How to keep your dog's mind in good shape

By Fiona Evans
Thursday, 10th March 2022, 8:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th March 2022, 8:20 pm
Enrichment toys and games will keep your dog busy (photo: Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash)
Enrichment toys and games will keep your dog busy (photo: Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash)

Not every dog is going to be a Crufts champion but they all need mental stimulation.

With so many eyes on the world's biggest celebration of dogs, all things canine are in the spotlight.

Much is made of a dog's need for physical exercise but what about their minds?

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Your pooch's toys are not just for fun - they are also used to prevent some problematic behaviours and help reduce canine stress levels and anxiety.

“It’s widely known that our pets require lots of physical exercises to stay happy and healthy," said Carolyn Menteith, behaviourist at tails.com.

"But some dog owners often forget that channelling your dog’s mind is just as important. Not only does mental stimulation promote good dog behaviour, but it gives an appropriate outlet for our dog’s natural need to gnaw and chew - which is a great canine stress-reliever.

"Like humans, stress can cause health problems for dogs. Dogs who aren’t provided with enough mental stimulation, problem-solving opportunities and an outlet for their natural behaviours are likely to experience heightened levels of stress, which can lead to anxiety, depression and behaviour issues.”

With this in mind, the team at http://tails.com/ have shared the best types of toys to keep your pup happy and entertained.

Best enrichment dog games and toys for mental stimulation

Dog puzzles

Enrichment toys are designed to keep your canine companion occupied and make a meal or treat times more interesting with problem-solving challenges for dogs, which entice them to flip, push or roll them around in order to access a treat.

These types of toys are not designed for chewing, fetching or chasing around; they are aimed for learning and concentration.

They are often not that robust, and so they should always be used when you are there to supervise - and you can turn this into a great interactive game by encouraging your dog to work out the puzzle.

Your pup might not understand these puzzle toys straight away, so by working with them you can show them how they can get a treat and make it easy until they have figured it out.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy toys. You can hide treats in small boxes, plastic bottles, and encourage your dog to find them but be extra cautious with homemade toys and ensure they are safe to chew and don’t pose a choking hazard.

Food dispensing toys

We all know that keeping a dog busy and mentally stimulated can be challenging, especially when they are young and full of energy.

Food-dispensing toys can help manage boredom while building mental skills and increased dexterity. These products encourage dogs to chew, lick, nudge, toss the toys to find and obtain the food.

Food dispensers are also great if your pet eats too quickly, as the toy dispenses a couple of biscuits at a time, reducing how quickly they eat their lunch.

Some food dispensing toys are made out of robust rubber that can be stuffed with food and can provide a distraction if you have to leave your dog on their own.

But do remember that no toy is 100 percent safe and so if you have a ‘power-chewer’, you might be better using something like a cardboard tube or box that can be safely ripped and torn.

Lickimats

Lickimats are a simple, and affordable way to keep your dog entertained and stimulated.

By spreading your dog’s favourite soft treat over the surface, for example, peanut butter or banana, you create a fun and tasty game.

Lickimats are either silicone or rubber sheets, with a raised texture or pattern on them. This pattern traps the food so that it takes the dog longer to eat it all, making dinner time or treat time last longer.

Interactive hide and seek

Hide and seek can be played anywhere in the house or garden, and all it requires is a curious pup and some tasty treats.

Simply hide treats around the home and let your dog use their nose to sniff them out.

Alternatively, add treats to a blanket and roll it up. Your pet will use their paws and nose to push the blanket around and retrieve the treats.

Snuffle mats are a great way to keep your dog entertained and mentally stimulated.

The toy encourages your pet to sniff and search out the special treats hidden in the mat strands. The best part is, you can make it yourself with some felt and a rubber mat with holes.

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