THE IMPORTANCE OF BRAIN GAMES
Mental stimulation enriches a dog’s life by giving them something meaningful to do. And because these activities alleviate boredom they decrease the likelihood of our dogs developing behavioural issues such as barking, separation anxiety, destructive chewing and digging. There are heaps and heaps of things we can do to ensure your dog receives the stimulation they need to be happy, healthy and lead an enriched life.
1. Have Your Dog Work For Their Food
Our dogs have it pretty easy when it comes to meal times. Most of us just set their bowl down & let them go at it. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is a far cry from their natural scavenging habits. So if you want to add some mental stimulation to your dogs routine, start with changing up their feeding routine. Instead of just handing over their food a few times a day, make a fun game out of it for your dog.
LET THEM CHEW
Provide lots of options for chewing. Give your dog a juicy big bone, Bully Stick, Pigs Ear or Antler. Raw bones provide a great deal of stimulation for dogs (while also helping to keep their teeth clean). Your dog has to focus on the bone while chewing on it, which makes the gears in his head turn. We are also big fans of filling a hollow marrow bone with different kinds of fillings and then freezing.
HIDE AND SEEK –
Hiding treats for your dog to find. Hide and Seek is a great way to mentally stimulate your pet. You can start off with simply making your dog choose which of your hands (closed into fists), has the treat. Then, you can change it up to hiding treats in different parts of the house and then, to places outside of the house, such as your backyard or near the perimeter fence.
2. Puzzle Toys
Toys with different textures, filled with treats or that appeal to the senses with a crinkle, a crackle or a squeak are ideal for entertainment and boredom relief. Perhaps let your creative side shine and make up some stimulating games and home made puzzles. One idea is to put some treats in a few muffin holes in a Muffin tin & cover the muffin holes with tennis balls. Encourage your pooch to sniff out the holes with treats and then problem solve how to remove the balls. I would love for you to share any other ideas for home-made toys, puzzles and games on this forum. Just like kids, dogs can get tired of playing with the same toys every single day. Rotate your pet’s toys or try to give your dog a new toy every few weeks. Below are a some of the many and varied commercial toys and puzzles that we recommend.
The KONG Wobbler is an action-packed toy that is a mentally stimulating food dispenser. Dogs learn to paw the Kong Wobbler to cause a rocking motion and then release treats.
ZIPPY PAWS PUZZLE
Puzzle toys are great because they give your dog a chance to use some of their natural problem solving abilities. Keeping your dog engaged with interactive toys can help boost their confidence & tire them out mentally. The Smarty Paws Puzzler teaches dogs problem solving skills for a fun and engaging way to receive treats or kibble.
Dogs love to bury their noses in the Zippy Burrow to dig out the squeaky toys. They’ll be begging you to put them back in the Burrow again and again for hours of fun! We add to the excitement by adding liver treats to the Burrows. This doubles the motivation and fun.
SNUFFLE MATS AND BALLS
We Love, Love, Love Snuffle Mats and Balls. They are a fantastic way to occupy your pet on a rainy day, to slow down their eating and for pets with limited mobility or recovering from surgery. Snuffling for treats is a great stress relief for anxious pets and provides calm enrichment. Add dry food or treats on top and mix them into the layers of material, then let your pet snuffle away to find them!
We source our Snuffle Mats from Snuffle Mats Australia. This is an Australian Made Company located in Tasmania. Money from the sales of the snuffle products goes to help Border Collie Rescue Rehome and Sanctuary Tasmania . ❤️
Licking releases pleasurable endorphins which gives dogs a feeling of comfort and pleasure so can help with anxiety as well as giving them something fun to do.
The Puppingtons Licky Mats mats have a suction cup on the back allowing them to stick to shiny surfaces like baths, tiles and glass making them ideal for helping distract your dog while in the bath, at the vets, being brushed and awesome at puppy classes.
Spread yummy food over your Licky Mat and allow your dog to lick it off. Licking releases endorphins in dogs which is known as the happy hormone, it calms soothes and entertains your dog all in one.
KONG Classic has been the gold standard of dog toys for over thirty years. Their super-bouncy, red natural rubber compound is perfect for typical chewers. Veterinarians and trainers recommend stuffing KONG toys with treats to keep dogs busy. A frozen Kong will keep your dog busy for 30+ minutes. You can fill the kong with a range of food choices. Beef stock, yoghurt, mince meat, and peanut butter are a few options. Check out 39 healthy foods you can stuff in a Kong.
3. Get Out and About
Getting to go for a walk is one of the most exciting parts of your dog’s day. You can give them some more mental stimulation by letting them stop & sniff around. It’s true that walking is great physical exercise, but for dogs it’s also about exploration.
EXPLORE NEW SURROUNDS
Explore new neighbourhoods and change your pace. Walk through a park or forest or walk along a lake. Allow your pet some free play and time off the lead to simply sniff and explore his surrounds. The smell of different surroundings will help mentally stimulate your dog. This also gives your pet something new to look forward to every time you go out. You’d be surprised at how much more tired dogs are after a walk that includes exploration & sensory enrichment (sniffing) rather than just walking a straight line.
Take your dog for a ride in the car. The different sights and sounds that your pet is subjected to throughout the duration of the trip will make the ride interesting.
Bring your dog if you need to bring something to a friend’s house or if you need to do some grocery shopping. A new environment every once in a while is what your dog needs to stimulate its brain and to boost its spirit.
Just like people, dogs are social animals and enjoy spending time with members of their own species. Off-leash play with other dogs serves multiple purposes. It can give your dog opportunities to practice social skills with other dogs, wear them out mentally and tire them out physically. If your dog enjoys romping with dog buddies, give him/her regular opportunities to do so. If there’s some friendly dogs in your neighbourhood even better – no need to make any special arrangements.
4. Tricks and Training
Learning new tricks is a great form of mental exercise and also helps to strengthen bonds between you and your dog. You don’t need to teach your dog complex commands. Teaching your pet the basics such as, “sit,” “stay,” “lay down,” “come here,” and “shake” would be a good starting point. Just spend a few minutes teaching these “tricks” to your dog and he will get a good mental workout.
If you are trying to teach your pooch a complicated trick, work on it in stages over the course of a few days or weeks. Every step will offer excellent mental stimulation for your dog. Teaching your dog a new trick or command can be especially helpful with shy or fearful dogs. All that training will help boost your dogs confidence and can also help increase your dogs focus and impulse control (manners).
GO FIND IT GAME
Does your dog know the names of their toys? A recent study in National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/08/dogs-praise-brains-human-language/ found some dogs are capable of recognizing thousands of names of individual objects, and can link each name to a specific object. I found that information fascinating.
The first step is making sure your dog knows the name of the item you’re going to be hiding. I recommend sitting down with them & that toy (and in this case let’s say you’re using ‘pink bear’). With pink bear on the ground in front of you tell your dog ‘pink bear.’ As soon as they touch it or grab it praise them like crazy.
Now once you’ve done this a few times you can add in a different toy in addition to pink bear. Just be sure to go slowly to ensure that your dog knows exactly what ‘pink bear’ is before you move on to another. So once your dog knows the name of a few items you have them ‘go find pink bear’ or ‘go find yellow bird.’
5. Play Interactive Games
Interactive play is when you actively engage with your dog. A recent study found that dogs that don’t engage in a lot of play exhibit more behavioural issues such as anxiety and aggression. Below are a few ideas for games that you could try.
HIDE AND SEEK
Cover your eyes and count to 10. Hide and seek is an amazing game to play with your dog, and it keeps him mentally stimulated. Start by telling your dog to sit and stay and then find a hiding place somewhere in the house. When you’re ready, call for your dog and wait for him to find you praise and reward him when he does.
Another fun game is Fetch. Warm up your throwing arm. Playing a game of fetch provides both physical and mental stimulation. It doesn’t matter what you use to throw, as long as your dog will retrieve and drop in for you to throw again. Make sure your dog doesn’t get bored with the game; change the direction you toss the item with each throw.
Playing a game of tug is a good form of interactive play and these sorts of games help tremendously when it comes to giving your dog more mental stimulation. Some people have been taught that Tug can lead to aggression but it turns out that this is a myth and not supported by research.
THE SHELL GAME
The Shell Game is where you hide a treat under one of 3 identical containers, and then you shuffle them around letting the participant choose the correct container. To play the shell game with your dog you let them watch as you place a treat under one of the cups. Shuffle them around and then encourage them to ‘find the treat.’ The shell game will give your dog more mental stimulation, and it’s an easy way to help them work on their problem solving skills.
6. Make An Obstacle Course
Teaching your dog how to go through an obstacle course is a nice mental workout for them. And if you don’t have any agility jumps or poles at home don’t worry; you can make your own or just use some stuff in your house as alternatives. You can teach your dog to ‘go to your blanket,’ ‘jump over this broomstick’ or ‘weave’ through cones. Whatever commands work with what you’ve got set up. And the benefit of putting these obstacles together like this is that it’s a really big mental workout for your dog. You’re not just asking them to do one thing, you’re asking them to do one thing after another.
The parent breeds that make up the Australian Labradoodle have been bred over centuries to be highly intelligent, skilled in hunting and retrieving and to be companion animals. These unique attributes also predispose our beautiful dogs to be easily bored and to stress if forced to spend too much time alone. I hope you have gained a few ideas for mental stimulation activities to try and look forward to hearing about the fun and games that will be enjoyed.
For additional tips and guidance, Blue Ribbon Dog Training is available for online zoom calls. For families who may be interested in a more intense training option, Blue Ribbon Dog Training offers a board and train option. Last, but not least, specific to families who are in the process of adopting a Burrinjuck Labradoodle, Blue Ribbon Dog Training offer an early socialisation/stimulation package that is delivered between 6 and 8 weeks of age.
I hope you find some of these ideas useful and I would love to received feedback. Let us know what mental stimulation your dog enjoys.