Why Mental Exercise is Just as Important as Physical Exercise for Your Dog
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on June 30, 2018
Posted in Training
Every dog owner knows the importance of physical exercise for dogs. We take our pups on walks, chase them around the yard, play with tug ropes and do much more to keep their bodies healthy and their hearts happy. Dogs love physical exercise, even into their older years. However, physical activity is not the only crucial kind of exercise your dog needs.
Outside of keeping its muscles and heart healthy, your dog needs regular mental stimulation to keep it happy and healthy. Many dog owners forget about this critical element of dog ownership, electing to just tire dogs out physically.
In addition to routine physical exercise, you should be engaging your dog’s mind. Dogs are incredibly smart creatures, but their minds need to be put to the test a little each day to tap into their true potential and to keep them healthy overall.
Mental stimulation is especially important for senior dogs. As dogs age, their cognitive abilities start to fade, resulting in confusion, memory loss and a lack of awareness. Challenging your dog’s brain can help fight against this decay, keeping them smart and sprightly for much longer.
Mental exercise is also important for dogs with injuries or limited mobility, since they are probably not getting as much mental stimulation through adventures like walks or social interactions with other dogs.
Benefits of mental exercise
Working with your dog to exercise its brain is good for more than just keeping it busy. Here are just a few benefits:
- Prevents boredom: Dogs that don’t get challenged mentally will often start to act out around the house out of boredom. This might involve them chewing on things, scratching up furniture, digging up plants or barking excessively. With regular mental exercise, your dog will be much less bored and less likely to get into trouble.
- Improves behavior: Mental exercise can impact your dog’s behavior with other people and other dogs. Owners who regularly train their dog’s brain have found their dogs to be much calmer around other people and dogs and in new areas.
- Makes them happy: Much like physical exercise, dogs love mental exercise, and working with them to use their noggins can make them very happy. Additionally, you’ll be able to bond with your pet in a new way, helping to strengthen your relationship.
Creative ways to get creative with your dog
You don’t have to be a dog whisperer to tap into your dog’s creative mental capabilities. There are a lot of ways you can work to exercise your dog’s mind, either on your own or in a public setting.
- Puzzle toys: There are tons of new puzzle toys and even doggy board games out on the market that let your dog play while exercising its mind. Some games allow you to hide treats and make the dogs search for them under pegs, while others just take strategy to release a treat from the center. If you get your dog puzzle toys, rotate them out every few weeks, even if they aren’t new. This way, the dog won’t get bored of the same toy and can be consistently challenged.
- Thinking games: Games like hide and go seek or treat hunt are fun ways to interact with your dog while getting it to explore new areas and use its brain more critically. Another idea is to teach your dog the names of its toys, so it can play “fetch” when instructed.
- New tricks and training: It’s not true the old dogs can’t learn new tricks. In fact, old dogs should learn new tricks to keep them entertained! Enroll your dog in obedience school to give it some training or teach some tricks at home by yourself.
- Quick outings: Dogs love to experience new things, so take them on a walk to a new area of town or bring them in the car with you while you run errands. Exploring new places and seeing new things will activate your dog’s brain and keep it thinking as it registers all the new information.
- Quality time: Cool puzzle toys and new tricks aside, there is very little that comes close to the effect of just spending quality time with your pooch, and letting it spend quality time with others. Interact with your dog and talk to it while at home and take it to dog parks so it’s able to meet new dogs and see new faces.
Exercising your dog’s brain is not difficult or even time-consuming. In the case of some toys, the only time required of you is for purchase and set-up, and the dog handles the rest. Even just a few minutes of mental exercise each day can help your dog stay alert, happy and healthy.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan