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Mental Stimulation for Dogs: Do They Need It?


Think about what your average day looks like. You work, you take care of the household, you watch a few episodes of your favorite show, you engage in your hobbies, and you spend some time scrolling through social media. 

Now, think about what your dog’s day looks like.

Your dog doesn’t have any chores. Most dogs, with the exception of service dogs and working dogs, don’t have jobs. They can’t use technology, and they can’t travel on their own. They need to get their mental stimulation from somewhere, otherwise they’ll wander about listlessly. 

Mental stimulation keeps your dog active, healthy, and happy. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Mental Stimulation?

Mental stimulation, or neurological stimulation, is any activity that requires you to use your brain. 

Things you’ve done thousands of times, like washing the dishes, are not mental stimulation. The tasks are the same each time, and you’re able to do them without much thought. 

When you want to be entertained, you seek something different. A new episode of a TV show, a new book, or learning a new skill gives your brain something to actively participate in. 

Now, put this in the context of your dog. Your dog goes for a walk, and while they may see new squirrels or find new pine cones, the act of the walk is nearly identical every time. 

In order to feel stimulated, your dog needs a vastly different experience. 

Why Is Mental Stimulation Important for Dogs?

Boredom makes most creatures profoundly unhappy. If you had nothing to do for most of the week, you wouldn’t feel fulfilled. You might catch a bout of the blues. Maybe you get angsty or even aggressive when you haven’t had any fun for a long time. 

Dogs that don’t receive enough mental stimulation may act out. They might scratch up the carpet or chew up the furniture in a desperate attempt to just have something to do. They could attempt to find their own fun by loudly barking at everything that passes the window or digging in the trash can. 

Mental stimulation also serves as a distraction. Dogs may feel distressed by certain unavoidable events. If your dog doesn’t like the sounds of thunderstorms or experiences emotional distress during car rides, mental stimulation gives them something else to occupy their time. Sometimes, distraction is the best medicine. 

When To Provide Mental Stimulation for Dogs

Dogs should receive some sort of mental stimulation every day, even if it’s only brief. Mental stimulation is more important when you need to keep your dog occupied. 

If your dog gets excited and runs for the garage when you’re bringing the groceries in, providing your dog with some form of mental stimulation will give you the time you need to bring the week’s shopping into the house without constantly coaxing your dog away from the door.

Mental stimulation is especially helpful when unavoidable events are causing your dog distress. You can’t make a thunderstorm stop and you can’t block out all the sounds. You can’t avoid taking your dog on car trips if a visit to the vet is in order. 

While some dogs will eventually grow to feel more comfortable in these situations, they need assurance that everything is alright to help them get through moments they find scary or confusing.

Giving your dog something else to do, such as a special puzzle toy they can solve during these scenarios, will help to provide them with a positive distraction. You can also give your dog CBD to keep them calm so they can actually enjoy whatever activity you’ve put in front of them.

Over time, your dog may hear a thunderstorm or hear the car keys jingling and approach you, waiting for their special toy. They’ll come to associate the event with something fun, which reduces the overall uneasiness they feel. 

How To Provide Mental Stimulation for Dogs

There are several things you can do to provide mental stimulation for dogs. Some dogs are simple, and they’re happy to watch TV with you. They may even seem invested in the things you’re watching. These forms of entertainment work in a pinch, but they’re fleeting. 

Think long-term for mental stimulation solutions that will withstand the test of time.

Obedience Training

Even if you feel as though your dog doesn’t need it, obedience training is a great way to keep your dog stimulated and engaged. Even after you’ve mastered the necessary commands, your dog may benefit from a periodic refresher course every now and then. 

Trick Training

Trick training can become a lifelong learning adventure. After you’ve mastered the basics like high fives and playing dead, you can work on more obscure tricks. 

If you have a larger breed of dog who enjoys vocalizing, you can teach your dog simple melodies, or even to mimic the phrase “I love you.” 

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are one of the easiest ways to provide mental stimulation for your dog. If you’re busy or if you won’t be home, a puzzle toy will get the job done. 

Most dog puzzle toys are designed to withhold treats until the dog can solve some kind of puzzle, like sliding doors or a rolling mechanism, to unleash their snacks. Puzzle toys often take dogs a while to solve, but with their acute sense of scent focused on the yummy treats inside, dogs are usually patient enough to see them through till the end. 

Put Your Dog to Work

Dogs make excellent service animals because many of them enjoy having a job to do. In fact, shepherd and retriever breeds were bred specifically for their ability to herd animals or fetch things. 

If you like to play tennis, your dog’s job can be to retrieve and return the balls you’ve hit. It’s like a more useful version of fetch that will be a little more difficult, given the distance of the open space. 

If someone in your household could use a little extra help with basic tasks, you can train your dog to be of assistance. Teaching your dog to open and close doors, fetch shoes, or pick up dropped objects gives your dog something important to do. A family member with a bad back might appreciate the help, as it might save them from bending over. 

Affectionate and calm dogs make excellent therapy dogs. Some live-in or long-term facilities allow people to bring their dogs in to visit elderly residents or children who need a little cheering up. Volunteering will allow your dog to visit new places and meet new friends. 

How Much Mental Stimulation Does a Dog Need Per Day?

Every dog will have different needs, but you should generally aim for at least 30 minutes of mental stimulation per day.

If your dogs want more, they will let you know. You can also use mental stimulation if you need a break. 

You can work on training for half an hour, give your dog a rest for a while, and then present your dog with a puzzle toy. Spreading out the activities will help to keep your dog’s day more interesting. 

Caring for Your Dog’s Mind, Body, and Spirit

A holistic approach to your dog’s wellness should stimulate their mind, nourish their body, and keep them in good spirits. 

Mental stimulation, fresh nutritious dog food, and holistic wellness supplements can work together to keep your pet happy, healthy, and thriving.



Bored Dogs: How to Recognize Doggy Boredom (and Help!) | American Kennel Club

Basic Obedience Training For Puppies: Where to Start | American Kennel Club

Games to Teach Your Dog | Michigan Humane Society

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