Did your trainer tell you to provide mental stimulation or exercise for your dog? Are you unsure how to do this? Well, you are in luck! In this article we will be discussing mental exercise: what it is, how to achieve it, and how to get it done on a budget and/or with limited time.

First, let’s break down how mental and physical exercises differ. Physical exercise is very important and something that should be provided daily. Physical exercise can be achieved through at least a 30 minute walk or jog or even 30 minutes of playing fetch or Frisbee. Pretty much at least 30 minutes of any strenuous physical activity is the goal! Mental exercise is really using the brain – making your dog THINK. Why is mental stimulation so important? Well, it can mean the difference of a tired and happy dog or a dog that is wound up and still ready to play ball or take another jog! We all know that a tired dog is a well behaved dog. So let’s talk about how to get our pups to the point of passing out… in a good way!

Ditch the bowl. Dogs are naturally scavengers, so having to work to get their food is, not only more satisfying to them, but an awesome way to tire them out! More and more trainers are recommending that dog parents stop feeding out of bowls and start making their dogs THINK about how to get their dinner. It is also extremely fun and gratifying to get to watch our darling dog use their brain and creativity to eat breakfast.

Make them work for their food. It is always recommended to feed your dog on a schedule, rather than leaving food out all day. One great thing about feeding on a schedule is that your dog will be hungry and ready to work! Instead of just putting their food in a bowl, use it as a chance to have a training session! Undoubtedly, your trainer left you with some homework to do throughout the week with your pup, so use meal times as a time to get some of that homework done!

Puzzle toys and interactive treat dispensers are always a great idea. There is never a time when I don’t recommend somebody get a puzzle toy or interactive treat dispenser! They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, styles, and prices. Not only are they an excellent way to feed your dog dinner, they can be extremely useful for keeping the pup busy for a while so you can get things done without your faithful, four-legged companion standing under your feet the entire time! You can find these toys at any pet store or online. Amazon.com and Chewy.com usually have great deals on puzzle toys and treat dispensers! Some of the most popular treat dispensers are Kong products, the Buster Cube, and Nina Ottoson dog puzzles.

Don’t worry, there are also options for those times when we need to watch the budget! Taking the plastic, plastic ring, and lid off of a clean water or soda bottle can be a great “homemade” treat or food dispenser! Just pour the kibble in the bottle, show your dog how to get the food out a couple of times, and watch your pup work to get that food out! For dogs that just love to shred and destroy things, gather up empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls and pour a little food in a few of them, folding the ends down so the food does not fall out. It makes your dog think about how to get that food out and provides them something appropriate to shred!

Games are free, easy, and FUN! Hide and seek is one of the most popular games to play with your pooch. First, it’s just plain fun for everybody involved. Second, it is an excellent way to teach your dog to come when called! Lastly, not only does your dog have to THINK, but they have to use their nose to find you! (A dog’s nose is their most powerful sense. Get them to use it as often as you can!) If you do not have the time to play hide and seek, worry not! Simply place small piles of your pup’s dinner or some tasty treats around a room of your house and let them put those scavenging instincts to use! The first few times you hide food, you will need to walk your dog around the room and show them that the food is hidden. This is like explaining the rules of the game to them and is an important step. Another fun game to play is chase! Grab their favorite toy and take off running away from them. They will be sure to start running after you, tongue lolling, and tail wagging! You could also wait until they have a toy and start chasing after them, dodging left or right to mix things up. Be sure that they do not find being chased scary, but instead fun!

Teach them some tricks. One of the best ways to mentally exercise your dog is through training. But why stop at the basics? Ask your trainer to show you how to teach some easy, fun tricks! Not only is teaching tricks great mental exercise, but they are so much fun. Let’s be honest here, who does not love showing off how amazing and talented their dog is?

Sports are not just for humans. Some breeds need more than just the basic mental stimulation that is listed in this article. For these dogs, you need to get them involved in some kind of activity! Just a few of the most popular things you can do with these dogs are: agility, competition, Triebball, nose work, and weight pulling. Look up what sports and activities you and your pup can get involved in around your area! Make sure that whatever activity you end up choosing is taught by people that use force free methods. The last thing we want to do is end up using scary, stressful training techniques that remove all the fun for our dog.

The great thing about mental stimulation is that we can get creative to provide it! There are so many other ways to provide the mental exercise that your four-legged friend needs than what is in this article. Get to researching more ways to provide the mental exercise alongside with the physical exercise. Talk to your trainer about it to brainstorm ideas together, talk to your vet about dog related activities happening in your area, and ask for suggestions from force-free dog parents and other professionals. Mentally stimulating your dog does not have to be time consuming or difficult to accomplish. Have fun with it!