When trying to tire out their energetic puppy, many people look to physical activity and exercise. Exercise is very important for a puppy. However, over exercise and the wrong types of exercise can do more harm than good. For more on how to exercise a puppy see here.
Mental and mind stimulation for your puppy has numerous benefits and can tire a puppy, and an adult dog, just as much as physical exercise.
Mental stimulation for puppies
Enrichment for a puppy or dog can be categorized into six types.
- social enrichment
- cognitive enrichment
- environmental enrichment (see here for ideas)
- sensory enrichment
- feeding 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.
It is helpful for a puppy or dog owner to be aware of the six categories of enrichment and mental stimulation to aid in finding creative and simple ideas for your puppy.
Providing enrichment and mental stimulation for your puppy is quite simple, yet the benefits are well worth the small effort. The benefits of dog enrichment include –
- prevent boredom that may result in behavior issues such as destructive behavior, nuisance barking or even escaping.
- stimulate and assists in brain growth.
- improves your puppy’s problem-solving skills.
- builds confidence and social skills.
- allows your puppy to be a dog engaging in natural and instinctive behaviors.
- allows for a more balanced and happy dog. Lack of stimulation and enrichment can lead to depression.
- tires your puppy out so they sleep through the night.
Feeding enrichment for puppies
Diet and the correct quantity of food are essential for a puppy. They require sufficient calories and nutrients to fuel their growing bodies. However, overfeeding a puppy can make them overweight putting additional stress on their bones and joints.
It is a good idea to measure out your puppy’s food for the day including treats. Then instead of just feeding them from a bowl, use this food in ways that have them work for their food while providing mental stimulation and enrichment. You can feed some of their food in a bowl and the remaining in puzzle or food stuffing toys.
For more on feeding enrichment for dogs see here.
Toy enrichment for puppies
Toys are a great way to challenge your puppy’s mind and provide enrichment. Puzzle and interactive toys are one way to achieve this. Dog toys that have movement are also very engaging for a puppy and engage their natural prey and chase instinct. See below for recommended enrichment toys for your puppy.
For more on toy enrichment for dogs see here.
Sensory enrichment for puppies
Sensory enrichment is any activity that engages a puppy’s five senses. A dog nose and sense of smell is one of their main ways of experiencing the world. When a puppy is born their eyes and ears are closed. They use their sense of smell to find their way and experience their environment.
Scenting games and activities are a great way to occupy and provide enrichment. This can include simple games like hiding treats around the house for them to find. For more scenting and nose games for dogs see here.
Social enrichment for puppies
Socialization is a crucial part of a puppies development. It is important for your puppy to learn to socialize and interact with other dogs, people, and even other animals. Provide your puppy the opportunity to play with other puppies or friendly adult dogs, and meet new people and animals.
Cognitive enrichment for puppies
Cognitive enrichment is anything that challenges your puppy’s mind and teaches thinking and problem-solving. Time spent training your puppy not only teaches them obedience. It provides an opportunity to challenge and tire their minds.
In addition to teaching commands, you can teach your puppy tricks and play brain games with them.
Environmental enrichment for puppies
Environmental enrichment is anything that enhances your puppy’s living space. These can be simple things like a cardboard box to play in or a mirror. It can be entertaining to watch how your puppy responds to seeing themselves in a mirror. If your puppy becomes frightened or acts aggressively towards the mirror it is best to remove it.
For more on environmental enrichment for dogs see here.
Mental stimulation toys for puppies
There are many types of puppy toys available that can challenge their minds and provide enrichment. Here are some suggestions you can try.
Most puzzle toys are ones that can be manipulated with their paws or mouth to get a reward. This is usually food or a treat. This provides both food enrichment and toy enrichment.
For the top puzzle toys for dogs see here.
Chewing is a natural behavior for a puppy or a dog. It has numerous benefits including dental health and keeping them occupied. For a puppy that is teething, around five to six months old, chewing helps provide relief from sore gums.
Chewing also has a psychological benefit for dogs. When a puppy or dog chews it releases endorphins to their brain. This has a calming effect and provides stress relief.
It is important to select chew toys that are suitable for a puppy. Chew toys that are too hard can do damage to their young teeth, gums, and jaw. For the best chew toys for puppies see here.
