Doggone Smart: Five Mental Stimulation Ideas to Get Your Pups Through the Dog Days of Summer

30 Jun

As temperatures rise, more and more canines are cooling it indoors to avoid the dangers if overheating. That’s wise, but what if you have an energetic dog that likes to work? If you’re not careful, he may just find a new occupation tearing up your house.

That’s where mental stimulation comes in. When your dog works her brain, she is using up energy much like physical exercise. In fact, very smart dogs might need to work their minds just as much as they need to move their bodies.

Here are five simple ways to add mental exercise into your dog’s routine this summer:

Wake Up Your Walks

Walking is a primary form of physical exercise for many dogs, but it can be a source of mental exercise a well. Try a few of these tricks to make your next walk more exciting.

Take a new path. New sights, sounds and especially smells will make an ordinary walk into something exciting for your dog. Mix up the path of your daily walk or, on the weekend, hop in your car and go walk someplace completely new.

Work on your walks. If your dog knows how to heel, have him practice during a part of your walks. Speed up and slow down, so he learns to match your pace. If you walk somewhere with people, it’s also a great chance to practice polite greetings.

Try a backpack. Some strong, energetic dogs enjoy wearing a specially designed weighted pack when they walk. Talk to your trainer or vet to find out if a backpack might be right for your dog.

Puzzle It Out

Puzzle toys are one of my favorite ways to entertain a dog. Anyone can use them, and they’re a perfect indoors activity even in a small space. They build your dog’s confidence by teaching them to solve problems in their own, and they come in all shapes, sizes and levels of difficulty, so there’s really a toy for every dog.

My dogs eat all their meals from puzzle toys, as well as enjoying some special puzzle toys as a treat. Watch for a future article with my reviews of some popular puzzle toys.

Get Nosy

Dogs have an amazing sense of smell, and most of them love to use it. There are many simple games you can play to test their sense if smell. For example, you can use plastic cups to play a “shell game” and have your dog point to or tip over the cup that’s hiding the treat. Or you can hide treats in a muffin tin and cover the compartments with tennis balls or other objects and have your dog find the treats. You can also play hide and seek, having your dog stay while you hide then sniff you out from hiding.

Tricks and Treats

Trick training for treats is always fun for dog and handler. Tricks can be as simple as “puppy push-ups,” where your pup alternates between sittng and lying down on your command or you could teach something new. I like Pat Miller’s “The Power of Positive Dog Training” for training ideas both practical and fun.

Take a Class

Anytime I feel unmotivated about training or working my dog, I find that going to a class is the best way to bust out if a rut. Taking a class gives you fresh goals and fresh strategies for your training, and working around more advanced students is great motivation to improve. Anything from a basic obedience refresher class to a new dog sport would be good practice, so pick something that interests you and suits your dog.

Summer is one time when playing “mind games” is a good thing (at least when it comes to your dog). Have fun trying some or all of these tips, and let us know in the comments what your dog’s favorite form of mental exercise is.


One Response to “Doggone Smart: Five Mental Stimulation Ideas to Get Your Pups Through the Dog Days of Summer”


  1. Friday Free-for-All: National Dog Day « Dixie Julep - September 2, 2011

    […] gadgets and apparel. The best gift you can give your dog is time; a little exercise, some training, some game-playing or a good old-fashioned belly rub would all do the […]

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