Your Dog’s Mental Stimulation & Engagement Tips
Author: Amanda Brahlek
It’s likely no surprise to you that your dog is an intelligent, social being that enjoys learning, playing, and going on adventures. But many dog owners are unsure how mental enrichment improves their dog’s health and wellbeing. Furthermore, to the untrained eye, it can be tough to tell if your dog is receiving the appropriate amount of mental stimulation. If you’re curious about your dog’s intellectual needs and signs that your dog is bored, restless, or in need of a challenge, this article is for you.
We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of your dog’s mental needs and how you can keep your pup occupied and engaged every day.
Why Do Dogs Need Mental Stimulation?
Dogs, like humans, have complex and sophisticated brains. This stems from a long history of canine behavior and human interactions.
Historically, dogs interact with one another in a pack structure to make hunting more effective and to keep the group safe. From playtime to grooming, dogs inherited much of their psychological hardwiring from their ancestors. Because of these psychological traits and a genetic predisposition for friendliness, most dogs need to interact with other people and pups.
In addition to social stimulation, dogs also enjoy activities that allow them to re-enact hunting and performing other tasks. These behaviors can be traced to instinctual hunting and performing jobs alongside people.
Nobody really knows if wolves became domesticated because of their ability to hunt or because they hung around humans in order to partake in their leftovers. Either way, humans began to domesticate wild dogs to help them with their everyday work. Dogs helped keep sheep and other herd animals safe. They learned to restrain, chase out, and retrieve game during hunts. And they even kept cows and bulls at bay.
The brightest breeds evolved to take on more complex tasks into modern times. This is why we have dogs that serve alongside troops, dogs that sniff out explosives and drugs, and dogs that perform search and rescue. And let’s not forget those smart service canines that assist humans as guide dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, and more.
This is all to say, that over the course of thousands of years, our fuzzy best friends have been hardwired to want physical activity, psychological challenge, and mental stimulation.
What Are the Effects of a Lack of Mental Stimulation for Dogs?
When dogs don’t receive adequate mental stimulation, they can wind up being bored. Chronic boredom leads to depression and anxiety. Furthermore, dogs that don’t get enough exercise and mental engagement have built up energy. These dogs seek outlets for their energy in the form of self-stimulation and unwanted or destructive behaviors.
Some of the most common signs that a dog isn’t getting enough mental engagement include:
- Excessive barking
- Whining and whimpering
- Clinging to their owner
- Exaggerated reactions to stimulation
- Pacing or tail-chasing
- Tearing up inappropriate household items
- Excessive sleeping
If you notice your dog exhibiting these signs, it’s a good idea to increase their mental stimulation.
How to Easily Increase Your Dog’s Mental Stimulation
1. Increase and Alter Your Dog’s Daily Walks
Getting out in nature is one of the simplest ways to boost your dog’s daily mental stimulation. Walks give your dog the opportunity to smell new scents, see new things, and listen to the world around them. This lights up your dog’s brain.
To amp up the mental engagement on walks, change up your routine by:
- Switching up your walk schedule
- Adding an extra walk to your dog’s day
- Choosing a different route
- Going somewhere new with your dog
- Taking breaks for fetch
- Practicing training and leash etiquette on your walks.
2. Encourage Healthy Chewing
Chewing is a natural habit for dogs. Most scientists speculate that chewing on bones and sticks was a way for dogs to increase their intake of minerals. Now, we know that chewing helps dogs maintain better dental health and mental health along with being a great outlet for excess energy. This makes chewing a great way to relieve boredom, stress, loneliness, and anxiety.
When your dog gnaws on Natural Farm’s bully sticks, collagen sticks, or other healthy chewing treats, their brain engages with the activity. Your dog’s brain will also release endorphins that will make them feel happier and more fulfilled.
3. Schedule a Social Hour for Your Dog
Most dogs adore spending time with their fellow canines. Setting up occasions for your dog to interact with other dogs is an easy way to encourage mental engagement. For shy dogs, consider a one-on-one date with a friend’s dog. For more boisterous dogs, take a trip to the dog park or doggie daycare.
Not only will social hour give your dog the opportunity to practice social skills, but you don’t have to tire yourself out in the process.
4. Invest in Some New Toys
Toys amp up the excitement and enjoyment for your dog’s playtime. Providing your dog a variety of toys will prevent toy burnout.
You can update our dog’s toy collection. Dog toys have come a long way over the past decade. Not only can you find toys in a wide range of textures, colors, and sizes, but you will also discover toys that are made to provide dog mental stimulation. Try dog treat puzzles, tug toys, toss toys, and toys that allow your dog to play independently.
We suggest cycling through your dog’s toys over the course of the month to keep their novelty intact.
5. Never Stop Training
Many dogs are built to please and want a challenge. Practicing your dog’s skills and tricks will provide your dog with ample opportunity to satisfy these instincts. No matter your dog’s age, they can learn new behaviors, practice linking longer patterns of tricks together, and deepen their ability to perform behaviors without hesitation.
Scent games also engage your dog’s senses and physical ability. All you need is to cut your Natural Farm’s beef gullet or another treat. Then hide pieces throughout the house and watch your dog sniff into action.
Provide Your Pup with More Mental Stimulation Opportunities
Your dog is intelligent, loving, and energetic. If you’ve gotten into a rut when it comes to providing your dog with daily mental enrichment, there’s no better time like the present to reinvest in your dog’s wellbeing. We recommend a combination of playtime, chew time, and training.
Learn about your dog’s sense of smell before setting up scent games using your Natural Farm dog treats.