boredom, stress, anxiety and frustration, which helps prevent destructive or unwanted behaviours. Many pets are surrendered because of behaviours their owner feels they can't manage. In reality, most of these behaviours can be solved through increased exercise, enrichment and reward-based training. For more advice, check out our guide on common unwanted behaviours and how to address them.