Updated: Feb 20
We've all heard the saying, "a tired dog is a happy dog." It is easy to interpret that as "You need to run your dog every day to meet their needs!" Well say its a heavily rainy day, or your pet has an injury that requires them to stay otherwise non-active...what then? While it is very important that your pet is getting the physical exercise it needs, it is equally, if not more important, that they have adequate mental stimulation as well.
What is Mental Stimulation?
Most any activity that has your pet use their brain counts as mental stimulation. Often this involved sniffing, licking, chewing, puzzle solving, and exploring. I'll go over some basic examples of each so you and your dog can start having some fun!
Sniffing: Please enjoy a picture of my dog's nose :)
Fun fact! 15 minutes of sniffing can be as tiring as a 1 mile walk. The next time you are out for a walk, try not to focus on how far you are going. If your dog wants to stop and stiff, let them! Allowing a few minutes of a sniff break here and there can also drastically improve leash pulling, especially if that is their main motivation for walks.
For indoor activities, snuffle mats are a great source of sniffing. They are available in most pet stores and allow you to hide treats. If you don't have a snuffle mat on hand, you can also use any towel or sheet. Sprinkle the treats over the towel and scrunch or roll it up, depending on how challenging you want it to be. If you are looking to watch your pet's weight, you may also find that they are just as motivated if you use their regular kibble. I use this trick when I am short on time, it is my dog's favorite way to eat his dinner! I have also noticed that once he was comfortable using his nose, I could toss a cup of kibble into the yard and let him search!
Above is also a cheap easy activity for sniffing. Here I have taken a baking trap, cluttered it with my cat's toys, and sprinkled her kibble throughout the tray. This is an easy activity to increase or decrease the challenge level depending on how quickly your pet can finish it.
Licking is also a great method of mental stimulation. It allows them to release hormones that allow them to calm down and reduce stress. You will often see people use silicone lick mates, fillable Kong toys, or any container you can find at home. Here are a list of healthy treats that you can use for this mental enrichment activity
Plain greek yogurt
Peanut butter (Please check ingredients to make sure there is NO xylitol)
Pure pumpkin puree (no added sugars or ingredients)
Your dog's kibble
Mix and match these ingredients and add water to increase bulk without increasing calories! Freeze for an added challenge. This activity can also help to distract your pet while you're doing less pleasant activities such as nail trims and brushing. Lick mats like this one shown below can be stuck on walls to reduce anxiety during bath time or car rides.
Puzzle work can include a lot of different things such as puzzle toys, or teaching tricks. Something that requires your dog to put a little brain work into the activity. Easy tricks to look up that can be trained are "Touch", "Go Find It", and "Spin"! This keeps your pup engaged while also tiring their brains out.
Most puzzle toys sold at pet stores or online are great, however, make sure if they include little pieces that they do not easily come out of the toy to to prevent foreign body ingestion.
Try out these tips and trick and leave a comment below to let us know if they helped! Any suggestions that I should add?