Did you know that behavior can sometimes directly be correlated to a dog’s cognition/mental state? One of the hardest things about having dogs is the clear lack of verbal communication. As dog parents, although we develop a good sense of what our dogs want or how they’re feeling over time, we can never be 100% sure as to why our dog acts the way it does and/or what its trying to tell us. Much like you and I, our dogs can get bored if they’re not stimulated or challenged enough, which can lead to a multitude of negative behaviors such as aggression, restlessness, sadness, anxiousness, and/or distress. To top that off, some dogs more than others are very active and need ways to release energy due to the nature of their breed and predisposition, such as Sheepdogs, Labs, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, to name a few.
All that said, life tends to get in the way – we have 9-to-5 jobs, deadlines to meet, vacations and family gatherings to attend, etc. all of which makes it hard to dedicate a minimum of 2-3 hours every day to exercise/engage our dog to adequately meet its high energy needs. In addition to that, now that most of us have been working from home, some dogs are experiencing separation anxiety with those returning to the office or restlessness during the day for those still working at home.
Here are some creative, hands-off Brain Games that we typically tell our clients to help distract and stimulate your dog throughout the day when you’re working or pressed for time:
Puzzle Feeders or Lick Mats
Puzzle feeders and lick mats have been quickly picking up in popularity lately and for good reason! Not only do they help with dogs who either have digestive issues and/or scarf food down too quickly, but they are great options to mentally stimulate your pet by requiring them to engage multiple senses simultaneously in order to retrieve food.
Alternatively (for those unable to purchase or find one), use a muffin tin and hide treats in several of the cups. Then, cover every cup with tennis balls or small toys to make your furry pup search and sniff them out!
Hide & Seek
Much like the game, keep your dog in a room while you go and hide several enticing, high reward treats (the smellier the better!) around your home – in different rooms, under rugs, on top of side tables, behind vases – and have them go and find all of the hidden goodies!
These are also some of our faves. Stuff the toy with something like pet-safe peanut butter and have your dog go at it. For hot summer days, you can also freeze your Kongs filled with peanut butter or treat crumbles blended with water for a nice frozen snack!
Virtual Games / Videos
What would we do without technology? Nowadays, humans aren’t the only ones who benefit from it! Dog-friendly apps and TV channels have been popping up more than ever and we’re totally here for it! There are some pretty amazing dog-specific apps that you can download onto your tablets that can keep your dog busy for quite a bit of time! Our honorable mentions are: Lonely Dog Toy, and iSqueek
For those without a tablet, there are a ton of YouTube videos that are geared specifically to pets to help keep them engaged and entertained. DogTV is also another brand that we’ve come across and recommend!
*Pro Tip: If you’re wanting to go the technological route, make sure you invest in a very good screen protector ????
Now that we’ve discussed all the different brain games you can engage your dog in, we also wanted to make an important note on how these can also positively impact injured dogs. These methods (with the exception of hide & seek) are imperative for post-operative dogs who just had surgery and are required to be on “Crate Rest”. These games will help stimulate and challenge your dog while adhering to strict [physical] activity restrictions, therefore these serve as great outlets of energy release for them when they’re not yet able to return to their normal exercise/play routine due to healing, pain, weight-bearing status, etc.
Another key point is that typical, non-injured dogs still require physical activity and exercise! So although these methods are great ways for your dog to keep busy during the day, these should be used as adjuncts, or alongside their regular exercise/activity routine. It is still just as crucial to take them to the dog park, playing fetch, going on walks/runs, etc. Therefore, a good balance of both mental and physical stimulation are important to their overall well-being and happiness for years & years to come!