Have you ever tried offering a raw bone to a dog who’s just had lunch? Chances are the dog will jump up and down to get to that bone. Not because he’s hungry, he’s not, but because it’s fun! And there’s that irresistible smell, obviously. Dogs love to chew, it’s a natural instinct for them and it provides many benefits, including much needed mental stimulation.
How does chewing a bone mentally stimulate a dog?
It’s always fun to watch a dog struggling with a large bone, the way he keeps changing direction, like dropping it and grabbing it from the other side. A bone is like a puzzle for your dog as he needs to figure out the best way to get at the delicious marrow inside.
It looks like he’s playing with the bone and he sort of does, but there’s a logic behind anything he does with it. This part is too big to fit in my mouth, let’s try the other end.
Even the smell of the bone is stimulating as it’s so totally different from that of his normal chow. The taste buds are also having a feast and they’re informing the brain of all the delicious flavor in every little bit of meat.
Anything that’s chewable is fun for your dog, including the slippers which probably taste awful but at least they smell of you.
Sometimes, well-trained dogs will refrain from chewing and destroying things around the house, but they will resort to scratching themselves or licking their paws obsessively, until they actually harm themselves. Having a bone to chew will keep them from self-harming.
Raw bones are preferable than commercially available chewing treats because they’re more challenging, more full of surprises. A treat from the store looks and tastes exactly like the one your dog had yesterday.
There’s nothing new to it. It does satisfy his chewing instinct, but won’t provide much in the way of mental stimulation.
Why do dogs need to be mentally stimulated?
Most of the dogs we call pets nowadays come from a long line of working animals. When man first domesticated wolves it wasn’t for the company, it had practical purposes.
They were used for guarding, hunting, herding, pulling a sled, in other words, dogs had jobs that kept them busy from sunset to sundown, much like your own job does.
All the hard work dogs did every day kept them mentally stimulated, it kept their brains active. It takes a lot of thinking for a dog to figure out where the bird his master just shot went or how to keep the sheep in line.
Now dogs have it much easier, nobody asks them to perform any task anymore, which is nice, but boring as hell. And a bored dog is liable to find all sorts of destructive ways to entertain himself.
Taking the dog out for a walk does provide mental stimulation, as well as physical exercise, but that’s hardly enough for a healthy dog full of energy.
Mental stimulation keeps your dog’s brain sharp
A child who doesn’t receive adequate mental stimulation will develop slower than one who receives more attention from his parents.
The same goes for puppies. Keeping them well-nourished and healthy is not enough and the more mental stimulation a puppy receives the easier it will be to train him.
Some breeds absolutely love to learn new tricks and you can teach them a lot. If you try, that is.
Providing mental stimulation to a dog allows him to develop to his full potential and you will be amazed how many things he can learn.
Mental stimulation is crucial for older dogs as well.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? You can.
Senior pets are less playful than young yappy ones, they’re less energetic and set in their ways and in many cases their owners make the mistake of writing them off.
‘Fido’s ten years old now. All he wants to do is eat and sleep.’ Well, Fido might be old but lack of mental stimulation will only accelerate the inevitable decline in cognitive function that comes with old age.
If you want to keep the wheels turning in his brain you need to offer some form of mental stimulation.
What happens to dogs that aren’t stimulated?
The next time you scold your pet for ruining your favorite slippers taking a moment to ask yourself why?
When you tell him “bad dog”, ask yourself if he is really bad. Yes, there are cases when dogs destroy something of yours in retaliation for a real or perceived sleight.
However, many times a dog will chew whatever he can get his paws on because he has nothing better to do. He’s bored and he entertains himself as best he can.
Left alone for hours while you’re at work, the dog will at some point get sick and tired of waiting and will start looking around. ‘Hm, those slippers look like they could use a good chew!’
Keeping a dog mentally stimulated makes him happy and helps stave off depression, because pets can suffer from mental health issues just like we do.
What are some of the best ways to mentally stimulate a dog?
Taking your dog for a real walk, not just a quick, strictly business one, is the best way to keep your dog mentally stimulated.
A long one allows your dog to meet old and new friends, and do a quick butt-sniffing to learn how are things.
Sights, sounds and smells stimulate the brain during a walk, just as moving his paws stimulate the muscles.
A nice game of fetch is also a way to keep your dog alert as his brain calculates where the stick might fall.
Unfortunately, there are days when the weather is not that inviting or you simply don’t have the time for a long walk, but there are many ways to keep your dog active, at least mentally, even inside.
Offering your dog something to chew on will keep him entertained while you work, but you can also take the time to play simple games with your pet. You could benefit from that game, too, as playing with your pet is an excellent way to relieve stress.
Mental stimulation games for dogs
The easiest way to keep your pet mentally stimulated is to teach him new tricks. For instance you can teach him the name of each toy and have him fetch the right one.
Say the name of each toy loud and clear a few times, then put them all in a pile at one end of the room and have the dog bring the correct one to you. Of course, offering a small treat will stimulate his interest in the game.
Hide and seek with toys is also fun, although it might be hard to convince your dog to close his eyes while you hide his favorite toy.
Hide a treat is also a good game to play. Find an old blanket and hide something yummy underneath. The dog will have to use his sense of smell to find the treat and how to get at it.
Guessing games work very well, only instead of riddles, you will ask your pet to guess in which hand lies the treat.
Let him see that juicy bit of meat, then put your hands behind your back so he won’t see in which fist you’re hiding it.
Obstacle courses can be created using household items or you can put several small chairs or boxes in a row and have your dog jump from one to another.
This is not only mentally stimulating, but it also helps your dog get rid of the pent-up energy.
Mental stimulation toys for dogs
Snuffle mats are increasingly popular among dogs and dog owners. They’re colorful and they make the dog work their nose (and paws) to get to the food.
The same amount of food he could gulp down in two minutes now lasts him a good 15 minutes of fun and helps him release some energy.
Kong toys filled with treats and frozen are just as good and they can keep a dog busy for a long time, and when he’s don he will be so exhausted all he’ll want is to take a nap.
Puzzle games are great for keeping the brain sharp. While you’re busy solving a puzzle, you can let your pet have some fun with a toy that stimulates his brain in much the same way. There are many such puzzles for dogs on the market.
For instance, rolling toys make the dog think how to make the treat inside fall from one of the holes.
Puzzle feeders will force your pet to use twist and turn the moving parts until they get to the treat. Oh, and some come with various difficulty levels, from beginner to expert.
You can buy a few models and rotate them so your dog doesn’t get bored.
What dog breeds are most destructive?
All dogs love to chew, but some more than others.
Labradors and golden retrievers were originally bred to fetch the birds shot by their owners. They’re quite energetic and they just need to have something in their mouths. If you don’t offer them a bone to chew, they’ll find something else.
Border collies miss their herding days on some level, which is why they’re always looking for ways to keep themselves busy. When they’re done with the slippers, they might turn their attention to something bigger, like the sideboard or your couch. It’s been known to happen.
Beagles and Chihuahua are small but full of energy. Take them out for a walk, give them a bone to chew or a puzzle to have them scratch their brains and only then can you hope they won’t sink their teeth into your shoes.
Dogs are very intelligent animals,but it is up to their owners to provide the mental stimulation they need. If you keep your dog’ brain stimulated he will be easier to teach new tricks or to train. For older dogs, mental stimulation prevents cognitive decline and depression.
Chewing on a raw bone is the simplest way to provide your dog with mental stimulation, but don’t forget there are many other games you can play with your pet. Also, make sure Santa always has a new puzzle for your dog in his sack!