Since raising my own dog, I learned that mental stimulation can be just as tiring, or even more tiring, than physical exercise. I survived puppy hood by getting Charlie physically and mentally tired enough to sleep in his crate while I was gone. I would play with him outside, then come inside and work on basics like sit, stay, come, etc. When I see that there is a lot of rain in the forecast, I try to think ahead of what I can do to keep him entertained… without turning my house into a giant mud pit! Here are some of the techniques I have used to keep Charlie mentally stimulated:
Interactive puzzles for dogs
I have a couple interactive toys I keep on hand for when Charlie needs a pick-me-up. They typically don’t take too long for him to complete, so I usually use very small treats broken up and repeat a few times until he is ready for a new activity. If I’m doing something that Charlie doesn’t like (combing him, grinding his nails, etc.) then I’ll take a break and bring out a puzzle to get his spirits up. They always put him in a better mood! Here are two inexpensive puzzle toys that I have at home:
Toys/Bones that you can fill with food
I like using Kong-like toys to keep Charlie busy for slightly longer periods of time. I reserve them for when I’m going to be home but it’s too cold or wet to enjoy outside activities. I would never leave him alone with any toy like this, but they’re great for when you want to relax and your dog has other ideas! I also like finding different bones to stuff so he doesn’t get bored with the same toy. Along with Kong’s, I’ll also stuff beef trachea’s, raw marrow bones, etc. It’s up to you on what you would want to stuff them with, but my go-to is powdered peanut butter mixed with plain greek yogurt. I usually freeze them for about an hour as well. I like using powdered peanut butter because I can feel less guilty about giving him a larger amount (fewer calories). Charlie is quite the picky dog, so my options are limited. If your dog likes to work for food and isn’t picky, you can even try feeding them their meals in Kongs or puzzles. For my dog personally, he will not work for anything other than freeze dried meat or peanut butter!
There is always some sort of training you can do to help mentally stimulate your dog! Sometimes I will begin teaching Charlie a new trick, and other times I will try to increase the duration or distance of one he already knows. I signed up for an AKC Trick’s class last year that helped me gain a new understanding on training. I have always browsed through YouTube videos and online articles to help me learn, but Charlie is very disinterested in food which makes training a bit more difficult. The tricks class afforded me the opportunity to work with a trainer on how to train my specific dog. What works for one dog doesn’t always work for another!
If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with multiple training facilities, look up a list of classes they offer to see if any interest you! I did this when Charlie was about 15 months old and had already completed beginner / intermediate obedience. I found a beginner Agility class, which I knew nothing about, but we both ended up loving it! We have done agility for a little over a year now. Rally is another training class I would like to begin doing.
Another option is to head to a dog-friendly store (our favorites are Lowe’s and Home Depot) and work on training. We’ll head to Lowe’s and work on different heeling techniques, obedience, and improving tricks. Sometimes we’ll get stuck while working on something new, and heading to a different environment to train usually helps move us along.
Thankfully our winters are short here in Atlanta, but they can be brutal at times! Hopefully these techniques can help you, like they have helped me. Until then, we’ll be counting down the days until we can go swimming every weekend!
Stephanie is the proud “pawrent” of her fur baby, Charlie aka @Charliegoldthedoodle. Charlie and Stephanie enjoy adventures all around Atlanta, whether it’s by land or by water. She loves taking Charlie on special visits as he is a certified therapy dog. Charlie has inspired Stephanie to take up photography, which comes in handy as she loves documenting all their adventures to new places.