Your dog constantly whines while you’re trying to relax. When you leave him at home he tears things up, digs through the trash and scratches on the door, and you are just about at your wits end. You might be thinking you got a dog that is too high energy, or that you might want to surrender your pup to the local shelter. “Why is my dog being destructive? Maybe someone else will be able to deal with this madness!” But what I would argue is that aside from more exercise, what your dog really lacks is mental stimulation. Mental stimulation can keep a dog entertained and less likely to channel their boredom into destruction in the home. Just like people, dogs can become bored, depressed, or uneasy when they do not have enough mental stimulation. Believe it or not destruction in the home, pacing, whining, or disobedience are all potential signs that your dog isn’t getting enough mental stimulation, and unfortunately even the best of owners tend to think that exercise is enough, but even the most well exercised dog can act up if not properly mentally stimulated.
So, you might wonder, how can I increase my dog’s mental stimulation?
1. New people, places and things
Just like humans, our pups can get bored sitting at the house all day and doing the same routine. To keep your pup mentally healthy it is good for them to go out and experience the world. For a reactive dog this might mean going for a new hike you’ve never done before, and for a pup who enjoys being in public, maybe you can take him/her to run errands with you for the day. Even just walking around to new places is good for them and can help decrease boredom, stress, and curb unwanted behavior. Introducing them to new dogs and people can also provide them with mental stimulation, so when your dog sitter comes, simply having them bond by going out for walks in a new area can prevent mental distress in the home while you are away. Hiring a walker to walk your dog on a regular basis can also provide your pup with much needed mental stimulation as well because it’s someone new that arrives to take them on an adventure.
2. Dog puzzles
These puzzles are fantastic, and they come in all shapes and sizes! These great tools help satisfy your dog’s natural hunting instincts because they have to prod and pry in some sort of way to get their treat or food. Puzzle toys have all different sorts of levers where your pup will have to use their nose and paws to figure it out, and treat dispensing toys are great because they can keep your pup entertained for long periods of time. There are several different types of puzzles that will allow your pup to use their brain and bust through boredom, which is amazing for their mental health!
3. Interactive games with your dog
Interactive games are something that will help build your bond with your dog, AND provide them with the stimulation they need! I see a lot of dog owners say “I walk him every day!” but they are walking them on the same loop that they do daily, and it’s not new and exciting for them. Setting aside time to play frisbee with your pup or playing tug of war is much more mentally rewarding, and will decrease the chances of your dog seeking out trouble after their walk. You can also do games like “hide and go seek” where you teach your pup to look for you. The possibilities are endless!
4. Working on new tricks
Obedience training is something that will leave your pup feeling mentally satisfied after if done correctly! Even simple activities such as sit, stay, or the more intense activities such as agility courses will help your dog to bust their boredom and feel like they did a job well done for the day. When you have a new person taking care of them, such as a dog sitter, you can show them your pup’s tricks so they can work on them while you are away. This will help alleviate boredom, stress and keep them calm while you are away.
All in all, our dogs look to us for everything…food, love, and what they are going to be doing that day. They rely on us for proper mental stimulation, and when they get it they can live full and happy lives. Keeping them mentally stimulated will make them more attuned to your needs, less reactive, less bored or depressed, and all around healthier. If you don’t have time to really get in there and do new activities with them, you might consider hiring a dog walker who will be a new and exciting figure for your dog to do their walks with. They say a mentally stimulated dog is a good dog, and I would definitely agree!