Just like humans, dogs need physical and mental stimulation to stay healthy. While walking your dog arouses their instinct to find out as much as possible about their environment (sniffing other dogs’ scent, remaining alert for signs of prey), dog toys and playtime activities challenge their cognitive abilities and deepen the bond they have with humans.
Did you know dogs enrich their intellectual lives first as a true canine and second as their particular breed? In fact, research has found that different dog breeds possess unique kinds of instinctive intelligence. For example, guard dogs like German Shepherds and Dobermans harbor the instinct to “watch over” their territory.
Bloodhounds and Bassett hounds instinctively track prey and pursue them. Pointers don’t have to be taught to sniff out fowl and “point” hunters to their location. Companion dogs (Pekingese, Yorkshire terrier, Shih Tzu) are remarkably attuned to our moods and social signals. However, no dog breed should be considered more intelligent than another dog breed. The canine brain contains the same lobes, organelles and neuronal activity across all breeds. That’s why these best toys and activities to keep your dog’s mind sharp, quick and healthy are applicable to any dog breed.
The Dog Nose Knows
The ability of a dog to detect scents and derive a mass of information from that scent is astonishing. Nothing stimulates a dog’s brain more than triggering their olfactory system, which contains millions of scent-detecting smells. Try hiding your dog’s treats in the home (under a chair or in a corner) or create an “treat” obstacle course using portable stairs and cardboard boxes. Place a treat your dog loves best in a hard-to-find spot to encourage your dog to solve problems. Hide your dog’s favorite rawhide bones or chews in the backyard and praise him when he finds them.
Ready or Not, Here I Come!
Playing hide and seek with your dog is a great way to stimulate the canine brain and develop a dog’s ability to think “outside the box.” This game doesn’t rely on toys but needs two people—one to keep the dog in another room and another person to hide somewhere in the home (or outside, if your backyard has trees and bushes). The person in hiding then needs to call the dog’s name. This activity not only galvanizes the canine brain but also provokes the highly developed, canine olfactory system.
Dog Snack Socks
Put tasty dog treats inside a sock, ball up the sock and put that sock inside another sock. Knot the sock containing the treat sock and give it to your dog. The challenge to your dog is: how am I going to get to that treat? Some dogs will simply chew on the sock until they have created a hole while others may actually unknot the knot!
Dog Treat Ball Madness
Treat balls can be a way to stimulate your dog’s brain by encouraging them to work to get their treats. After making a small hole (big enough to allow treats to fall through) in a plastic or rubber ball, stuff the ball with kibble or treats. Dogs have to learn how to roll the bowl correctly to get the treats to fall out. This kind of treat ball is also useful for dogs that tend to gobble their food too quickly.
Dog toys especially designed to encourage critical thinking in dogs can be found online as well. Just make sure they are safe and do not contain loose parts a dog could choke on. Also, don’t forget that walking your dog is one of the best ways to prevent dogs from suffering obesity and chronic diseases related to being overweight.