Mental stimulation: an integral part of your dog’s happiness

If you feel like your dog is bored despite a hefty amount of walking or other physical activity, odds are it needs to use its brain more! Adding mental stimulation is often better than adding 15 minutes to your 1 hour walk!

In here, you’ll find many ways to get your dog to work out its skull-muscle, tiring it out in the process!

Interactive toys

The basic idea of an interactive toy is that the dog has to work to get food or treats out of it. Animals normally (if they weren’t our pets) spend at least a minimum of effort to obtain their food, much like us. That makes this kind of mental stimulation not only great, but natural!

A great way to keep your dog at a healthy weight while using this tool is to feed its regular meals using them, rather than treats!

Supervise the first few times, always!

Anytime you give your dog a new thing to play with, adult or puppy, you should keep an eye on them the first five times they have access to it. Make sure they know how to properly play with the toy, the plush or whatever new gift they got before you leave them with it unsupervised. No matter how “safe” a toy may be, if your dog decides to break it into pieces and swallow them, it gets real dangerous, real fast.

Once you’re sure your puppy knows how to properly play with the toy, you can start using it during your meetings or when you leave the house.

Let’s start with low-cost options:

If you have a safe, fenced yard, you’re in luck! You can throw your dog’s kibble straight out there and let them go fetch every little piece while you have your morning coffee.

You can also create your own interactive toys using what’s in your recycling bin and a bit of handy work. Here are a few examples:

  • Cut holes in an old juice carton or water bottle and put kibble in there
  • Take old toilet paper rolls, jam them upside in a container and pour kibble at the bottom
  • Put a few pieces of food inside a toilet paper roll and fold the openings shut
  • Take a muffin pan, put kibble at the bottom and then add balls on top of it to block the holes
  • Flip the muffin tin upside down, put food in the openings

There are hundreds of options, use your imagination…or google!

Effective interactive toys you can find in Montreal:

The Snoop by Planet Dog is versatile: it can hold kibble, treats, raw food or a mix of anything!

Beware: this toy is not dishwasher safe, don’t make that mistake!

The Tricky-Treat ball from Omega Paw can only really hold kibble or round, solid things, but it makes up for that by being a toy that stays consistently difficult to empty.

Useful for dogs that figure things out too quickly!

West Paw toys are what you’ll want if your dog is a destroyer of things. These toys are sturdy and, most importantly, guaranteed by the brand if your dog manages to break them. They’re also dishwasher safe!

Petprojekt dog toys are really cool in their design, and they can usually be used with a wide variety of food types.

They also boast a great advantage: they’re really inexpensive compared to other toys, while still being relatively solid.

Smelling and exploring new places:

Dogs have a sense of smell that is so incredibly developed. They can obtain an insane amount of information just through their noses. This process obviously takes a considerable amount of effort!

During walks, let your dog sniff everything instead of trying to walk the longest distance possible: it’s the best to make sure your walk provides physical and mental stimulation to your dog!

You’ll also benefit from varying your routes often, giving your dog new areas to explore and a greater variety of smells to take in! Careful with anxious dogs though: predictable and known areas are comforting and feel safer, that trumps stimulation.

Training

Training needs to happen anyway, might as well get double the points for it!

Teaching new behaviors or perfecting old ones is a great way to mentally burn out your pet!

  • Work on basic commands
  • Train new tricks
  • Make stops during your walk to practice known behaviors in new environments

20 minutes of training will put most dogs to bed pretty quick.

You can combine this with physical activity: most dog sports require both mental and physical exertion.

Social interaction

The last way to get your dog’s internal hamster going is to give it opportunities to interact with members of its species.

  • Plan play-dates with friends or family that have a compatible dog
  • Participate in dog-friendly group activities where dogs can interact
  • Go to a doggy café
  • Visit your local dog park

Be careful: if your dog isn’t completely at east around other dogs, avoid places where unknown dogs until you’ve fixed this issue. Not all dogs like social contact, and that can change at different life stages. Focus on the other ways to make your dog think instead!

The gist of mental stimulation:

  • Mental stimulation is an essential part of your dog’s daily life, and helps to keep boredom at bay
  • You can provide mental stimulation through sniffing walks, training, and social interaction
  • Using your dog’s meals, you can provide mental stimulation with interactive games that can be homemade or store-bought

written by Stephen Fiset, dog trainer

Mis à jour le January 1, 2024