Mental Stimulation For Your Dog

Golden retriever in glasses reading textbook in front of bookcases.

(Picture Credit: Elizabeth Aldridge/Getty Images)

Mental stimulation is important to the development and happiness of any pup, but it’s absolutely essential for dogs who are left alone for long stretches, such as when you’re at work. Even senior dogs benefit from mental stimulation, which fights the effects of dementia. Exercising your dog’s mind helps train their brain to stay active, which prevents boredom, anxiety, and anti-social behavior. Follow some of these suggestions to keep your dog on their mental toes.

Ways To Train Your Dog’s Brain

  • Kongs. There are many interactive toys on the market, but Kongs are one of the classics. A beehive-shaped piece of rubber with holes at either end, its sole purpose is to keep your dog busy. Fill the Kong with cheese, baby food, milk bones, or any combination of dog-safe treats, and she’ll smell the food inside and use her mouth, tongue, and paws to work it out.Start with treats that fall out fairly easily and work up to more difficult challenges. Eventually, she’ll be ready for the hard stuff: frozen Kongs, which are smeared with something gooey (like peanut butter) and tossed into the freezer for a few hours.
  • Treat treasure hunts. Before you leave, “hide” a few of your dog’s favorite treats around the house for her to discover while you’re gone. This works especially well if your dog knows the command “find it,” which you can cue just as you’re walking out the door.
  • New toys. Always keep a stash of fun and interesting toys around, rotating in new ones from time to time. Like humans, dogs become bored with the same thing day after day. The items don’t have to be new–trade toys with a neighbor or friend. The key is that they’re novel to her.
  • Training. Take time to teach your dog new tricks. If you aren’t sure how, enroll in classes together. Even after she’s mastered the basics, like “sit” and “come,” regular lessons will keep her mentally sharp. Added benefit: positively-reinforced training builds her confidence and strengthens the bond between the two of you.

How else do you train your dog’s brain with mental stimulation? What kinds of fun brain games do you play? Let us know in the comments below!