Much like humans, your dog's health goes beyond physical fitness. Keeping your pets mentally stimulated helps them learn and remain engaged, which keeps them happier and healthier. Challenging your dog’s mind keeps them from becoming bored, anxious, or depressed. A dog that is mentally active is more adaptable to change with overall better health. So, when playing with your dog, try to think of ways to get them active that go beyond just physical exercise.
1. An old dog can learn new tricks
Life is more fulfilling when we are learning and discovering new things we are good at. The same is true of our pets. Dogs are excellent at learning and retaining new things, and continuing to add to their list of skills and commands will go a long way in keeping them spry and alert, even as they age. You really can teach old dogs new tricks! Already know how to “Sit” and “Stay”? Great! Try working on “Heal”, “Fetch”, “Roll over”, “Play Dead”, “Spin”, “Shake”, you name it. Dogs have different attention spans, and some will pick things up faster than others. Keep trying. Training your dog new things, whether it is basic obedience training and handling to more advanced tricks or challenges, teaching your dog is a great bonding activity that is good for their overall quality of life.
2. Practice skills and commands
Much like how we forget things we “know” but never use, so do our dogs. Practicing skills and commands we’ve taught to our dog helps reinforce what they’ve learned and sets them up to continue to succeed. It’s also good to throw in some well-known skills with the new things they are learning. Getting praise, be it treats or pats, for doing things well alongside the more challenging tasks keeps our pups motivated, eager to please and soak up more.
3. Mix it up
Dogs thrive with a routine. Having a schedule or reliable patterns in our lives is pretty common for dog owners, and consistency is important for teaching things to our dogs, both in regards to general behavior training and more complicated things like tricks or tasks. However, when things are always on autopilot and your dog knows what to expect, they don’t really have to think about it either. Sometimes you can mix it up by changing up the order you usually give commands to your dog. It can also be as simple as changing the usual route for your dog’s walk or practicing old tricks in new places. Try introducing your dog to new faces and experiences.
4. Agility and obstacle courses
Agility and obstacle courses are excellent ways to combine physical and mental exercise. Posh has a few agility course pieces that are favorites among the campers. It’s easy to learn while still being challenging and stimulating both for the Posh Pups’ bodies and minds. You can set up obstacle courses in your backyard. Break each obstacle up into sections to teach them what you want them to do set your dog up for success.
5. Play Games
Just like our human kids, our fuzzy kiddos learn and have their minds stimulated when they are playing games that focus on building their skills. The possibility for dog games are endless, and there is no shortage of ideas online. Consider a scavenger hunt, herding, or pick-up-and-move games. Teach your dog to put all of their toys away by name or on command; a fun game that is pretty helpful. You can give your dog a job to do and make a game out of learning how to do the task.
6. Smart toys
Steer toward toys that make your pup think a bit while they play. There are a ton of stimulating toys for dogs on the market - kibble balls they have to roll around and figure out how to retrieve the treat; puzzle toys that challenge your pet while they try to unlock the reward of the tasty treats inside. We live in an exciting age with learning toys for our pets that bear a strong resemblance to toys we pick for our human kiddos to stimulate their minds. Rotate out old toys and swap in new or rarely-used ones to keep their interest fresh and to prolong the stimulation they get out of playing with them.
7. Get Creative
Have fun with the process. Your dog will appreciate it. It’s a bit of a puzzle for you as a pet owner, too. That’s good. We need to keep our human minds stimulated, as well. Exercising our dogs’ minds is an ongoing process that can be a lot of fun when we get creative about how we keep them active and engaged.
Watch for signals in your dog as you work with them to exercise their mind. They will usually begin to tell you when they’ve had enough, and they will even start to act tired. Strive for that balance that has your dog tired and ready to rest while appearing satisfied and happy with their play time. Keep an eye out for what your dog's body language is telling you. If they seem anxious or confused, reconsider your approach. They might need something a little less overwhelming for their temperament or might not understand what you expect of them.
Daycamps are sought out for their great socializing and physical exercise aspects of safe group play. Posh places emphasis on engaging your dog’s mind, as well as building their social skills, and encouraging their physical play drive. Taking the time and effort to engage your dog in positive, challenging mental and physical stimulation techniques strengthens the bond you share and builds confidence.