Mental Stimulation for Dogs

Most dogs are bored and understimulated. You can keep your dog busy by giving it a job.

Chances are your dog leads an under-stimulated life. If your dog lived in the wild he would spend the majority of his time in survival activities. He would be hunting for his dinner. He would have to find prey, run it down, hang onto and kill it, and then rip it apart to eat it! Not a pretty picture but true. (Remember, they are animals.) He might even have to protect it from other predators. That’s a lot of work! Dogs are programmed to work-they need and want a job. Busy dogs are happy dogs. Tired dogs are good dogs. There are many things you can do to keep your dog busy. Your imagination is the limit-as long as it is safe. If you come up with a great idea please share it with me so we can list it for other dog owners.

Feeding Ideas

Nothing for free (NFF) rule; never give your dog food without making him work for it. It can be as simple as a “sit” or as complicated as running an agility course. This includes treats, handouts while you’re fixing your own meal, or putting his bowl down in front of him. This means by everyone in the family. There’s always a softie who thinks it is mean, but in reality, it’s meaner, to not make your dog work than to make him work. Try some feeding variations like a feeding cube or ball. This is a square or round shaped ball which you fill with dry food and the dog has to roll it around on the floor to get the food out. Don’t worry, when he finds out there is food in it, he won’t let it go under the furniture. Or forget the ball and just scatter his food all over the floor. You will be surprised how even picker eaters will soon be loving meal time. Try a Kong. Kong’s are chew toys that can be stuffed! You can stuff them with almost anything. Try stuffing it and then hide it. Here are some stuffing ideas:

  • Buy more than one, save time by stuffing them ahead of time and keep them in the frig
  • Stuff with peanut butter, cheeze whiz, cream cheese, cottage cheese, can dog food, chopped hot dogs, cheese, or dog treats
  • Stuff them and then freeze them, it will take the dog longer to eat them
  • Plug the opening with white bread to keep the stuffing in
  • Too messy! Give it to him outside or in his crate
  • Put it in a margarine container or tie an old rag around it, he will learn how to get it open
  • Hide it-make him hunt for his dinner

Exercise Ideas

Have you herd the saying: If your dog is overweight, you aren’t getting enough exercise! All dogs need exercise. A walk is great for your dog’s mental stimulation and allows him to encounter other dogs and people. It is also a great leadership exercise; we call it “follow the leader”. However, it is not a substitute for strenuous exercise. Can’t walk very far; get him a back pack and let him carry a little weight. If you exercise by jogging or bike riding take your dog with you. (Check with your vet, make sure his health will allow this type of exercise.) Here are some games you can try:

  • Fetch- You can come home after a hard day’s work, and exercise your throwing arm. It doesn’t matter what he fetches; ball, Frisbee, stick, your slippers. Just make sure you keep playing until he is worn out.
  • Tug of War – This is a great energy burner and it also addresses predatory energy. Too often people like to ignore the fact that dogs are predators. They try to eradicate the predatory drive which can lead to other behavior problems. Instead, you should channel the drive into useful activities. If you play tug-of-war remember the game has rules;
    • Use a specific toy which is YOUR toy, not the dogs. Put it away when you are not playing.
    • You say when the game begins and ends. (Get the advise of a trainer if you are not sure how.).
    • The dog must never touch you with his teeth
    • If the dog breaks the rules, the game is timed-out or over

Dog Parks

If your dog has a good recall take him to an off-leash dog park and let him run and play. If he doesn’t have a good recall, teach him one. Or, you can set up play dates with your friend’s dogs. Dogs playing with dogs is great exercise, increases their social skills and problem solving abilities.


There are a lot of dog sports out there which are fun for you and your dog. You can do it for fun or for competition. Figure out what is involved in participating, what you and your dog enjoy and go from there.


Obedience training is great mental exercise for your dog. Make him practice at home. Join a class or competition – Don’t forget “The Dog Lady” has a lifetime group membership which is geared toward learning, mental stimulation and socialization (for both you and the dog).


There is no shortage of different types of toys out there. Everything from plain old balls to electronic learning toys. Make sure your dog has plenty of fun toys and chew things. They need to chew to keep their jaw muscles and teeth in good shape. This applies to adult dogs as well as teething puppies. Experiment to see what your dog likes and then make sure you have plenty around. Just don’t give them all to him at once. Rotate a few different toys and/or chews each day. You can even let him pick which ones he wants every day. This is also a good way to keep him from chewing things he shouldn’t. What! You don’t give him stuffed animals because he tears them apart. Well, remember that predatory thing you don’t want to think about. When he holds the toy down and picks it open he is ripping open its stomach and gutting it; uck! He will love it if you let him do this but make sure it is a supervised ritual. Toy guts are not as digestible as the real thing and we don’t want him to really eat it.

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User Comments
  1. Jantina van Duinen (Jan)

    On November 25, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Good morning,
    My name is Jan (for convenience sake) and I have a cross kelpie called Louis.

    I live in a town house complex with a free standing touwnhouse and courtyard. Louis being a very active dog did something to his hind leg causing “crutiatis torn ligament” anyway it is not torn right through on his knee but in order for this not to tear right through he is not to do any physical activity for 4-6 weeks and small walks under strict control.

    This means that I have to think of things that would keep him mentally active. (he is only 20 months)
    If anyone has ideas besides what has already been suggested please dont hesitate to contact me on my email address

    Regards, Jan

  2. ed

    On December 30, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    i LUV kongs, my dog was completely depressed and bored w/o them. i hafta leave every day for work and these are my dogs FAVORITE things! remember, it’s important to keep your mentally stimulated, or they WILL wreak havoc. if ur trying to get your parents to adopt a dog, check out this awesome website i found:

  3. Jan

    On July 6, 2009 at 1:33 am

    Found some fun ways to keep my cross kelpie happy. I have since moved to a proper house and dog is ok now but needs to be kept mentally active while I work. Instead of feeding him his dries in the morning I take a handful and a couple of bones an some treats and use a very big blanket and sprinkle some in then cross over the blanket (accordian style) and sprinkle some more of the treats and continue till all is gone.

    I know that Louis won’t destroy cause its his blanket but he rumages through it the whole day trying to find all these little treats. When I come home of an evening I gather any that might be left over and feed him properly the balance of feed he needs.

  4. Dave

    On December 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Ed, learn to spell you fookin idiot

  5. ed

    On May 10, 2011 at 9:51 am

    stfu dave!

  6. ed

    On May 10, 2011 at 9:55 am

    im a gangsta so u watch it dave! grrr! im gonna feed you some ****!!!!!!!

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