We give our dogs long walks and plenty of playtime to ensure their daily exercise needs are met. But after all that, a lot of dogs are still restless, bored,or worse, destructive.
This is because they haven’t had a good mental workout, even though they already had plenty of physical exercises. That’s right, your dog needs mental and physical exercise each and every day. Different dogs require a different amount of each, but all dogs need both.
Mental exercise is any form of problem-solving, such as trying to figure out how to get the lid off of the new trashcan, or how to tear apart the pillow and remove all its feathers. Although those games are fun for dogs, they aren’t usually fun for anyone else. Punishing these behaviors won’t work – and it isn’t fair. Instead, find more appropriate ways for your dog to release their mental energy.
Here are three things you can incorporate into your daily routine to give your pup some fun ways to use their brain:
1. Puzzle Toys
Rather than giving your dog their entire meal out of a bowl, consider using something that will engage their problem-solving skills. There are many puzzle bowls and food toys on the market to give your pet a fun challenge. Keep three or more at home, and rotate them out regularly to maintain novelty.
Puzzle toys aren’t only for kibble. Food toys are also made for treats, bones, and peanut butter! Even better, they’re generally safe to leave out for your dog for when you aren’t home. Just make sure you have the appropriate sized toy, so it isn’t a choking hazard.
Set aside time each day to work on tricks and training with your dog. It’s important all of your training sessions are fun and reward-based. Training will not only mentally challenge your dog, it will also strengthen the bond between the two of you. Run through (and reward!) the commands your dog already knows to strengthen them and work on some new skills for an extra workout.
3. Let Them Sniff
It can be annoying to try and walk a dog that stops every 3 feet to sniff, but they are doing a lot more than just smelling the bushes. They’re checking the messages left by all the other dogs who have been there and maybe leaving one of their own. It’s like social media for dogs. Let them stop and check things out, it’s important to know what’s going on in your neighborhood. Sniffing engages their brain while olfactory senses work to break down smells.
If you’re looking for something fun to do for both you and your dog, research which dog sport classes are offered in your area. Dog sports are a fantastic release for both physical and mental exercise. Plus, there’s plenty to choose from, some examples are: agility, flyball, dock diving, canine freestyle, rally, nosework, and many, many more! Look around to see what’s available in your area, even if you have a reactive dog – there are facilities that offer classes specifically with their needs in mind. Everyone needs exercise, after all.
If you’re certain you’ve met your dog’s exercise needs and your dog is still displaying unwanted or unruly behavior, consult with your veterinarian and a certified behaviorist or experienced dog trainer to make sure your pup doesn’t have any underlying physical or mental illness causing their hyperactivity. It’s rare, but some dogs do suffer from attention deficit disorders and there are physical conditions that can cause an excess of energy or unwanted behaviors.
Ann Marie Silverberg
Ann Marie has been working with animals professionally for over a decade. From dogs and cats to pigs and turkeys, her many positions in animal husbandry have taken her from volunteering in animal shelters to veterinary medicine. She recently started her own training and behavior consulting business in Massachusetts, Brainiacs Dog Training.