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Mental Stimulation for High Energy Dogs

When you have a high energy and high drive dog, it seems that no amount of walking, running, or other exercise is enough to help them settle down. There is a key component of exercise that many people overlook or forget, and that’s mental exercise.  A dog can be physically exhausted but still seem hyperactive since they haven’t had enough mental stimulation. This article is your guide to multiple ways to calm a hyperactive dog through mental exercise.

Why do dogs need mental stimulation?

Dogs need mental stimulation to maintain their health. I know it seems unimportant, but a mentally s dog can become lethargic and even develop mental disorders like depression. Certain breeds, typically those of the working variety, will need more mental stimulation than breeds that were bred for the purpose of companionship. High energy dogs that aren’t given adequate physical and mental exercise can become neurotic. This most often presents in obsessive and anxious behavior. Dogs may even resort to chewing on furniture to relieve their stress. To top all of this off, dogs that are stressed or depressed are at a greater risk for infection, as they tend to develop a weakened immune system as a response.

Basic exercise such as running and walking does provide some mental stimulation for dogs. Different breeds will require different amounts of exercise, but most veterinarians recommend at least 15 minutes of exercise a day, regardless of the breed. If this isn’t possible for you, look into hiring a dog walker or invest in a treadmill for your dog. Slat mills are rapidly gaining popularity for the fact that they are running solely on the dog’s energy, meaning that the dog controls how fast or how slow they run. Providing mentally stimulating toys can help ease the dogs stress on days that you simply cannot provide physical exercise. Exercise, both mental and physical, release serotonin in the dog’s brain, making them feel more calm and at ease. Activities like walking, hiking, running along a bike, fetch, and swimming are all excellent bonding opportunities for your dog as well. Even a quick 15 minute training session can provide your dog with mental and physical exercise, as well as improving your bond with your dog. Keep reading to learn more about ways to provide mental exercise for your dog.

Regular Exercise

Regular physical exercise can be mentally stimulating. Walking your dog is physical, but to add a mental aspect to their walk allow them to stop and sniff regularly. Sniffing is how dogs gather information and process the world around them. They have over 200 million scent receptors, whereas humans only have six million. This means dogs can gather more information, and they gather it more quickly too. They sniff on average 5-10 times per second, where humans can only sniff about once every second and a half. Sniff walks, as they’ve been dubbed, are especially important for dogs that live in an urban area and don’t have access to a yard to sniff around in. 

If you want to step the walk up a notch, turn it into a hike. Your regular walk is typically full of regular smells, but a hike in a new area is both more physically demanding and mentally stimulating. There’s often more difficult paths than a paved sidewalk, and there’s so many new smells! Take hikes slow to allow your dog plenty of time to smell the world around them. Just make sure to obey local leash laws when you do. For example, the Department of Natural Resources requires all dogs to be on a leash no longer than six feet. This is for your dogs safety! There are certain threats you want to protect your dog from while hiking, and a good leash is the best way to do that.

Sniffspot is a great option if you want a private dog park. They are a recently new service that allows people to rent out their spaces as private dog parks. You get to take your dog out without worrying about other dogs, and your dog gets so many new things to smell. Most areas are fenced in, so it allows you to let your pup be off leash while they explore their new surroundings. To increase the mental stimulation, add training in. Use a 20 foot leash and practice recall, or have them run through basic tricks. Either way, it will be much more stimulating than just letting them roam.

Socialize With Other Dogs

If your dog is reactive, this doesn’t mean taking your dog to the dog park where they will be surrounded by strange dogs. It can be overwhelming, and often leads to fights if your dog is easily stressed. A better option for this is to allow your dog to play one on one with a dog they know and you know they get along with. If your dog is friendly, dog parks may be a good option. Just be mindful when you enter that some dogs may be selective.

Another excellent way to exercise your dog is by going to training courses. There are classes for adults, puppies, beginners, intermediate, and advanced. You could look into getting your pup to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test, a test that determines if your dog is able to behave in multiple situations. Some dogs may be great as therapy dogs, and many places offer courses for them to become therapy dogs. This training allows them to be in group setting around other dogs, but it also works on their obedience and increases your bond with them.

