Think about mental exercise for your dog: You’re at work all day long or making sure the kids get off to school and all of the errands are taken care of.

Your dog patiently waits all day for your attention. When you pass through the room, you see your pooch there — they’re loving eyes fixed on your every move.

They’re just waiting for you to engage them with a mind game, a dog toy, a puzzle toy, or the best stimulation available: physical exercise. But what does mental stimulation for dogs actually look like?

When it comes to your dog’s head, it needs to be cared for just like your dog’s heart and body. A nice trip to the nearest dog park or a few rounds with a tennis ball can work wonders as a mental exercise for your pooch.

Learn why mental stimulation for dogs is important and how mental exercise can help a bored dog, a pup, or a senior dog. Teach an old dog a new trick.

Why Mental Stimulation For Dogs Is So Important

dog fetching | Ultimate Pet NutritionOf course, physical exercise is super important for your pet. But mental stimulation for dogs is equally important. Most dogs are smart animals. Mental stimulation is key to keeping your pup healthy overall — and happy.

Remember, your dog is pretty smart, to begin with. But it’s good to consider ways in which you can offer your dog mental stimulation while they’re exerting themselves physically too. One dog trainer with the American Kennel Club said that though she treats her dogs to long walks and physical exercise, the dog will be more tired after 15 minutes of utilizing its mind during a sniff game. 1

Mental fatigue tires out dogs and people more than just physical fatigue. Training — no matter the age of your dog — is a great way to exercise their mind. Is there a trick you never taught your dog? Even teaching your pooch to retrieve and drop a new toy on command is enough to give their mind a real workout. 2

Training sessions don’t need to last too long. A good window is 10 minutes, give or take. You’ll learn more about your dog in these few minutes than you would in an entire day of just playing with your pooch. And nobody says training can’t feel like playing. It should!

Utilizing brain games is another great way to engage your dog’s mind. When you engage your dog with hiding and seeking games or training sessions, you’ll actively be discouraging negative behaviors like destroying your favorite pair of shoes or chewing on the leg of a chair.

There are lots of fantastic ways to engage your dog and offer them more mental stimulation. Read on to learn more.

Which Mind Game Or Dog Toy Is Best For A Bored Dog?

mental exercise | Ultimate Pet NutritionLet them play with their food. One effective way to get your dog’s brain working is to make them work for their dinner. Dogs are hunters. And domesticated dogs don’t have to work for their food at all. In fact, if they could talk, some dogs might say domestication takes the fun out of being a dog.

Engaging your dog’s natural hunting instincts can be really rewarding for your pooch. Turn their mealtime into a game! If your dog enjoys kibble, how about a game of Kibble Toss? You can throw your dog’s kibble around the room, one piece at a time, and watch your dog search for each bite. This activates your dog’s brain because they’ll be anticipating your moves. And you’re also giving them an extra chance to exert themselves physically.

Food dispensing toys are really fun for pets too. Kongs are great food toys for beginners. You lodge a treat in the center of the toy — cement it in there with some peanut butter — and your pup has to figure out where to apply pressure to release the treat.

Suddenly, dinner time becomes fun — and tiring. Your dog will likely be all ready for a cuddle session after active meal time.

Walks Stimulate Your Dog’s Mind: Let Them Sniff The Neighborhood

Every dog gets excited when they hear one four-letter word “walk.”

What dog doesn’t love going for a walk? Dogs love to feel the breeze in their fur and the sun on their backs. But going for a walk can mean so much more to a dog than just getting to go to the bathroom.

dog sniffing ground | Ultimate Pet Nutrition

Let your dog dally and sniff. When your dog can sniff various scents around your neighborhood, they can explore their surroundings. This is a wonderful opportunity to let your dog discover what’s changed on their path. Has a new animal moved into the neighborhood? Have their friends made the rounds?

Bringing your dog to the closest dog park and setting them free to roam and run is another great way to activate their minds. They can assess social situations, play their own games with other pups, and just explore the sights and scents of the run.

Running Errands With Your Dog Can Stimulate Their Minds

dog enjoying car ride | Ultimate Pet NutritionIf your dog loves to go for a ride in the car, there’s a good reason. It’s a change of scenery. Even dogs can get cabin fever. But when you bring your furry friend along for a ride to the bank or to grab take-out, you’re giving them a chance to explore a larger world than they usually get to experience.

Take your dog through the car wash with you. The sights and sounds will stimulate their minds. Like with a child, your dog’s brain is going to work to process all the sights, smells, and sounds that seem new. And when they get home, they’ll likely be zonked.

You can also play the radio for your dog. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even howl with you to your favorite road trip tunes.

Knick-Knack Paddywhack, Give Your Dog a Puzzle

Puzzle toys are awesome when it comes to finding ways to challenge your pet’s mind.Puzzle toys are interactive and can help your dog learn to focus. Not only can interactive toys help keep your dog from feeling bored, but they might also keep your dog out of trouble.

An engaged dog isn’t digging holes in the yard or scratching at doors. They’re stimulated because they’re having fun. And dogs are good problem solvers, so… give them a problem to solve. You’ll be surprised at how puzzle toys might actually help strengthen your dog’s instincts and build up their confidence. You may even notice some improvements when you hold your next training session.

A snuffle mat is another great interactive toy to consider. A snuffle mat is a toy with nooks and crannies in which you can hide dog treats. Your dog will spend a good, long while trying to find their hidden goodies. And you can easily make your own snuffle mat — just search online for some DIY tips.

Challenge Your Pup’s Brain And You’ll See A Happier Dog

Every good dog parent wants their puppy pals to be happy. Whether you opt for a snuffle mat or traditional fetch with a tennis ball, play with your dog. Challenge your dog. Give your dog a little bit more credit to be able to hunt and problem solve. It’s in their DNA to seek and retrieve. Let them put their skills to use.

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About the author

Dr. Gary Richter, MS, DVM loves animals, and is passionate about keeping them healthy and happy as long as possible. He has received more than 30 awards due to his expertise in the field, and The American Veterinary Medical Foundation recently named Dr. Richter “America’s Favorite Veterinarian.” Dr. Richter has been at the forefront of pet nutrition for two decades, and he is also the author of the bestselling “The Ultimate Pet Health Guide.”