By Diana Pacheco, CVT CCRP

Have you ever just taken your dog for a walk or come home from the dog park and immediately after arriving home your dog is still a ball of energy? Or maybe your pooch used to run, go for hikes with you, or be your jogging buddy but now is a bit older/arthritic and cannot do the same things they used to. What can we do to help our four-legged companions?

Mentally stimulate them! This can be used to replace or use in conjunction with physical exercise!

Just like you and I, mental stimulation can go a long way. Especially in times like these, where we are all socially distancing, and our normal socializing is at a record low. The following list is just a few ideas to keep your doggy entertained, help build stronger bonds between pets and owners, build their confidence, and keep the mind active (even if the body isn’t as spry as it used to be).

1. Work it Pup!

Now this is a simple yet effective way to get your dog to work for what they want. Normally at mealtimes we put our dog’s food in a bowl, set it down and call it a day. This is not a bad thing to do by any mean, it is just that we miss a huge daily opportunity to mentally stimulate our furry friends. When we make our doggies put a little effort into getting their kibble (this doesn’t work as well with wet/canned food) they get the satisfaction of achieving a goal and you get to keep them entertained.

Some suggestions to make them work for their food: Kong’s Wobbler, Slow feeders, or even asking your dog to do a couple tricks (sit, stand and turn in a circle) prior to setting the food down. The sit-stand-turn sequence doesn’t only keep them amused but it also gives an opportunity to build muscles of the core and hindlimbs, and with circling clockwise & counterclockwise, it gives them a great stretch throughout their trunk and hindlimbs.

2. Brainteasers

Have you ever said to yourself, this dog is just too smart for his own good? Or even, I wish we had land where Fido could go and run off all of his energy? Or what about this one… I am not buying another dog bed/toy because all my dog does is shred them apart and make a huge mess in the house!

Puzzle toys are a great way to keep your dog (or even some cats) engaged, amused, and busy. Even a 15-minute period keeping your dog focused can make a huge impact on their day. The added mental stimulation can even improve some unwanted behavior problems (chewing up the blinds/digging holes in the carpet/ripping up the brand new doggy bed). Interactive toys not only allow your pet to use their natural problem solving skills but they can boost their confidence and tire them out mentally. Puzzle toys are especially good for our geriatric pets. Just because pain and arthritis may have slowed down your dog, it does not mean they can’t have their quality of life improved. Keeping them entertained is one way we can get their mind going even if their body isn’t quite there anymore.

Suggested puzzle toys: small ball pit w/ a couple of treats hidden among the balls, Snuffle mats, Kong w/ the treats within it frozen (especially lovely in our 100-degree AZ weather), or a quick internet search for dog puzzle games yields a multitude of options.

*Please note- not all puzzles are best for all pets, consider your pet’s abilities, quarks, and preferences before purchasing any puzzle toys. As always, unsupervised play is not recommended.

3. Hide and Seek!

Hide & Seek can be done several ways. You can play Hide & Seek using people or Hide & Seek can be played with your pup’s favorite toy. A couple of key factors to remember are 1. Say the same phrase every time you are playing Hide & Seek: ie. “Find me/it!” or “Go get your baby (if looking for their favorite toy)” or “Go get it!” 2. Use your most excited/happy voice to get your dog excited to play. 3. Rewards (treats) are almost always the easiest way to get Fido eager to participate in training/playing times.

4. Bobbin’ for “Apples”

This game is a bit easier to execute in the summer months because of the availability of small plastic children’s pools. The goal is to get one of the little pools and fill it with plastic balls or even tennis balls and drop your dog’s kibble or a few treats among the balls and have your pooch go “Bobbin’ for Apples.” Make sure if your pet has trouble with balance, walking, or keeping sure footing that the flooring under the pool has traction. If the pool is large enough for your dog to get into it, then it is a good idea to purchase an inexpensive yoga mat/mat with traction to cut to the size of the pool and place it in the pool prior to putting the balls & treats in the pool. The last thing that we want to happen is an injury.

There you have it… A few games to get your dog mentally stimulated when physical exercise just isn’t enough or isn’t available. Give it a go and see your pup light up when it is time for their brain games!