How to Mentally Challenge a Dog

by Christina Stephens
    "Really, Mom? The same old sit trick? How boring."

    "Really, Mom? The same old sit trick? How boring."

    Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

    Exercise isn’t the only activity necessary to keep your buddy healthy and happy; a good dose of mental stimulation alongside his daily romps will have him woofing in delight. Give your dog a mix of simple and complex mental challenges to stave off boredom, avoid destructive behaviors and keep him satisfied.

    Food Puzzles

    If your buddy is food motivated, and most pups surely are, tease his brain a bit during mealtime. Invest in a canine-safe puzzle toy. These puzzles feature small holes, sliding doors and flip tops in which to hide small pieces of food. Divide dinner throughout the puzzle and watch him satisfy his hunger and boredom at the same time. You can even hide his food around the house or yard and create your own puzzle. Corners, underneath small plastic cups and nestled between blades of grass are good places to start the hunt. Give him some gentle guidance if he seems lost.

    Vocabulary Expansion

    You may not consider your dog capable of learning an extensive vocabulary, but with a bit of work dogs can recognize objects via name just like children. Grab one or two of his favorite toys and give each a unique name like “Piggy.” Spend some time each day playing with Piggy, always referring to the toy by its new name. Repeat its name often. After a few days, try hiding it and asking your buddy to go find Piggy. You may be surprised when he brings back the toy. Many dogs love having a job to do and this exercise provides just that. Chaser, a border collie in South Carolina, learned 1,022 words using the same object/name technique.

    New Tricks

    Your buddy willingly puts his paw in your hand quicker than you can ask him for it, and always sits when told. It’s time for some new tricks to stimulate his mind. Use a soft beach ball and teach him to shoot a hoop. Gently toss the ball to him and work on it until he bops it into the basketball net. Spinning is a trick that’s great for high-energy breeds -- terriers take note. Have your buddy spin around in a circle by holding a treat above his nose and moving it quickly in a circular motion. The truly motivated, ahem hyperactive, dog will gladly spin to follow the treat.

    New Trips

    One of the easiest ways to stimulate your pup is to take him somewhere he’s never been before; no special tricks or toys necessary. Take him to a safe, slow-moving river, calm beach or lake for a dip. Take him on a new and different hike in an area he’s never explored. You can even take him with you on a few errands -- yes, even the bank counts. Meeting different people and exploring different places is a quick and easy way to excite and challenge your dog all at once, just make sure he’s on a leash and you have plenty of waste bags handy.

    Photo Credits

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    About the Author

    Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.

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