Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise when it comes to your dog’s overall health. Mental stimulation can reduce boredom and bad behavior, slow cognitive decline, and provide enrichment for your dog’s brain. Plus, it’s fun!
Your dog doesn’t have to be one of the smartest dog breeds in order to keep learning as he grows older. Regular brain stimulation can benefit any dog, regardless of breed or age.
Ways to Stimulate Your Dog’s Brain
There are several ways to keep your dog’s mind sharp and active. A quick online search will show you the various dog puzzle toys to choose from; classic commands or a game of fetch can also be enriching. Even a task as seemingly simple as changing the route on your daily walk can be mentally stimulating for your dog as he takes in all of his surroundings.
Some of our favorite ways to keep a canine’s brain active include:
Your dog eats every day, so why not turn mealtimes into a mentally stimulating experience? Have Fido work for his food by using a puzzle feeder. It may take a bit longer than simply placing a food bowl in front of his face, but utilizing those problem-solving skills will give your dog a confidence boost, with food as a reward!
Puzzle feeders can also be helpful if your dog tends to eat too fast and needs some help slowing down.
Similar to puzzle feeders, puzzle toys are useful for putting your dog’s brain to use. In addition to providing entertainment, interactive puzzle toys teach your dog to think critically in order to earn a reward.
If you have a collection of dog puzzle toys, try putting one or two out and hiding the rest, and rotating the toys on a regular basis so the novelty doesn’t wear off. Plus, rediscovering a familiar toy can help to improve your dog’s memory.
Put your dog’s senses to use during walks or games. When you go for walks, allow him to sniff and explore his surroundings. Dogs use their noses for communication and exploration, so allowing your pooch to “exercise” his sense of smell will help him better understand the world around him.
There are also plenty of ways to provide sensory enrichment without leaving the house. For example, play a game of “hide and seek” with your pup, or have him sniff out and find a hidden object such as a treat or favorite toy.
You can also try teaching Fido the names of objects around the house (such as ball, teddy bear, or bone) and have him collect them for you one by one. Of course, don’t forget to reward him with treats or praise!
Teaching New Tricks
Dogs are natural learners and curious by instinct, so life-long learning is essential to keeping your pooch mentally and physically active. Regardless of age, you can always try to teach your dog new tricks. Plus, it’s a great chance for some quality bonding time between you and your furry friend.
Once your dog has learned the basics such as “sit,” “stay,” and “leave it,” you can try adding more fun, complicated tricks to his skillset. “High five” and “speak” are classics; you can also try teaching him to retrieve objects and put them away, or even have him jump through a hula hoop. Just be sure to remain patient, prioritize trust, and recognize and respect your dog’s limitations.
Whether you have access to a proper dog agility course or need to resort to a DIY version, your dog can certainly benefit from playing in an obstacle course. Dog agility courses are great for both physical and mental exercise, as your dog has to figure out how to weave through objects, fit in tight spaces, and jump through or over obstacles.
If running and jumping are too strenuous for your elderly dog, you can create a modified obstacle course that acts more as a puzzle than an intense form of physical exercise.
Spend some fun quality time with your dog through interactive play. Try classic games such as tug-of-war or fetch, or create your own games using objects around the house or yard. For example, hide a treat under one of three cups and have your dog watch as you rotate the cups around. If he can find the cup with the treat, he gets to eat it!
Diet & Supplements
You are what you eat, and a healthy diet leads to a healthy body and mind. Feed your dog a healthy, well-balanced diet to boost his overall health from the inside out. Depending on your lifestyle and your dog’s health needs, you may opt for classic kibble or a raw diet. There are multiple “right answers” for your dog’s diet, as long as it’s vet-approved.
Dietary supplements can also boost your pup’s cognitive function. Both Pet Honesty’s Omega-3 Fish Oil for Dogs and Cats and Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil promote joint, heart, skin, coat, and brain health for your pet.