Physical and mental stimulation are important aspects of your dog’s mental health. While physical stimulation is something which dogs get in ample quantities, mental stimulation is sometimes overlooked. Most vets and pet behaviorists agree on the fact that stimulating a dog’s mind and encouraging them to try out new things ultimately leads to a fulfilled life.
Lack of mental stimulation in dogs stemming from being in the same environment and following the same routine can lead to boredom. For example, daily life for many dogs simply means eating, sleeping, waiting in the house for the parent to return and occasional walks. Such a routine will create a feeling of boredom in any dog. Several studies reveal that boredom can be a major cause of mental illnesses in dogs. It can also lead to apathy, depression, and anxiety.
Lack of mental stimulation can also lead to undesirable behaviors such as:
- Destroying things
- Chasing their own tail
- Digging holes
- Constant barking
- Excessive sleeping
Similar to humans, dogs too need mental stimulation from an early age. As they grow from puppies to adult dogs, mental stimulation must remain a consistent part of their daily life. The amount of mental stimulation, however, differs from breed to breed. For example, breeds such as the Doberman or the Golden Retriever require more exercise.
Some of the important benefits of mental stimulation in dogs are:
- Fights boredom
- Exercises the brain
- Reduces aggression
- Generates happiness
- Reduces hyperactivity
- Alleviates destructive behavior
- Reduces stress
- Strengthens bonds with dogs
Enrichment is a term often associated with stimulation in case of dogs. Enrichment simply means any addition of value to their lives. This can be in the form of a new environment, new toys, fresh social interactions etc. For example, a training session, a walk or dog treats can all add to enrichment in a dog.
Enrichment has proven benefits for dogs. It helps reduce undesirable behaviors in dogs as well as positively deal with stress.
8 Tips To Keep Your Dogs Mentally Stimulated
Keeping your dog mentally stimulated doesn’t have to be an expensive affair. Understanding your dog’s psychology can help you come up with creative ideas to keep your dogs busy.
Stimulate The Nose
Dogs have a greater olfactory sense than humans. That’s because they have 50 times more olfactory receptors in their nose as compared to humans. Thus, olfactory stimulation is a sure-shot way to enhance their minds. In fact, studies have revealed that on being exposed to olfactory stimulators such as lavender, peppermint, chamomile and rosemary, dogs have shown heightened signs of movement and reduced signs of depression and anxiety.
Stimulate The Ears
Music has also been observed to provide mental stimulation to dogs. Several changes in behaviors such as reduced stress, increased heart, and respiration rate have been found as a result of exposure to different types of music. For example, while classical music induced dogs to relax, metal music had the exact opposite reaction, causing them to bark. The type of breed also plays a role in how dogs react to auditory stimulation. For example, large breed dogs showed a keener interest in harp music than smaller breeds.
Stimulate The Eyes
Visual stimulation too plays a small part in improving pet mental health. Specific types of images can lead to positive mental stimulation in dogs. For example, a study revealed that dogs responded positively to images of other species of animals and dogs and negatively to a blank television screen.
Stimulate With The Help of Dog Toys
Dog toys are a tried-and-tested option to increase your dog’s mental stimulation. According to research, dog toys play a big role in reducing the time spent sitting or lying down. There are two types of toys – interactive and distraction. Interactive toys are those which require the dog to participate, such as balls, frisbees etc. Distraction toys, such as chew toys and puzzle toys, are those that dogs can play with alone and help keep them busy when you are unable to play with them.
Puzzle toys are especially great in helping to improve mental stimulation in dogs. A 15-minute puzzle game can boost their mental energy a great deal. It increases their focusing power, problem-solving abilities and helps reduce behavioral problems.
An interesting game you can play with toys is by teaching your dogs to identify the toys from their names. With a lot of practice and by repeating the name of the toy they are playing with, they’ll start identifying each toy by their name. You can also teach them to put their toys away once they are done playing.
It’s a good practice to rotate the toys your dogs play with. This is because they may get bored with playing with the same toy every day. This can especially happen with breeds with short attention spans.
You may also offer them some food enrichment toys, such as the rubber toys filled with healthy dog treats since they help in increasing the activity levels and reduce unnecessary barking tendencies.
Stimulate With Interactions With Other Dogs
Social interaction is a great way to boost mental stimulation in dogs. As per studies, solitary dogs have been found to be inactive for about 70-80% of the time while dogs who interacted with other dogs were found to be inactive for just about 4-5% of the time.
By encouraging puppies to indulge in social play with other puppies, you can help them in developing a habit of socialization which can help them as adult dogs. Dogs feel extremely mentally stimulated in a playful atmosphere with other dogs. Taking them to a dog park or meeting other dogs in houses can help you achieve this.
Stimulate With Games
Games involving physical activity can help stimulate your dog too and are good ways to improve their mental vigor.
Some of the games you can try out are:
- Treasure Hunt
- Hide and Seek
Stimulate With Training and Exercise
Exercise not only provides health benefits like improving cardiovascular and respiratory functioning, muscle and joint movements but also provides mental stimulation.
Some of the best exercises your dog can participate in are:
- Obstacle Training
- Agility Training
- Disc Dog
- Dock Diving
- Obedience Training
To encourage them, you can also offer them some dog training treats in-between as rewards.
Other Mental Stimulation Activities
You can come up with various other activities to keep your dogs busy. Let your imagination run wild and try out new tricks with your dog.
- Take them outdoors. Hiking and camping are great activities to boost their creativity, imagination and acquired behavior. The combined sights, sounds and smells of outdoors can help keep their mind active.
- Indulging in puppy play can also act as a great stimulator for your dog’s mind. As per a study of about 4000 dogs, around 20% of pet parents played with their dogs 6 times daily, 50% of parents played 2-3 times daily and only 10% parents played only once daily. It also revealed that less time of play coincided with behavioral problems such as anxiety and depression.
- Involving your dogs in daily activities can be a great boost to their mind. Taking them out for shopping, making them do small errands or allowing them to help out in household chores can improve their mental fitness.
Infographic – 8 Tips To Keep Your Dogs Mentally Stimulated
Mental stimulation has many benefits for your dog and should be developed right from their early ages to grown-up stages to ensure they have a happy and healthy life.