We love our four-legged friends - a loyal, loveable member of the family who is always there to listen, keeps us company and provides plenty of heart-warming and joyful memories. As a valued member of the family, we have a duty to ensure they are happy in both their physical and mental wellbeing. Using brain training and enrichment games can help support their health in a multitude of ways, and keeps them active as they mature into their senior years.
We explore a few activities to incorporate into your dog's daily routine, as well as providing a few tips and tricks to help along the way.
The Natural Intelligence of Dogs
Dogs have the innate ability to learn, adapt and communicate - a set of skills which have evolved over the years alongside being “man’s best friend”. Dogs possess a great ability to be a working member of society, which is not something you can say about every family pet! Admittedly, you can’t always say it about every dog either, but often, it’s a lack of structure, enrichment and training that lead to issues.
But, from farm dogs to guide dogs, therapy pups to mountain rescue companions, these animals have shown us that they love to be busy and enjoy the stimulation of tasks and routines. A happy dog is one that feels safe with boundaries without boredom, and who feels a sense of overall wellbeing when exploring their curiosity, be it down the bottom of the garden, at a doggy playdate with other pups, or trying to snuffle out the hidden treat reward in a puzzle mat.
Supporting Mental Health
Enrichment activities provide enough brain power to help avoid under-stimulation, which can lead to a range of behavioural issues, just like they would in children. Dogs may display their restlessness through actions such as chewing on furniture, digging incessantly, or releasing pent up frustration towards us and others in the form of aggression. They can also develop a sense of separation anxiety or being generally anxious in the home if their mental needs are not being met. This is why using enrichment toys and activities is so important in contributing to your dog having a happy and healthy life.
The enrichment activities you choose will play a pivotal role in improving a dog's focus and attention span. Each dog will have a different level of interest and enjoyment, so it’s best to choose an activity that will challenge them, without overstretching your own dog’s ability – otherwise, like us, they will just walk away disinterested! Games which engage their minds and encourage problem solving will help build valuable, flexible cognitive skills, which are also helpful in obedience training and setting confident boundaries.
Supporting Physical Health
Alongside supporting their mental health, enrichment games can also have a significant impact on your dog’s physical health. Depending on the activities you choose and the unique medical makeup of your dog, the activity enjoyed can encourage movement, help build muscle tone and keep your pup at a healthy weight through fun exercise and exploration. Things such as agility games, retrieval and running around, all support their cardiovascular and joint health, which in turn will look after them in later life. Just like their owners, an active lifestyle will help keep away obesity-related health problems, making daily enrichment a key factor in having a healthy lifestyle all round.
By engaging in activities together and sharing experiences through play, the bond between you and your dog is strengthened, making for a happy home and lifestyle for you both. Teamwork and trust are developed through interactive games and shared adventures, helping your dog feel mentally and emotionally connected to you, as well as deepening the sense of companionship that comes from being dogs best friend.
Brain Training Activities to Explore
There’s plenty of options to explore when it comes to enrichment activities and games, no matter the size, age and preferences of your furry friend. It is also never too late or too early to introduce these into your dog’s daily routine; the benefits are always available.
- Puzzle toys and interactive games
These usually involve hiding treats in a game for the dog to problem solve to obtain the reward, things such as snuffle mats, lick mats and items that provide some sort of obstacle to the treat. We've got some brilliant new lick mats and bowls over in the online store.
A dog’s sense of smell is a vital survival and communication tool, so it is important to support their sniffing skills. Dogs communicate through scent, detecting changes in hormones and chemicals, not only of other dogs but in their environment and within you too. They have been known to detect changes in our health with things such as changing blood sugar levels and chemical changes before seizures, as well as being able to sense when there is approaching danger, environmentally or otherwise. In addition, dogs also rely on a good sense of smell for navigation and detection and can be trained to find specific scents for various lifesaving tasks – another way our dogs play an important role in society!
You can buy premade puzzle toys but can also DIY these at home if you’d like to test the activity out first, so they need not be a huge investment and your dog will love the personalised challenges you set out for them. Check out our range of treats and chews if you’re keen to create something for your doggo yourself.
- Obedience training
Often seen as something of a school for dogs, the activities provided at these sessions encourage them to think, react and build resilience. Basic commands and rewards help reinforce behaviours and help dogs to understand what is required of them through your choice of tone and use of words. This training can support your pup in feeling comfortable and settled, as well as feel a sense of accomplishment when they can successfully find, retrieve and discover the item in question.
- Environmental Enrichment
Alongside toys and puzzle objects, your dog’s environment plays a huge role in creating enrichment and stimulation. You can create a dog-friendly space which encourages exploration, detection and navigating both indoors and in an outdoor space, encouraging them to move, discover, and problem solve in order to get a treat or reward. And of course, exploring the great outdoors together provides a wealth of interest through new smells, environments and interactions. Regularly providing your dog with new toys and opportunities for exploration can really help, so you can browse our store here.
Tips for Effective Brain Training
To help provide well-rounded enrichment for your four-legged friend, it is best to rotate activities and experiences, so that they can develop their mental and physical well being across as many areas as possible. Your dog’s weekly enrichment might be a mix of puzzle feeders, retrieval games and a good weekend walk – try out a variety of options available and see which your dog responds to best and seems to enjoy the most.
Set realistic goals – not all dogs are created equal, and it is important to recognise your own dog’s limitations alongside their strengths. As well as this, be sure to exercise some patience especially with new tasks. Just like us, they will need time to practise something new, learn through mistakes, and even forget what is expected at times.
With this in mind, consistency is key to helping achieve success in completing tasks, recognising commands and playing the game correctly. Keeping a routine helps your dog associate activities with expectations, and ensures their mental and physical health, and their wellbeing is continuously being improved upon.
Our healthy, happy pup provides us with unwavering love and companionship, and enriches our own lives in countless ways. By incorporating enrichment games and activities into their lifestyle, we can ensure they are living a more fulfilling life and will stay with us for as long as possible.