Mental stimulation for dogs: How to give it & know the limits


mental stimulation with a dog

Even after taking my dog for three walks a day, swimming on some and play fetch back to back. It still seems like no matter what I do, she just has too much energy to burn off, and it really started to take its toll on me before discovering a few solutions.

I’ll be honest, prior to a few months back I never knew much about mental stimulation for dogs, nor did I know much about how to prevent boredom for dogs (which explains why she was so bored).

But after going through a series of problematic behavior and sleepless nights, I finally decided to search for ways to provide her a more stimulating lifestyle, that later proved to be the best thing I ever did.

Today I’m going to share everything there is to know around this topic, along with a few actionable tips that you can try out at home.

What is mental stimulation for dogs?

Mental stimulation for dogs is when a dog is encouraged in raising levels of physiological activity (normal activity). This will usually be highly found in your dog taking part in physical activities such as games, obedience training, hunting, obstacles and playing with toys that are designed to provide higher levels of stimulation. A result of higher levels of stimulation is usually followed by the action of arousing interest, enthusiasm, or excitement.

Why should you keep your dog stimulated?

I’m sure you heard the saying that a healthy dog is a happy dog right? Well, the saying derives from your dog being healthy in all ways. That means diet, exercise, and lifestyle all play a vital part in your dog’s overall health.

To give you a better understanding, here’s a list of benefits to what mental stimulation can offer to your dog:

  • Reduces boredom
  • Encourages happiness in mood
  • Lessens hyperactivity
  • Develops the brain
  • Lessens aggression
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Helps with developing good habits
  • Encourages bonding

And thats just a bite out of the apple. But that should give you a clear idea of how important this really is for a dog to live a healthy life.

How much stimulation is good for your dog?

As you cant measure stimulation in any way, instead its easier to measure the amount of activity that your dog takes part in that provides stimulation for them.

This means, to measure how much a dog needs, we must look at how much activity a dog should be taking part in through an average day of their life.

The amount of exercise that your dog is going to need will depend on the many factors such as breed, diet, lifestyle, etc. However, age seems is a great ballpark figure to go on and use as a guideline to understand what is right for your dog.

To give you a clear understanding of the average amount of time your dog should be taking part in activities, I’ve created a chart with the data below.

Dog Group Activity Time (per day)
Brachy Excercise 20 -30 minutes
Sight Hounds Excercise 30 – 45 minutes
Giant Excercise 45 – 60 minutes
Toy/Small Excercise 30 – 60 minutes
Terriers Excercise 60 – 90 minutes
Scent Hounds Excercise 60 – 90 minutes
working Excercise 60 – 120 minutes
Sporting Excercise 60 – 120 minutes
Herding Excercise 60 – 120 minutes

Exercises for mental stimulation

The question may have passed through your mind asking what exercises are best to encourage stimulation in your dog’s brain. To give you an idea, almost any exercises that your dog takes part in will encourage stimulation, although there are a few exercises that are specifically designed for this specific purpose.

A few exercises/ games that you can try out for yourself include:

  • Fetch
  • Home Obstacle circuits (use some old stuff and treats to set it up)
  • Teach a new trick (roll, stay, jump, etc)
  • Hide and seek
  • Food puzzles
  • Interactive toys

There are many ways that you can get started with encouraging stimulation for your dog. And a clear and easy way to look at this would be to encourage our dog to take part in new activities that will challenge the mind.

Just about anything that meets that criteria will also do a great job of providing them a stimulating experience.

Health & Behavior

I did touch on this earlier, but just to give you an idea of how beneficial this can really be, I decide to go into a little more detail in this section. According to NCBI, a stud that has taken place over the past decade has shown that dogs with less ‘mental exercise’ tend to be the ones that fall victim to obesity.

It also states that mental exercise promotes a healthy lifestyle that can potentially increase your dog’s lifespan of up to 2 years (when combined with a good diet).

When it comes to behavior you can expect to see very similar benefits as you’ll find that badly behaved dogs are usually a result of lack in exercise.

Thats not to say that this is the sole reason behind such behavior but instead suggests that by preventing your dog from being bored and encourage good positive thinking, they will be more inclined to follow the rules.

One of the best ways to get a badly behaved intact and provide them mental stimulation at the same time is obedience training. This type of training involves teaching your dog to follow basic commands that are given that they should obey and follow.

Whether you have a puppy, adult or senior then obedience training is still just as important. In most cases, you’ll find a local trainer or behaviorist locally (at a cost) or you can get hold of a dog obedience training program that you can follow from home. (I recommend you try a program that I took and wrote a review for here).

dog playing games with man

Games that increase mental stimulation

There are many games that you can play with your dog that will increase mental stimulation. A few of those that you can try out from home include:

  • Hide and seek
  • treasure hunt
  • clean up Toys
  • The cup game
  • Teaching a new trick
  • The muffin tin game
  • Puzzle games

Whilst these free games are great, there are also a few ways that you can increase mental stimulation with toys. Toys are great to use as they don’t require you to be involved in the game, and if your dog spends a lot of time in the crate or at home, then this could be a perfect solution.

Interactive dog toys

An interactive dog toy is specifically designed to provide stimulation to your dog. They come in all shapes and sizes and each has its own individual benefit in comparison to the other. Heck, you can even get food toys that allow you to put treats inside that your dog has ot figure out to retrieve.

Heres a list of mentally stimulating toys that will get your dog’s brain ticking in no time:

(Links below are to Amazon)

Each of the games listed will provide your dog with enough stimulation to keep them going for a few hours at a time. Make sure that you don’t use this as a substitute for exercise in any way, as your dog still needs to get out for regular walks.

Of course, these toys are going to cost you money, but if you’re more of the creative type, then here’s an idea you might like the sound of.

DIY Brain games for dogs

There’s nothing better than recycling a few tennis balls, used plastic bottles and a milk container that you were going to throw out in a few days. With DIY games you now have the chance to use those items to make a cool new game for your dog.

Not just that, but the games you’re going to make are also brain games that will get your dog thinking and having fun at the same time.

Heres a quick video that will show you how to make a few games that you can get started with today.

Whilst games are a brilliant way to get the ball rolling (no pun intended), you’ll find that there is only so much that your dog will engage with them. Instead, if you really want to take things up a notch, then a great way in doing so would involve setting up an obstacle course.

Obstacle courses

An obstacle course is a great way to help your dog build up speed, agility, focus and mental stimulation. Its a great workout for them, and it will help you to ensure they get enough exercise throughout the day too.

There are a few ways you can get started with this, one way is to take your dog out to an obstacle course every once in a while. But I’m also aware that for most of us, an obstacle course is nowhere in sight.

So to tackle that problem, you can instead build your own obstacle course at home. Don’t worry, you won’t be needing a ton of expensive equipment, in fact, you can get started with just a few items like a broomstick and cones right away.

If you’re wanting to learn how to build a well developed DIY obstacle course, then I recommend you read an article on doing so here.

Conclusion

After reading this, you should now know what mental stimulation is, how it can benefit your dog and where to get hold of games and activities that will increase it. It’s not hard to find, but there are a few good ways (that I share in this post) that provide high levels of stimulation for your pup. Why not get started with the games thats in the video now? get started now!

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Rachael Summers

Rachael Summers is the Founder and Senior Editor at Retrievers R Us. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!

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