For the second week of April, we are exploring the many benefits of playtime for dogs. Just like us, dogs should be engaging in activities that challenge them mentally as well as physically, and brain games for dogs are a great way to do this!
We know that getting enough physical exercise is important for a dog’s health, but less emphasis is put on the importance of exercising a dog’s mind. Dogs are curious and clever, capable of far more than we often give them credit for.
Because of this, dog owners should take time to stimulate their dogs with games that encourage brain skills like concentration, memory and problem solving.
By engaging in brain games with dogs, you help to improve their mood, behaviour and sleep routine.
Mental stimulation can work to tire your dog out and ensure a good night’s sleep at the end of the day! Just think about how wiped you can feel after a long week at work, or how children get tired after a day of learning new skills at school - it’s just the same for our furry friends!
- Why do dogs need mental stimulation?
- What are good mental games for dogs?
- 7 ways to provide mental stimulation for dogs:
Why do dogs need mental stimulation? 🧠
A large amount of canine research into the dog’s brain has been conducted across the world. Studies have shown that dogs are far more intuitive than you may think - not only are they able to read human faces and expressions, they also have the potential to develop counting skills and understand concepts like object permanence.
When dogs get bored, they try to create their own fun by engaging in behaviours deemed unacceptable by dog owners. While your dog is only trying to keep itself entertained, this can translate to humans as them exhibiting bad, even destructive behaviour. For these reasons, it’s important to keep your dog’s brain active and engaged throughout the day.
Providing your dog with mental stimulation can be as easy as giving them plenty of opportunities to sniff and explore while out on walks. However, if you want to take this one step further, you can play lots of different brain games for dogs.
What are good mental games for dogs?
If you’re wondering how to mentally stimulate a dog, you’re in luck - the options are endless! Many of these brain games for dogs can be easily incorporated into your pup’s daily routine, helping to increase their attention span and positively influence good behaviour.
7 ways to provide mental stimulation for dogs:
1. Hide and Seek
One great way to boost your dog’s problem solving skills is to play brain games like Hide and Seek. With this activity, you also get the opportunity to reinforce dog commands like ‘wait’ and ‘come’, as well as introduce new command words like ‘find’.
There are lots of different variations of this game that you can try - testing your dog to seek out treats, toys or even you!
2. Dog Tricks
Teaching your dog a new trick requires a lot of concentration on their part, which is why tricks make for a challenging brain workout! By teaching new tricks with positive, rewards-based training, you can help to boost your dog's confidence and happiness. Just remember to provide lots of praise and enthusiasm!
We’ve all heard of tricks like ‘paw’ and ‘shake hands’, but there are hundreds of other tricks out there that you can add to your dog’s skillset. Fun tricks that make for great mental games include:
- Sit Pretty
- Roll over
- Close the door
- Be Shy
- Cross Legs
3. Scatter Feeding
Scatter feeding is an activity that encourages a dog’s natural foraging instincts by hiding treats or food on the floor around the house or garden. This type of enrichment activity is easy to introduce, all you need to do is let your dog search for and sniff out its food over a specific area.
Dogs boast an incredible sense of smell, and nose work games like scatter feeding encourage autonomy while providing an exciting alternative to the usual feeding routine of eating from a bowl.
4. Food Puzzles
While we're on the topic of feeding, food puzzles also make for an extremely popular type of dog brain game, as they too challenge your dog to work for food. There are lots of dog food puzzles available to buy online, or you can do it yourself and make a food puzzle at home!
These puzzles benefit both memory and problem solving skills, while also decreasing stress and improving a dog's digestion. With a puzzle game, the speed at which a dog eats is slower, as they have to successfully work out how to manoeuvre the puzzle to fully access the food beneath each hole.
5. Interactive Dog Toys
There are many ways that dog toys can be used to train your dog's mind. Toys come in all shapes and sizes, with different features to make playtime fun and interesting.
Squeaky dog toys help to exercise a dog’s brain by capturing their attention and reinforcing their desire to chew and play. Equally, dog toys that roll, or bounce in different directions help to provide a challenge by perplexing a dog's brain.
6. Put Toys Away after Playtime
For dogs that have already learnt the 'drop it' or 'give it' command, you can enhance this skill further by teaching your dog to drop its toys back into the toy box, basket or container after playtime has finished.
This brain game caters to a dog's natural aptitude to fetch and retrieve. Not only is it a great way to start winding down and signify to your dog that playtime is over, it can also help to provide independence and give you one less thing to have to worry about cleaning up!
7. Obstacle Courses
There are many benefits of creating obstacle course games for your dog to engage in. Not only do they help to train the mind, they also improve agility and physical fitness.
You can utilise household objects like chairs, bed sheets, mops or brooms to make a fun obstacle course in the house or garden, or you can sign your dog up for agility training classes in the local area. Either way - your dog is bound to love burning off excess energy passing through a variety of obstacles.
Is chewing mental stimulation for dogs?
Absolutely! Chewing requires concentration and focus, which is why dog toys provide such a great outlet for mental stimulation. A durable dog toy can be used for both independent play, and to encourage social play with other dogs.
Plus - if you choose an unusually shaped chew toy, your dog will use extra brainpower as it focuses on gnawing the different angles and edges.
How much mental stimulation does a dog need?
As a minimum, you should aim to incorporate 30 minutes of play for your dog per day, split between 2 x 15 minute sessions. The specific amount of mental stimulation a dog needs varies, so it’s important to observe your dog and adjust the amount of play to individual needs.
Generally speaking, larger high-energy breeds require more mental stimulation than smaller ones.