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Physical vs. Mental Stimulation

Dogs need mental as well as physical stimulation.

Does this description sound familiar to you: “My dog just won’t settle down. He seems to have an endless supply of energy, even after running around all day.” This is a common description shared by many dog owners.

If this sounds familiar to you, the first question to ask yourself is “How am I stimulating my dog’s mind?” If your answer is “I do not know,” here are some suggestions to help you differentiate between physical and mental exercise, which in turn will help tire your best friend.

This is an area where there is a strong parallel between dogs and people. If you have a mentally stimulating day where your brain really gets a workout, you are usually very tired and ready to just relax. If you don’t have any mental stimulation, you have more energy at the end of the day. The same holds true with your dog.

Have you noticed that a physical workout energizes you? The physical conditioning builds more stamina. It’s the same with dogs. There is a point where the exercise will tire them, but it takes a lot! Dogs can run and run for hours and still be ready for more, but 10 to 15 minutes of making them concentrate and think is exhausting, and they’ll be ready for a nap. Just as the physical exercise will give you and your dog physical stamina, exercising the brain will build mental stamina.

So, how can you exercise your dog’s brain? Obedience training is one great way. Making your dog sit and stay until you free him, correcting his mistakes and praising him for the right behavior is a great way of stimulating his brain. He needs to think about what he’s doing and he needs to concentrate. He doesn’t want a correction. He wants to be praised, so he has to think about what he’s doing.

A very slow walk—making sure he is right next to you—is another brain stimulating exercise. The slower you walk, the more your dog has to think about what he’s doing. We’ve seen, over and over again, very high-energy dogs crash as soon as they come back from a very structured five- to ten-minute walk. A “power walk” will give them more energy, but a walk that requires brain power will be exhausting.

Puzzles are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog’s brain. Take one of his favorite treats, let him sniff it and then hide it. Let him try to find it or tie it inside an old towel and make him figure out how to get it out. 

Scatter feeding is another great mental game. Your dog will have to search for his supper. Scatter feeding also works well if your dog has a tendency to wolf down his food. We’ve never met a dog that didn’t love this game.

The more you exercise your dog’s brain, the happier and calmer he’ll be. He does need physical exercise, just as we do, but he also needs mental stimulation. Dogs who are bored are more likely get into trouble.

If your dog is digging or chewing inappropriate items or if he’s running all over the house out of control, look at the mental side of the equation. A mentally stimulated dog is a tired dog and a tired dog is a calm dog. A calm dog is a happy dog and that’s what we all want.


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