Adequate exercise is important for the overall physical and mental wellbeing for any dog. However, mental exercises are often overlooked when designing the perfect exercise routine for dogs. Dogs that get bored or feel understimulated may end up resorting to a variety of behavioral problems, such as chewing up or scratching the house and furniture. A few basic changes may help to ensure that your dog is receiving the mental exercise he or she needs.
- Obedience training does more than just teach your dog a few basic manners and commands. Training your dog asks him to use his brain to think and learn and engages him. You might choose to stick to a few basics or use your creativity when thinking of new tricks. Choose activities that stimulate and challenge your dog and that are fun for both of you. Many trainers recommend the use of clicker training as part of a training routine. Clicker training is effective at shaping your dog’s behavior and teaching new tricks as well.
- Taking your dog to a regular obedience class can help socialize him and helps you both learn how to communicate with each other effectively. It is also an excellent mental exercise for your dog because it not only involves the learning process but also teaches your dog how to respond to a new environment. However, once the basic obedience class is done, your dog may benefit from further education. There are many other classes available that can teach your dog anything from therapy dog training to fancy new tricks. Furthermore, there are classes that teach competition activities, such as agility training or scent training. You don’t necessarily need to become a competitor to benefit from these additional classes, but experience with them may help to make sure your dog is challenged and provide you with fun, new ways to interact with your dog.
- Stimulate all of your dog’s senses. When taking your dog for a walk, make it more than just physical exercise. Introduce him to areas that are richly varied in sights, sounds, odors, and textures. Allowing your dog to use his nose to explore the world can really stretch his mind as he collects and stores each new scent. Instead of walking your dog around the same old boring block day after day, take him on a special trip to a park that isn’t so close to home. Let him sniff and explore a new trail or a new block in your neighborhood. You could even let him explore the kid’s park that is normally off limits. The more you can expose your dog to, the happier he will be.
- Fun games are a great way to activate your dog’s mind and simultaneously build your relationship together. By playing with your dog, you really show that you know their best reward is simply to spend time with you. Playing games is also an opportunity to be creative, by creating variations on children’s games so that your dog can appreciate them and participate. One such game that dogs love is hide-and-seek. Simply have a helper hold your dog still as you go and hide in the yard or house. When ready, yell “Come find me!” Your dog will revel when they find you and the two of you play with and snuggle each other. Another fun game to play with your dog is fetch. If your dog doesn’t already know this trick, there’s no time like the present to teach him. If he does know the trick, try changing it up a little such as asking your dog to retrieve specific objects from a pile of other objects.
- Another great way to stimulate your dog’s mind is to take him out on occasional field trips during regular errands. Exposing him to new people, places, and scents can be very mentally challenging for a dog and also help to reinforce socialization. Also, consider enlisting your dog’s companionship as you explore new places too! Take him to brand new parks you’ve always wanted to visit but never did. Maybe even plan a vacation around you and your dog and see a new state that you’ve never been to.
- Consider having a puppy play date! If you have friends or family members who also have dogs, invite them over or out to a park so that your dogs can have some time to visit with each other. For solitary dogs, this socialization may mean more to them than you can imagine. It must be lonely for a dog when they don’t get to see any other dogs during their daily lives. Getting him or her an occasional playmate can be a wonderful way to provide stimulation and socialization.