Dogs, especially working breeds, tend to be a lot smarter than people give them credit for, and even people who exercise their dogs a lot may be leaving them mentally under-stimulated.
For dogs like huskies or miniature huskies, who were bred to work and please their humans, having a feeling of accomplishment and getting the praise that comes with it will be crucial for their mental and emotional health.
This is true for many dog breeds and not just those who work every day!
Dogs need mental stimulation just as much as humans do, but luckily, giving it to them can be easy, fun, and rewarding for both the dog and their owner.
Read on to learn 11 easy ways to give your dog the stimulation they need.
- Feeder puzzles – There are hundreds of food puzzles on the market, but they basically all work the same way: Your dog plays with the puzzle and is rewarded with small amounts of kibble. You can even make your own by piercing holes in a plastic bottle and letting your dog shake and roll it until the kibble comes out.
- Muffin tin puzzle – For a slightly harder food puzzle, place kibble in between the cups of an upside-down muffin tin. Present it to your dog and watch them chase the kibble around.
- Destruction toy – Put some kibble in a lightweight cardboard box, like a cereal box, and tape it closed. Then let your dog go to town on it, watching to make sure they don’t eat the box.
- Muffin tin puzzle II – This is a slightly more sophisticated food puzzle that can be leveled up as your dog masters it. Put some kibbles in the cups of the muffin tin, then place tennis balls on top and give it to your dog. For hard mode, put kibble in fewer cups on the tin.
- Treasure hunt – This is a great game because you can adapt the difficulty to your dog’s needs. Put your dog out of the room you’re in, then hide some kibbles around the room, tailoring the difficulty to your dog. Let them in and reward them with lots of praise when they find the kibbles.
- Hide and seek – For your next trick, you’ll need a volunteer. This game is similar to treasure hunt, but with people instead of kibble. Have one person distract your dog, preferably with a sit-stay or similar command, while the other person hides. Then release the dog to come find you. You can adjust the difficulty by playing in smaller or larger spaces, or outside, where there are more scents to distract them.
- Hot and cold – This is a complex game for especially clever pups. Arm yourself with treats, then select a target object and place it near your dog. Reward them with treats every time they move toward or show interest in the object, then shower them with treats and praise when they finally touch it. Over time, you can train them to touch it in a specific way and eventually, you’ll have a pretty sweet party trick to show off.
- Tennis ball puzzle – Cut along the seam of a tennis ball, or cut an X shape into the side, then put some kibble in the ball. Take care when cutting the tennis ball, and watch your dog closely when they’re using this toy to make sure they don’t destroy the tennis ball and accidentally swallow pieces.
- Shell game – This game is, of course, based on the old scam, but you don’t have to try to confuse your dog to make this difficult. You also only need two cups. To start, don’t even move the cups; let them watch you place a treat under one, then reward them with it if they knock over that cup. If they knock over the other cup, show them the treat, but don’t give it to them. The next level of difficulty is simply placing the treat under the other cup, then alternating which cup it’d under at random. Only if your dog masters this should you start switching the cups around, and even then, they may never fully understand what’s going on with this game.
- Red Light Green Light – This game works with dogs just as well as it does with children. It’s especially good for dogs who might easily get overwhelmed with excitement and have trouble calming down. However, you can play this game with any dog that has already learned sit and stay. Have them start sitting, then say “green light” and encourage them to run around or chase a toy. When you’re ready, say “red light,” and immediately follow it with a command to sit or lie down. Reward your dog, then repeat the sequence. Eventually, they’ll know what red light and green light mean even without the secondary commands.
- New trick – This is a fun game for a dog that has already mastered several basic commands, and also encourages their creativity. When you say “new trick,” reward your dog for demonstrating a behavior – any behavior, from sitting to doing a handstand to, in the early stages of training, pawing at a box. The next time you say “new trick,” your dog should demonstrate a different behavior. Eventually, this will build up into a game you can play almost endlessly, until your dog repeats a trick.