Most dog owners have looked down at their furry friends at one time or another and wondered what was going on inside their heads. The answer may surprise you. One might assume — given their penchant for chasing their tails, barking at imaginary threats and licking themselves in some unsanitary places — that dogs don’t use their brains much.
On the contrary, they’re always processing information and learning throughout the course of the day. When they’re confronted with the same old experiences at the same times, it’s not only possible but probable that they’ll become bored. Just like it does for us, this boredom may lead to lethargy, irritability and unpredictable behavior.
If your pooch is spending too much time lying on the floor, snapping at you or tearing up the couch, the issue could be that it is feeling less than stimulated. We all know that going for walks is important to give our pets the exercise they need to be healthy. What we may not be aware of is how necessary it can be to give their minds a workout, as well.
Fortunately, there are some easy and fun games you can play with your four-legged companions to help keep them mentally active. What follows are toys and exercises you can do with your dog to better ensure it stays sharp.
Hiding the Treat
The relationship between humans and canines started as a hunting partnership. Dogs still enjoy searching for things with their noses, so you can put thousands of years of instinct to work. The next time you want to give your buddy a treat, don’t just flip it at its mouth. Turn it into a real hunt by hiding it somewhere in your home or in the yard. Don’t forget to change your hiding place each time you play, or the game will get old quickly. If you want to up the challenge a little, try stuffing the prize inside a pouch or container that requires a bit of effort to open.
The Snuffle Mat
This is a relatively simple toy that can give your pet hours of enjoyment. The idea is that there’s a plastic mat that has a large number of long strips tied to it. This creates something that looks a lot like shag carpeting and will swallow any treats you drop into it. Your canine companion will spend a while sniffing and digging until it finds whatever it is you dropped. It’s a neat, compact way to give your pup something to keep it occupied.
There’s a good reason why kids and puppies love chasing bubbles. Popping them in the air can be a satisfying way to spend a boring afternoon. Even better, they’re extremely affordable compared to other, fancier kinds of pet toys. If all you want to do is sit down and watch your pal have all the fun, an automatic bubble machine sends dozens of them into the air for your canine to chase and catch.
It’s well known that dogs love to chomp and crunch ice cubes. When summer rolls around, help your pup beat the heat and hone its problem-solving skills with this simple game. Throw a few carrots, apple slices or other dog-friendly goodies into a bowl filled with water, then freeze it. Toss the frozen block to your mutt and watch it go to town.
Building an Obstacle Course
If you’ve ever watched dog show contestants run through an obstacle course and thought, “My Rover could do that,” you’re right. Pooches love the opportunity to put their paws to work. A DIY course will challenge their reflexes and strategizing skills as well as their muscles. All you need are a few household items to stack so your friend can jump, dodge and climb them. Switching from one activity to another rapidly gives their brains a workout while they expend all of that energy.
Obviously, you’re never going to train your pup to do a crossword puzzle, but there are some simple brainteasers that could help it strengthen cognitive abilities. For example, show a treat in one hand and close both of your fists. Ask your dog to find the hand with the treat and reward only the correct answer. This exercises the nose as well as the short-term memory.
The Flirt Pole
Believe it or not, one of the most popular kinds of cat toys also works just as well for giving your hounds something to do. The flirt pole is nothing more than an enticing lure tied to a string on a stick. By wiggling it along the ground, you create a target for your puppy to chase around the room. Your pooch will have a blast pouncing on it and trying to anticipate where it will go next. A simple toy like this does wonders for your dog’s engagement and enjoyment.
Extending Your Walks
One of a dog’s favorite activities is just sniffing around and exploring the world through scents. There’s no better time to let yours do this than during your daily walks. However, many owners try to keep their mutts moving in an effort to get on with their busy schedules. If it’s a nice day outside, give yourself some extra time to let your pooch sniff to its heart’s content. It’s a nice way for your fuzziest friend to take in some new experiences. It can do you a lot of good, too.
Letting Them Dig
Another exploratory activity in which owners often discourage their dogs from engaging is digging. If you can designate a corner of your yard or a sandbox specifically for your mutt to dig, you’ll indulge one of its deepest instincts and preserve the rest of your landscaping.
A dog’s mind may not be as complicated as ours, but it still deserves the same amount of care and attention. By following the tips detailed above, you’ll be on the way to keeping your four-legged family member happier and healthier.
Stephanie N. Blahut is Director of Digital Marketing and Technology for Figo Pet Insurance. Figo is committed to helping pets and their families enjoy their lives together by fusing innovative technology — the first-of-its-kind Figo Pet Cloud — and the industry’s best pet insurance plans.