What is Mental Stimulation?

This article was featured in the May 2017 issue of SA Amigo- San Antonio Bilingual Pet Magazine. Check out the digital copy here

You’re very aware of your mental state-sometimes you’re happy, angry, anxious or nervous- but do you give your dog’s mental state much thought? Probably not. While we humans can talk about how we’re feeling inside, our canine companions communicate the same thing in ways that may not be so clear to us, through body language and behavior. The funny thing is that mental state and training affect each other in reciprocal ways.

The biggest issue with mental state is lack of stimulation. Do you have an overactive dog who doesn’t seem to tire out? Or perhaps your dog destroys everything in his path that fits in his mouth. This is most likely due to a lack of mental stimulation.

Most breeds of dogs were bred for a purpose. These jobs you may be familiar with- herding, hunting, guarding and tracking/detection. But dogs were also bred to do some other impressive and out of the box tasks like pulling carts, luring ducks into hunting range and hunting lions! But nowadays, most dogs don’t spend time out on the farm or in the field. Instead, we expect them to lounge on the couch peacefully until our return from home and continue to be quiet and calm while we settle into the evening.

Well guess what! That drive to work is still there. While physical exercise will have some effect on this drive, it can’t completely satisfy it. Has your body ever felt so tired and worn out but you still just can’t fall asleep? This is what it can feel like for our dogs. On the flip side, you know what it’s like to be mentally tired, too. Ever come home from a long day at the office or school and feeling so worn out and all you want to do is be lazy in your PJ’s even though you weren’t too physically active? Notice how your mental fatigue has an effect on you physically, but not quite the other way around.

Luckily, getting your dog mental stimulation is easier than you think, and lots of fun too!

Feed your dog all her meals in food puzzle toys. Throw the usual bowl away and replace it with toys like the Bob-A-Lot, Magic Mushroom, or Nina Ottosson puzzle. Getting your dog to work for her food has other benefits as well. Not only will your dog get great mental stimulation, but it will also slow your chow hound down making meal times last longer. I recommend getting 3-4 different kinds and rotating them throughout the week. When dinner time is over, pick up the toys and put them away. These toys should only come out during meal time.

Play some games that channel your dog’s most powerful sense: smell! Hide some of your pooch’s favorite treats around the living room and watch him sniff them out. At first, make the find easy by simply scattering them around the room on the floor. As your pup harnesses his skills, make the finds more difficult- Hide treats behind furniture and under various objects. Try not to give your dog help. Once he understands the game, his little sniffer will do all the work! Simple walks with ample smelling time will help tire out the brain too.

Train some basic behaviors and tricks. Nothing gets your dog’s brain working like learning a new behavior. Start off with the basics- sit, down, leave it, come- then work through some cool tricks- shake, roll over, spin, the options are endless!

While more mental stimulation will help reduce some of your behavioral issues and hyperactivity, it won’t solve them all. Complete training is imperative to teaching your dog what rules you have and how to adhere to those rules. Tending to your dog’s mental needs is not only imperative, it’s also lots of fun! Give your dog what he needs while having fun with your furry best friend! You and your dog will thank you for it.

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