Moving dog toys
Dog toys that move, shake, rattle, roll and make sounds provide another aspect of engagement for your puppy. These cater to your dog’s natural prey and chase instinct.
For toys that move on their own see here.
If you don’t know what a Kong for dogs is it is a tough rubber dog toy with a hole in the center so you can stuff it with treats or even flavored paste. The Kong is actually three dog toys in one.
- Food and treat stuffing puzzle toy. You can even freeze the Kong for a hot weather treat.
- Chew toy – made of safe near-indestructible rubber
- Fetch toy – due to its unique shape it bounces in unpredictable directions making a game of fetch more fun.
For a puppy, you should choose the Puppy Kong. These are made of a softer more flexible rubber so they don’t do damage to their young and developing teeth and jaw. See Puppy Kongs on Amazon here.
When selecting which size of Kong to get your puppy, find the one that you think is right. Then get the next size up. These don’t hold as much food as you may think.
To learn more about how to use a Kong for dogs see here
This automatic rolling treat ball from Petgeek is activated by a soft touch from your puppy and can last for up to 7 hours. It requires two AAA batteries and goes into sleep mode after a period of no activity.
It provides physical exercise and mental stimulation as they figure out how to release the treats. Can hold up to 380ml of kibble or small treats(sized up to 0.3 inches).
View the Petgeek Automatic Rolling Ball on Amazon.
If your dog is ball mad then the Wicked Ball is the ultimate moving dog toy for them. The magic ball runs and bounces all by itself and the LED light adds another level of engagement for your dog. No App or remote controller required.
It has several settings such as the Intelligent Companion mode. In this mode, the Wicked ball has 10 minutes of play and 30 minutes of rest. If your dog pushes or hits the ball it starts the play cycle again. It also has three reaction modes (gentle, normal, active) so you can set it to suit your dog’s mood. Due to its obstacle avoidance system (collision sensor), it doesn’t get stuck in tight spots.
View the Wicked Ball on Amazon.
The Buster Activity Mat is a mat with press studs in which you can attach different tasks and challenges too. You can also vary the difficulty of the individual tasks by either folding the task or leaving it open. The mat comes with three tasks included to get your dog started.
You can purchase additional tasks if the need arises. This makes this one of the more versatile of the puzzle toys. It is made from durable nylon and has a non-slip texture on the bottom to help keep it in place.
It can also be hand washed if required. If your dog is prone to chewing and destroying things this puzzle may not be the best choice.
What attracts me most to this puzzle toy is the versatility. I like how you can vary the level of challenge and add more challenges later if your dog is too smart.
Mental stimulation games and exercises for puppies
Playing games with your puppy is another good way to provide mental stimulation. Here are a few suggestions you may want to give a go.
You will need three or more people for this one. Have each person grab a handful of treats and spread out. Then each person calls the dog and gives them a treat and lots of praise. As they get better at the game you can spread out more to make it more challenging and burn off some energy. This is a great game to perfect your puppy’s recall.
Learning the name of their toys
Dogs have the ability to learn over 200 words. Start with one specific toy and begin using a name for it. You may find that they already know the name of some of their toys such as “get the ball” By repeating the name while playing with it they will start to pick up on the name you’re using. Once they are an absolute master with all their toys you can add another toy. Or ask for a name they don’t know to see how they react. There is a Border Collie named Chaser who knows the name of over 1022 different individual items. You can check out the video of Chaser in action here.
Hide and Seek
Put your dog in a sit-stay or have someone hold them while you hide. Then let your dog find you. Stay very still and quiet so as not to give away your hiding place and allow them to figure it out for themselves. As your dog gets more skilled at finding you, hide in more difficult places like under a blanket or behind a curtain. Give your dog lots of praise when they are successful.
Great way to test and reinforce your puppys commands. Grab some treats and give your puppy command after command. Reward them for getting it right. Mix it up just to keep your dog on their toes.
The cup game
Line up three old cups on the floor in front of your dog. Take a smelly treat and put it under one cup. Let your dog watch as you move the cups around, and give him the treat when they pick the right cup.
Check out 50 boredom busters and games for dogs for more ideas.
Summary – Mental stimulation for puppies
Providing mental stimulation and enrichment for your puppy is crucial and has many benefits. It not only improves behavior, and aids in brain development. It is also a great way to tire your puppy out.