Mental Stimulation Ideas For Dogs

Mental Stimulation Ideas For Dogs

mental stimulation ideas for dogs-min

Dogs need both mental and physical exercise to be balanced and healthy.  Finding ways to do this can be challenging.

Understanding the need for and providing opportunities for physical exercise is relatively common knowledge among dog owners.  But the concept that having a dog or dogs is a partnership and that your dog wants and needs to spend QUALITY time with you, is more difficult. It is not enough to spend time cuddling with them; dogs want to use their brains!  They have wonderfully intelligent, creative brains that need to be challenged and stretched to help prevent boredom-related behavior issues. Using some of the ideas listed will not only help dogs’ brains, but will also improve relationships with our dogs.

**Most of these ideas are intended for the owner to be involved or for the owner to supervise the dog. There is a section at the end of things to leave for the dog when s/he is left alone.

Create A Challenging Meal

Feed at least one meal a day in a mentally stimulating and challenging way:

  • In a food puzzle (Kyjen puzzles and slo feeders, Kongs and Kong Wobbler, Premier Tug-a-Jug, Barnacle, Squirrel Dude, and Mushroom, Buster Cube, Treat Ball, IQ Ball, Nina Ottosson puzzles) – these are not meant to be left unsupervised with the dog (with the exception of Kongs, Barnacle, Squirrel Dude)
  • Throw the food into the yard.
  • Put the food in an empty, dry (labels, rings, and caps removed) pop bottles, milk jugs, water bottles.
  • Put the food in boxes (see “Toys” section for more information).
  • Put the food in a muffin tin (see “Toys” section for more information).
  • Use the food in a training session.
  • Almost any of the ideas listed below will work to feed a meal.


Get creative and encourage owners to play games with their dogs. Here are a few games that are simple and quick to play every day.

  • Hide and seek – with people, toys, and food
  • Rapid recalls
  • Round Robin recalls
  • Tag
  • Musical chairs – play music, play with your dog, when the music stops ask your dog to execute a behavior on a mat or a rug, when the music starts again, play again
  • What can you do? – get your clicker and treats, ask your dog “what can you do?” start clicking and treating offered behaviors (your dog will probably do SOMETHING to get you to click/treat – use these behaviors to play this game – when we play this, the dogs must offer different behaviors to get the click/treat. Note: this is not a shaping exercise; this is a game.)
  • 101 Things to Do With a Box (or a laundry basket)


Toys come in all shapes and sizes. They are great tools to prevent boredom and enrich a dog’s life.

  • Flirt pole (make your own – directions can be found online; I like the Kong version because it’s easy to change out the toy at the end of the line).
  • Long line with a grocery sack on the end – your own version of lure coursing (think greyhound racing and chasing the lure). **Don’t let your dog chew on or ingest the bag!**
  • Ice sculptures – bowl or bucket or bottom half of a gallon jug – fill with water, toys, treats (carrots and apples work really well!) – freeze – put outside for your dog to play with, interact with, get the toys and treats out of.
  • Boxes – start with one box, put some treats or a favorite toy in it, have your dog get the treats/toy out of the box. Progress to nesting boxes with the treats/toy in the innermost box. (This can also be used to feed meals.) Make it more interesting by using peanut butter, spray cheese, or cream cheese in one of the boxes.
  • Muffin tin – put treats or kibble in each hole, cover some or all of the holes with tennis balls or crumpled paper. You can also use canned food, rehydrated foods, peanut butter, spray cheese, yogurt, and cream cheese
  • Yoga mat – unroll, sprinkle treats, roll back up. Have your dog unroll the mat and get treats.
  • Small round basket – put treats or a toy under the upturned basket and have your dog figure out how to get them.
  • Perches – phone books covered in duct tape or small, stable stools. Play with different things your dog can do with these. Two paws on (front, back, right, left), four paws on, two paws on move around, etc.
  • Hol-ee ball stuffed with fleece strips and small treats or kibble
  • Make a “burrito” out of an old towel or blanket, folded up with treats in the folds.

mental stimulation ideas for dogs9Other Activities

  • Take a class – either in person or online – the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy has some great online courses. If you can’t find a class locally or online you are interested in, consider working with a certified, experienced trainer (again, in person or online) to help guide you, answer questions, and help you stay on track. (Scent or nosework classes are a great class for dogs who need to be stimulated/challenged!)
  • Join a walking group that takes regular walks with their dogs (I DO NOT recommend off-leash, play group type walks – the walk should be as much about you and your dog as the social aspect for you with the other humans. It should NOT be about the dogs physically socializing.)
  • Teach the dog tricks – Do More With Your Dog is a great online program for earning certificates/titles for teaching the dog tricks.
  • If the dog likes to dig, create a place him/her to dig – a sandbox, an area of your yard – digging is a natural canine behavior and many dogs reduce stress and get a lot of stimulation when they dig.

Things You Can Leave With The Dog Unsupervised

If it is a multiple dog situation, I only recommend these if each dog is in a crate while you are gone to prevent any issues with resource guarding.

  • Stuffed and frozen Kongs, Squirrel Dudes, Barnacles
  • Bully sticks – freeze these too so they last longer
  • Stuffed and frozen tracheas
  • Ears – cow, pig, lamb

Mental stimulation is as important as physical stimulation for dogs. Encourage your clients to plays games and work with their dogs to build their bond and prevent boredom in their dogs.

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