Playing Games

You can teach dogs how to play Hide and Seek! This helps if they are trained to go in a crate or to go to their spot and stay. Command them to go to their spot and stay, grab a treat and go hide, and then call for them. When they find you, reward them! This works on their recall and increases your bond with them on top of the mental stimulation of finding you. This also allows them to use their nose to try and determine where you are. Another game you can teach is Chase Me. Grab a treat and yell, “Chase me!” and then run away. If your dog catches up to you, reward them. Keep repeating this, and they’ll learn what chase me means. Some will even grab a toy and expect you to chase them!

Visiting Pet Friendly Places

Most pet and home improvement stores are pet friendly and are great places for socializing your dog. You can practice tricks, walking on a leash, and how to politely greet strangers. Just keep in mind that busy places can quickly overstimulate a dog. When you notice your dog getting overwhelmed, leave. It’s best that you don’t plan on trying to shop while you’re there.

Plenty of parks and beaches are pet friendly, and they offer lots of places for your dog to sniff and play! Plan on bringing a ball and a long leash for a game of fetch, or take your dog swimming if that’s something they enjoy. Just be sure to follow the rules, as some beaches don’t allow dogs on the sand.

Backyard Sandbox

Digging is a natural instinct for dogs, and many will do it even when you tell them no. Why not build a places specifically for them to dig in? A sandbox in your backyard is a perfect place for dogs to dig around and have fun in. You can even bury toys and treats inside and let your dog find them as a sniffing activity. This is a great way to curb destructive digging as well, as your dog will have a healthy outlet for all their digging desires.

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are readily available for you and your pup, and provide great stimulation for them when they’re eating. You can even make your own with a cupcake tin and tennis balls! Put food in the cupcake tin and put the tennis balls over the holes. That way your dog has to move the balls to get to their food. Snuffle mats are another option, and provide sniffing opportunities once again! If you can’t tell by now, sniffing is one of the best ways to provide mental stimulation for your dog.

Participate in Dog Sports

Getting involved in dog sports is another fun way to provide mental stimulation for dogs.

Training in a sport will challenge your pet mentally and physically, giving them a positive outlet for their energy.  If you want to start a dog sport, the best way to get involved is to find a local training class. A qualified trainer can help you learn the rules of the sport and teach your dog the fundamental skills. 

Some awesome sports to try include:

AKC Rally is a test of teamwork, according to their website. During a Rally trial, you and your dog will navigate a course of 10-20 signs. Each sign indicates a different obedience skill to be performed such as sit, down, or a turn. Working with your dog at your left side, you both move through the course completing each skill. Your performance will be timed, but rather than speed, the goal is teamwork and having your dog under control at all times. This is a great sport as it tests teamwork, but is less strict than classic Obedience.

Fast CAT is the sport for fast dogs. CAT stands for coursing ability test. Fast CAT specifically is a timed 100-yard dash. Rather than a race, the dogs run one at a time, chasing a lure to encourage top speeds. Even tiny chihuahuas can compete, having been clocked at 19 MPH. Greyhounds have been clocked going at over 36 MPH.

Trick Dog is for dogs that have mastered basic obedience. They have learned the basics and are ready to move onto learning cool and fun tricks. With five levels of trick dog titles, the only limit is your imagination for dreaming up new tricks and routines.

Farm Dog actually refers to the Farm Dog Certified Test, provided by the AKC. Your dog may do well with obedience at home or in the city, but a farm is a different game altogether. With the distraction of other animals, the behaviors that seem so easy at home can be quite a challenge. Your dog must be able to pass twelve exercises, and it tests their potential aptitude as a farm dog.

Scent Dog brings us back home to sniffing! The goal of this game is for your dog to locate cotton swabs soaked in essential oils. Since you don’t know where they are, you have to trust your dog (and their nose!) to lead the way.

This concludes our little guide into providing mental stimulation for high energy dogs. With any luck, you will have found something that works for you and your pup.



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