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Dog with Owner

Brain training for dogs

We know our dogs need plenty of physical exercise to keep them happy and healthy, but it’s important that they get plenty of mental stimulation too. A good mix of regular walking, playing, brain games, and training exercises is the best way to keep our pets free from boredom (not to mention keeping them from chewing our new shoes!)

Why do dogs need mental stimulation?

Just like us humans, dogs don’t like being bored. And sometimes, daily walks aren’t enough, even if we feel like we could sleep for a week after some adventures they take us on. This may be why even the most exercised canines can sometimes misbehave or carry out unwanted or destructive behaviours.

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Dogs are smart animals, from obeying basic commands and performing tricks, to the incredibly complex and valuable way they assist blind and deaf people or quite literally sniff out crime. Studies have even shown that dogs are able to learn the names of objects and fetch these from a group of other objects when prompted. Betsy, a Border Collie, was able to learn the names of and retrieve over 345 objects.

Some owners are also training their dogs to speak…kind of. While we might be a long way from having a ‘real’ conversation with our pets, there are some incredible videos online showcasing just how clever our four-legged friends really are. Check out how Stella and her owner over at hunger4words have created a soundboard so they can communicate with each other – and just how well it works!

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With all that brain power it’s not surprising that dogs need plenty of mental stimulation. Not only does keeping their mind active prevent boredom and unwanted behaviours, it is also shown to help with their mental wellbeing. A paper by The Veterinary Nurse found that mental stimulation alone can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety in dogs. This stimulation didn’t need to be hours of intensive puzzle solving. In fact, even basic obedience commands created enough mental stimulation to reduce stress levels. This suggests that mental stimulation may also benefit dogs who suffer from separation anxiety or pups who hate being left alone.


What is dog brain training?

While our pets are certainly smart, we’re not going to ask you to break out the chessboard just yet! Keeping your pup’s mind active and engaged is simple, and mostly involves lots of fun and games the whole family will enjoy.

1. Basic commands

Sit, lay down, roll over. We all know and love the basic commands. These are great for every pet parent to master, and not just to avoid embarrassing moments if they run after something at the park. We might only use these when we need to get our dog to do something, but these simple commands could also be a way to keep boredom at bay.

Consider making a walk in the park more interesting by using commands throughout the walk to keep your dog’s brain honed and focused throughout.

2. Puzzle toys

There are a great range of puzzle toys available that dogs need to solve in order to get a tasty treat. But there’s no need to break the bank. You can easily make your own stimulating toys at home with things you probably already have around the house.

A great game you can play with your dog is the magician’s cup game. All you need is three yoghurt pots, a few doggy treats and a willing participant. You can see just how well they can learn in this video by Smart Puppy


3. Simple tricks

Similar to basic commands, learning tricks is a great way to keep their brain busy. While doggy backflips are very impressive, there’s no need to go overboard with training your dog to do tricks or complete world record attempts.

Consider starting simple with rolling over or shaking hands and moving up to more complex challenges if your pup feels comfortable. Even if they can’t get it right away or after lots of attempts, practising is a great bonding experience.

4. Food for thought

For many dogs, the best way to entice them to do something new is with a treat (or two). For a really simple way to keep your pet engaged you can use a food stuffed toy filled with their favourite treats for them to gnaw away at.

Or why not make mealtimes part of the fun by using a puzzle feeder or treat mat. This slows down their eating, which is good for digestion, while the brainteaser is great for engaging their minds.

5. Word association

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Playing fetch in the park is great for a dog’s physical wellbeing, but it doesn’t stretch the boundaries of their intelligence. We can combine this well-loved activity with some brain training by teaching our pups to understand what some common objects are called. They might not get to Betsy’s level of understanding 345 words, but you’ll be surprised at what they can learn from this fun activity.

While not quite the same as throwing a ball and watching your four-legged friend scuttle after it, word association can be used as a way to play fetch in your home. If you don’t want your favourite slippers brought to you in your dog’s mouth, you can always give their toys names instead.

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For more help with training, you can find local dog classes or even online sessions, where an expert will guide you through the process and give you things to practise each week. Just five minutes, several times throughout the day, is usually enough to teach new behaviours.

If there’s more than one dog in the household, separate your pets and brain train them one at a time, so there’s no fighting over food treats or your affections.

The golden rules – take it slowly, don’t overfeed your pooch, be consistent – and above all, have fun! Just remember, some dogs will enjoy it more than others, so learning to read your dog’s body language will help you get the best from brain training.

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