Mental exercises for dogs

Mental exercises for dogs

There you were thinking a daily walk was all the exercise your dog needs, weren’t you? Don’t worry, I was the same!

Most of us don’t give our dogs enough mental exercises, with the result being a bored dog who either pesters us or gets a little destructive and restless.

You don’t want that, do you?

Mental exercises for dogs can be very simple and easy, or if you have a super-intelligent breed like a Kelpie or Border Collie you will benefit from more complex mental exercises.

Basic mental exercises for dogs

You’ll be surprised how simply you can stimulate your dog mentally. Sometimes all it takes is a ball or cheap (but decent quality) toy.

Even the simplest of physical tasks involve a mental component. Did you know a game of fetch can really benefit your dog mentally? The reason being it focuses her attention.

Anything which causes your dog to focus her attention is a mental task, and will be good for her mind’s growth!

Another simple mental exercise which has become quite common is the Kong toys. Kongs require your dog to strategise about how to get biscuits or peanut butter out of the toy.

Puzzle feeder bowls like this one are another great option, with food being the best incentive to stimulate your dog’s mind. Mental stimulus with no effort on your part!

If you haven’t got a Kong already, I highly recommend the Kong Classic which you can buy at My Pet Warehouse, Pet Circle, et al.

Kong Classic for dogs - easy mental exercise
Kong Classics are such an easy way to mentally exercise your dog!

Playing with a Kong won’t be very physically active for your dog, but it has the great benefit of keeping her mentally active – freeing you up to do your day job without being pestered.

If you crate your dog, then Kong toys are something you can use to keep her happy in her crate as well.

Related: How to entertain a bored dog

Complex mental exercises

Once you have the simple mental exercises catered for (they were easy, right?), you can consider more challenging mental exercises.

Mental stimulation for Border Collies - an absolute essential!
Mental stimulation for Border Collies – an absolute essential!

Whereas the simple mental exercises should be more than sufficient to keep most dogs psychologically healthy (note: more info on super intelligent breeds like Kelpies and Border Collies below), the complex exercises below will require more involvement from you.

For starters, get into a habit of playing games with your dog. A routine is always good, such as allocating 15 minutes on your morning tea break or lunch break if you work at home, or just before or shortly after work.

Any game where your dog needs to learn something will be great mental exercise. Our dogs benefit greatly when a game has a set of “rules”. Learning and following rules of any kind will really help your dog’s mind develop.

Two great games to mentally stimulate your dog are:

  • Hide and Seek
  • Keep Away

Let’s take a look at these fun activities a little closer.

A game of Hide and Seek can be played both indoors and outdoors, which gives you options.

Many dogs will naturally play Hide and Seek because (1) they are instinctually good at tracking and retrieving, and (2) because they love to have your full attention. Hide and Seek requires your dog to use her mental skills to track you down.

Another game which will mentally stimulate your dog is Keep Away. If you don’t know what this is, I’ll explain the rules:

Grab some item your dog has a special relationship with (a ball or toy) and start running away from her. Keep your back to her the whole time. Your dog will chase you trying to get the object.

You can also reverse the tasks. Give your dog an item and then start chasing her. Many dogs will playfully start dodging and avoiding your attempts to take the item away.

Slowly increase your resolve to get the item back, changing strategy, and your dog will likewise adapt, figuring out the best way to keep away!

Of course, the most complex set of mental exercises are those that involve formal training. Training your dog to perform tricks, to obey commands or even to perform in dog competitions will pay huge dividends.

As your dog goes through training she will learn at a greater rate and her mental capacities will grow rapidly.

If you have a breed known for intelligence, of which Kelpies and Border Collies are good examples, then mental stimulus through training is more a necessity.

Mental stimulation for Kelpies and Border Collies

Kelpies and Border Collies are two of the most intelligent breeds, and I’m sure with some effort you could teach them to play chess. Yes, they’re that clever – aren’t they!?

Important note: These breeds are particularly prone to the adverse effects of not receiving enough mental stimulus, which manifests as disobedience, anxiety, stress, depression, and a continual pestering of you and anyone around you.

Mental stimulation for Kelpies and Border Collies
Mental stimulation for Kelpies and Border Collies is a must.

It is recommended you at least offer these breeds the minimum mental stimulation as described above under “Basic mental exercises” and “Complex mental exercises”, particularly games like Hide and Seek and Keep Away.

The following are excellent ways to provide mental simulation for Kelpies and Border Collies:

  • Socialisation – Kelpies and Border Collies benefit greatly from socialisation with other dogs and people, ideally from the puppy phase. It is likely your local veterinary clinic runs puppy socialisation classes which are a great way to settle your dog early. It is common for unsocialised dogs of these breeds to quickly become anti-social and potentially fearful or aggressive towards other dogs or people. Allowing your dog to socialise offers all manner of mental exercises as they play, sniff, discover, and learn from other dogs.
  • Agility training – Intelligent breeds thrive on agility training, and you’re bound to find somewhere locally. Agility training provides vastly more mental stimulation and exercise for your dog, as well as helping them build socialisation skills. It is also a great way for you to meet and learn from others with a similar breed. In my experience most agility training groups are very friendly and an excellent way to learn more about your dog.
  • Name your dog’s toys – You may be surprised how quickly your dog learns to associate names with objects. Naming your dog’s toys individually is great for making her think. Before long you can command her to fetch toys by name, or even your slippers or newspaper. Although you’ll have to draw the line at getting your dog to make tea, it’s possible for a Kelpie or Border Collie to be trained to feed themselves.
  • Keep your dog involved and engaged – Intelligent breeds are known to build loyal bonds with their owners, and you’ll find they need your attention more than other dogs. By keeping your dog involved in your daily activities you offer them mental stimulus as well as making them feel a part of the family. These are good things, so keep make time to play and converse with your dog throughout the day. For example, when you’re making her dinner, why not tell her what you’re doing while you’re doing it?

Do you have any other good ideas for mental exercises? What do you do with your own dog?

Leave a comment!

How much mental stimulus does a dog need

For an active or intelligent breed there isn’t really a limit. Your dog will thrive with mental exercises and stimulus throughout the day, and will always be willing.

You must, however, draw the line with physical exercise. This is mostly applicable to spending time exercising them in the park, or allowing them to join you on your morning run.

If you become involved in agility training, make sure you always consider your dogs physical wellbeing, and do overdo it.

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