Dogs need mental stimulation as much as they do physical. When dogs aren’t mentally stimulated enough, they can act out in all kinds of anxious ways! Whether you are looking to cure separation anxiety, like I was, or simply spend some more quality time with your dog, this guide will help point you in the right direction.
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Why Are Brain Games So Important For Dogs?
Brain games can offer several benefits for both the dog and the owner as well:
- Brain development for puppies.
- Enhances mental stimulation.
- Decreases boredom in your dog.
- Helps improve socialization skills.
- Reduces dog restlessness.
- Teaches new words and vocabulary.
- Helps reduce boredom (Picture yourself sitting in the house all day with nothing to do!)
- Great for improving the relationship between you and your dog.
- Improves discipline and positive behavioral attitude.
- Ideal for dog owners after a busy day.
- Decreases amount of bad or destructive behavior (Nala’s infamous shoe eating problem disappeared).
- Can be played indoors with no dependence on weather.
Brain Game Ideas
1. The Cup Game
If only those rough-handed hustlers in the movies knew they could be pretty good dog trainers! The Cup Game is a very simple and cheap way to get your dog thinking, bond with them, and treat them for their good nose!
- Line up three old cups on a flat surface in front of your dog.
- Hide treats under one of the cups.
- Let your dog watch as you move the cups around.
- Give them the treat when they pick the right cup!
What a cool thing to watch your dog think and choose where they think the treats are on their own.
2. Toy Pickup
Imagine making cleaning a way to stimulate your dog, instead of just throwing the toys in the bin and calling it a day? The more things you can make a game out of, the better! This really gets your dog thinking and gives them a task to accomplish.
You can start by teaching your dog the “Pick it” and “Drop it” commands. These commands are great for life in general, but especially during this mental exercise. Once your dog picks up the object, you can guide it to its toy basket and then have them “Drop it” into the bin!
If your dog already has a great hold on this and you are looking for something more, feel free to start teaching them the names of the different toys! This will further challenge them to pick up the right toy and put it in the bin.
3. Treasure Hunt
Treasure hunt can be played both indoor and outdoors, and is a great way to bring out your dog’s scavenging senses. This does not only help your dog mentally, but physically as well!
Here’s how to play Treasure Hunt with your dog:
- Have your dog sit and stay
- Put a few treats on the ground around it
- Release dog and tell it to “Find”.
- Positive reinforcement works great while setting the ground rules for this fun and exciting game.
- Practice regularly until your dog understands the “find” command.
- Gradually build up challenge by hiding treats out of sight or by increasing distance.
- Ready for an even greater challenge? You can teach your dog new words like “find ball”, “find leash”, “find fluffy”.
Most dogs are food driven, so starting out with some treats to find is ideal!
4. Dog Puzzles
Who doesn’t love a good puzzle? Turns out, they aren’t just meant for humans (well, maybe the jigsaw ones… you know… thumbs and all). Puzzle games for dogs offer a great level of entertainment all dogs love, especially when food is the reward for their problem solving skills!
These types of games help you as well, because it is more of a hands off approach to allowing your dog some brain exercise.
Here are some great products that help enhance your pet’s thinking skills!
- Dog brick interactive puzzle
- Automatic feeder puzzle
- Classic kong toy
- Hide-a-squirrel puzzle
- Interactive feed balls
These interactive feeder puzzles are a huge reward for your dog, and they feel much more accomplished when they get that treat! I bet you will notice a big difference in your dog’s calmness after doing this repeatedly with them over the course of a few weeks.
5. Responsive Toys
Nala had lots of separation anxiety as a puppy, and I found responsive toys to be something that helped her greatly. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and yet all of them react in a certain way when your dog plays with them. This helps provide a steady stream of feedback with sounds and movements that keep your dog on their toes.
- Eases loneliness
- Provides constant feedback for dogs
- Keeps dogs moving
- Great solution for boredom when home alone
- Makes it much easier for older and blind dogs to play
Sometimes, dog owners need a bit of structure to help mentally stimulate their pups in a way that is meaningful to them. The time and effort you put into these exercises not only helps relax a dog, it also builds a strong bond between you and your pup!
For Nala, when I started to incorporate some of these strategies into her day, her separation anxiety seemed to disappear. I stopped coming home to torn up shoes and came home to Nala playing with her Kong filled with kibble instead. There are always steps an owner can take to alleviate some of their dog’s habits, and keeping their brains thinking is a very rewarding one for you and them.
Did you learn some different strategies for keeping your pup mentally stimulated? Email us at email@example.com !