Common knowledge is that you need to provide your dog with physical stimulation to make sure they stay healthy and happy. Less known is that dogs also need mental stimulation and enrichment to lead fulfilling lives. When offering your dog enrichment, you engage their brain to think and concentrate, compared to physical stimulation which mainly engages the use of the body. To keep your dog physically, emotionally, and mentally satisfied, it’s important to offer a balanced range of activities to your dog. A dog that doesn’t receive enough mental stimulation, will often engage in what owners perceive as unwanted behavior to satisfy their needs. Not to be forgotten, is to include enough rest for your dog to process all activities, impressions, and things they have learned. So, what are things you can do with your dog to provide mental stimulation?
This is a picture of Walter enjoying his snuffle mat. Snuffle mats come in different sizes and shapes, but all are designed with the idea that you can hide treats in them. Sniffing and searching for treats is a great way to provide mental stimulation to your dog. They get encouraged to use their nose and problem-solving skills. The sniffing they need to do to find the treats in the snuffle mat also relieves stress. More information about the connection between sniffing and stress relief can be found in our blog named “The importance of sniffing”. For dogs that are fast eaters, it’s also a great way to slow down their eating, which helps with digestion.
Dog puzzles are interactive toys that come in different difficulty levels. Dogs will have to use their brain, paws, mouth, and nose to solve them. Because of the different difficulty levels, you can pick a puzzle that matches your dog’s specific needs. Just like with puzzles for humans, we need to pick a difficulty level that matches their current level to prevent them from getting frustrated. The beginner puzzles will teach your dog the concept, and step-by-step they will get more difficult to solve.
Lick mat / Kong / Slow feeder / Treat ball
These are tools to make feeding time more interactive and fun. Whole meals, or parts of it, can be given in them. Because of the way they are designed, your dog will have to work to get the food out, which also encourages slower eating habits. The dog lick mat and Kong will also invite your dog to lick. Licking releases endorphins in the dog’s brain, which will make them feel happy.
Lick mats, Kongs, slow feeders, and treat balls all come in a different range of sizes, shapes, and designs. Because of this, you can pick one that matches the needs of your dog. Often, these can also be adjusted in difficulty. Some treat balls come with adjustable hole sizes, Kongs and lick mats can be frozen, and slow feeders come with easy and difficult designs. Whichever you choose, just like with the other enrichment activities, make sure to start off easy to prevent frustration.
Besides being physically stimulating, dog sports are also mentally stimulating. There are many dog sports which you can choose from. Some examples are agility, hoopers, push/treibball, tracking, canine freestyle, and disc dogs. Another plus of dog sports is that you can pick a sport that matches your dog’s breed traits. For example, a Border Collie might enjoy a sport where it can herd, like treibball.
Enrichment around the house and on walks
All of the above activities require a purchase, but basically, everything can also be done with items you have lying around in your home, or things you come across during walks. During walks, you can play sniffing and hide-and-seek games, or let your dog jump on, and over obstacles, you come across like rocks and branches (watch out for pointy bits). Some dog parks might even be equipped with agility equipment. Another great way to mentally stimulate your dog is a sniffing walk, where you let your dog sniff as much as they want and follow their lead.
At home, you can fill a cardboard box with shredded newspaper and hide treats in them, or fill a toilet paper roll with treats, and fold in the ends. Filling a plastic bottle with treats will function as a “treat ball”. A DIY dog puzzle would be to use upside-down flower pots/cups/buckets to play hide and seek with toys or treats.
Another great way to mentally stimulate your dog is to scatter or hide their meal around the house or garden. Dogs love to forage and hunt for their food. By hiding their food and letting your dog search for it, you satisfy this need. With some creativity (and some Google search), you will be able to offer your dog a whole range of activities.
An important part of our dog’s daily routine. By providing our dogs with enrichment, they will feel happy, satisfied and lead fulfilling lives. Through this article, we hope to have provided pet owners with different ideas on how they can enrich the lives of their dogs. If you would like more help with this, we offer special enrichment sessions under our dog training services. As our pet sitters and dog walkers love seeing the fur clients they care for happy and content, they will incorporate enrichment activities whenever possible when they take care of pets. If you wish to know more about our pet sitting, overnight pet care, pet relocation or dog training services, feel free to contact us. We will be happy to help.