Most pet parents understand the importance of physically exercising their dog through daily walks and games of fetch. But what they may not know is that mental exercise is just as crucial to a dog’s wellbeing.
Like humans, dogs crave mental stimulation. Being presented with new challenges has many benefits for both the dog and the owner, such as preventing boredom and curbing problem behaviors. In addition, studies have shown that learning new things can even help ward off mental decline as dogs age.
Regularly attending formal training classes and participating in dog sports are great ways to exercise both a dog’s body and brain. But it’s important to provide ongoing challenges between classes, too.
Some busy pet parents may worry that this will require a lot of extra time that they don’t have. The good news is that exercising a dog’s mind isn’t difficult. There are many quick, easy brain games that dogs and their humans can enjoy together.
Hide and Seek
In this fun game, favorite treats or toys are hidden in different places around the house. The dog is then instructed to “seek” or “find.” The pup will have to use her brain and her nose to figure out where the goodies are hidden. Owners should start out easy by letting the dog watch while the reward is hidden under a blanket or pillow. Once she’s got the hang of the game, the game can gradually be made more challenging.
These toys require a dog to push or roll it around to get out the treats or kibble inside. Some are simple, some are complex, and still others are designed to become more challenging as the dog grows more adept at the game. When the dog is first experimenting with the toy, it’s important to set her up for success. The toy should be set to the easiest level and she should receive lots of praise for any interaction or interest she shows in it.
The Shell Game
Yes, this is just like the game we humans play. To start, a treat is hidden under a paper cup and the dog is asked something like, “Where is it?” or “Which one?” The goal is for the dog to knock over the cup to get the treat. Once she’s really good at that, another cup is added and the treat is placed under just one of them. The cups are kept stationary until the dog fully understands that she has to pick the right cup to get the treat. After she’s mastered that, the treat cup can be slowly slid to another position. This is fairly challenging for most dogs, so pet parents should be patient and always praise and reward when it’s time to end the game.
Your turn: What are your favorite brain game activities for dogs? Share with us in the comments below.