Providing mental stimulation and enrichment for your German Shepherd is critical. The German Shepherd is a working breed that is high energy and extremely high intelligence. Failure to keep a German Shepherd occupied and stimulated will result in boredom and frustration.
Boredom is one of the main causes of behavior problems for dogs. This can manifest itself in nuisance barking, destructive behavior, digging, escaping and even aggressive behavior.
Due to their high energy, it is crucial to provide your German Shepherd with sufficient exercise. For a guide to German Shepherd exercise see here. Mental stimulation can also tire a dog just as much as physical activity.
Types of enrichment for German Shepherds
There are 6 categories or types of enrichment for dogs. These are
- social enrichment
- cognitive enrichment
- environmental enrichment (see here for ideas)
- sensory enrichment
- feeding enrichment (see here for ideas)
- toy enrichment (see here for ideas)
An enrichment activity you provide for your dog can be classified in more than one of the types of enrichment. For example, a treat or food stuffed toy can be considered both toy enrichment and food enrichment. To learn more about the 6 types of enrichment for dogs see here.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter which type of enrichment a task falls into. However, it is useful for a dog owner to know about the 6 types of enrichment to help find creative, simple and effective enrichment ideas.
German Shepherd mental stimulation and enrichment ideas
Providing enrichment and mental challenges for your German Shepherd can be easy with a little creativity and simple ideas. Here are mental stimulation and enrichment ideas you can try with your German Shepherd.
Kong for dogs
The Kong for dogs is a must-have toy for all dogs. You can never have too many Kongs. This way you will never be caught out if you have a ready-to-go stuffed Kong. For how to use a Kong for dogs see here.
The key at first is to stuff the Kong loosely so the food can come out easily. Once they have become more proficient at getting the food you can stuff it more tightly and even block the large hole with a large treat or paste. Alternatively, mix wet and dry ingredients and freeze the Kong. This heightens the experience by providing a longer-lasting and stimulating task.
It is very strong and can be used as a chew toy alone. At one stage the manufacturer claimed that the Kong was indestructible but I think there may have been a couple of dogs that disproved this. They must have been pretty tough dogs as I have never seen a dog destroy one of these. For a powerful dog like the German Shepherd, I would recommend the Kong Extreme which is the toughest of the range.
Apart from the Extreme the Kong comes in a range of models including; the Classic (the standard red one),
Puppy which is a softer customized rubber suitable for puppy teeth and gums
Senior with specially formulated rubber for aging dogs
In addition, the Kong Classic comes in a variety of sizes from small to large. I recommend the extra-large for a German Shepherd. The smaller sizes tend to not hold as much food as you think.
View the Kong for dogs on Amazon
A good way to provide a really good challenge and food enrichment for your German Shepherd is to make them an enrichment box.
To make an enrichment box you simply need a larger cardboard box, some smaller boxes, empty toilet rolls, and newspaper. Put treats the toilet rolls, smaller boxes or wrap in newspaper and fill the box up. You can also put in a chew toy or stuffed Kong so they have something to settle done with when they are finished.
You may have a mess of shredded paper to clean up. But what are a few minutes of tidying for hours of fun and enrichment for your dog?
Puzzle and Interactive Toys
Puzzle toys are probably the best way to provide mental stimulation and a challenge for a highly intelligent breed like the German Shepherd. Due to there intelligence, it is important to select puzzle toys that they can’t figure out to easily. For suggestions see Top puzzle toys for dogs.
Chewing has many benefits for dogs. This not only includes cleaning their teeth and keeping them occupied. When a dog chews it releases endorphins to their brain. This results in a calming and natural feel-good vibe.
Dogs are generally categorized into three types of chewer. German Shepherds are generally a power chewer. To learn more about the best type of chew toy for your German Shepherd see here.
Lick mats are a great enrichment mat for your dog. Much like chewing, licking is also very calming and a good stress release for a dog. Also perfect for dogs that eat too quickly or who get bored easily. Just fill with tasty food to keep your dog entertained. These mats can be used as a boredom buster or to make smaller meals last longer. They can also be used to encourage calm behavior in stressful situations such as fireworks. The mats are non-slip and easy to use.
To use the Lickmats, all you have to do is spread a soft food on the top surface of the mat. We recommend using, peanut butter, mashed up dog food or natural yogurt.
You can even freeze the Lick mat for a cooling treat on a hot day and to make the treats last even longer.
View Lick Mats on Amazon.
Sensory enrichment is anything that stimulates your dog’s five senses which are sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Any sort of nose work would be included in this category.
When a puppy is born their eyes and ears are closed. Therefore, their sense of smell is how they experience the world. It is said that a dog’s nose controls 60% of their brain. Using nose work tasks is a great way to stimulate a German Shepherd’s mind.
These kits are used to train dogs for hunting. However, they are ideal even for a pet dog to challenge their nose work skills. Comes complete with the training dummy toy and a bottle of Rabbit scent. There are other scents available such as duck and goose.
See the Hound dog scenting kit on Amazon
A Snuffe Mat is another great way to provide for your dog’s natural sniffing instinct and to provide mental stimulation and relieve boredom. These are also another way to provide feeding enrichment. A Snuffe mat is a mat that is made of fleece and you can hide dry food or treats into it. If you are someone that is good at crafts you can try to make one yourself or check out the range of Snuffle Mats at Amazon.
My top pick for a snuffle mat for a German Shepherd is the SNiFFiz SmellyMatty Snuffle Mat for Dogs. This particular snuffle rug also comes with five puzzle pockets to make this not another a feeding puzzle, but an all-around puzzle enrichment toy.
Another great scenting activity is splash a little diluted beef or chicken stock around the yard. Alternatively, you can hide treats around the house or yard. For some more suggested scenting and nose games for dogs see here.
Teaching your German Shepherd new commands or tricks is a great way to provide cognitive enrichment. Learning is not just for puppies. Old dogs can learn new tricks.
A popular learning task for dogs is to teach them the name of their toys. Dogs can learn hundreds of words and names. Once they know the names of all the toys, add a new toy to the pile. Ask them to bring the new toy. They obviously won’t know the name of the toy, but they should be able to work out which one you want.
Summary – Mental stimulation for German Shepherds
Due to their high intelligence, German Shepherds require plenty of mental stimulation and enrichment to prevent boredom and frustration. A bored and frustrated German Shepherd can develop behavior issues such as nuisance barking, and destructive behavior.
Being a working breed physical exercise is also crucial for a German Shepherd. Mental exercise can also help to tire them.
Providing mental stimulation and enrichment for your German Shepherd can be simple with a few good ideas. We hope some of these ideas are helpful to you. Feel free to let us know in the comments how you provide mental stimulation for your German Shepherd.
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