How to keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated

While you might think your dog loves lounging all day, dogs need to be kept stimulated, both mentally and physically.

If your dog isn’t getting enough stimulation, this is when you are likely to start seeing unwanted behaviour, which can make living with your dog very hard and can impact your life more than you might imagine.

Here are a few tips with give our clients for keeping your dog mentally and physically stimulated.

Play
It’s as easy as throwing a ball (do be careful throwing sticks as they can damage your dog’s mouth) or a toy, and making your dog fetch it and bring it back. You could also play tug of war, but be aware dogs are cheats, and will tug from just below your hand!

If you want to make things harder, you can hide treats around the garden and get your dog to sniff them out and find them. Don’t do this in the house under any circumstances; your house should be a quiet place for your dog at all times.

Make your dog work for treats – puzzle toys
Something that’s really fun for your dog is to make them work for treats using puzzle toys.

Puzzle toys have holes and openings in them which you can stuff with treats and food. To get the reward, your dog has to shake the toy, push it around, rattle it, and lick it.

To vary the difficulty, you can get puzzle toys with adjustable holes to allow you to change the size. To start off with, keep the hole completely open to make it easy for your dog, and then the more they do it, the smaller you can make the hole to make your dog work hard.

We use and recommend Kong toys, fill with treats or even peanut butter.

Give your dog something to chew on
It’s natural for dogs to chew; it’s something they enjoy doing. To prevent any unwanted chewing and to keep your dog busy, give your dog some toys they are allowed to chew on and encourage them to do it.

It’s best to only allow your dog to have a chew toy inside its crate. There needs to be a clear distinction for your dog regarding where they can and cannot chew. Allowing your dog to chew when loose in the house may blur the lines as to what is an acceptable chew toy and what is not.

If you catch your dog chewing something they shouldn’t be, tell them no, and if the dog persists you may need to correct the dog in some way.

Exercise

dina-jumping-with-ball
Exercising with your dog doesn’t stop at taking them for a walk. There are plenty of activities you and your dog can do together, to keep you both stimulated, and fit and healthy.

Some of the most popular exercises to do with your dog are: walking, running, playing, cycling with your dog, hiking, and agility training.

To find out more about how to keep fit with your dog, read our recent blog post, how to keep fit with your dog.

Training
Training is a great way to ensure your dog is obedient, and keep any unwanted behaviours at bay.

If your dog is already obedient, it’s important to make sure you continue training to make sure your dog behaves the way you want him or her to, and doesn’t develop any bad habits.

If your dog isn’t trained or you’re seeing specific behavioural problems, our residential training can literally be life-changing. We understand the frustrations many dog owners face each day living with a disobedient dog.

The four-week course will teach your dog obedience, and take care of any specific problems you’re having. When the course is complete, we will teach you all the commands you need to know to continue training your dog at home.

Dog sitters / dog walkers
If you’re at work during the day and are unable to take your dog to work or pop back during the day, consider hiring a dog sitter or using a dog walking service.

Borrow My Doggy, a partner of DogsTrust, is a service that’s well worth looking into. Borrow My Doggy matches you and your dog to people in your area who want to spend time with a dog.

It’s a win-win situation because your dog gets exercise and spends time with someone, while someone who can’t have a dog (perhaps due to their job or home) gets to spend time with a dog.

What do you do to keep your dog stimulated?

How to keep fit with your dog; 6 fun activities to try

Maintaining the motivation to exercise regularly can be hard, but dog owners have the best motivator they could wish to find.

Dogs don’t take no for an answer. They love exercise and, unlike your friends, they’re not going to agree when you suggest staying in and watching TV.

Obesity is an increasing problem for both humans and dogs. It’s recommended that adults should aim to exercise for 150 minutes (2.5 hours) a week, while your dog should have at least 30 minutes exercise a day.

Exercising with your dog can improve your bond, and prevent unwanted behaviour in your dog that can be caused by them not getting enough exercise.

Here are six fun things you and your dog can do to keep you both fit.

Walking

The easiest thing you and your dog can do to exercise together is to go for a walk. Whether you create different routes around the streets where you live, visit a park, field, or a forest, you and your dog will enjoy walking together.

Walking is a good activity to start with if you don’t exercise regularly and want to work up to something like running with your dog. It will also allow you to teach your dog to behave correctly on the lead before you move onto something more vigorous, where pulling could lead to injuries.

If you want to make things harder for yourself, consider walking with a weighted backpack or a weight vest.

Playing

You probably do this with your dog every day and don’t even consider that it’s exercise.

Chasing your furry friend around the garden or the park, or throwing a ball or a Frisbee is a fun way to get both of your heartbeats racing.

Running with your dog / Canicross

Running is as much a mental sport as a physical sport, and your dog will keep you going.

If you want to try cross-country running with your dog you’ll be glad to hear there’s an entire sport devoted to it, called canicross or CaniX. This sees owners running with a waist belt, which the dog is attached to by a harness and a bungee cord / elastic line to reduces the shock when the dog pulls. Events are held regularly in the UK, and you can visit Cani-Cross to get a list of events.

Whether you’re running on the pavement, or fancy canicross, make sure you both start off slowly and gradually build up the length of time you’re running for. This is especially important for your dog as you may not know if he or she has an injury.

A slow start will also help your dog get used to running with you.

Bear in mind that running for extended periods of time is not suitable for all breeds, especially smaller dogs or dogs with short snouts. If you have a small dog, or one with a short snout, and are considering running with them make sure you speak to your vet who will be able to advise you.

Cycling while your dog runs alongside / bikejoring

If you don’t like running, you could try cycling while your dog runs alongside you.

You may have seen people cycling with their dog’s lead in their hands, or attached to the handlebars of their bike, but this is unsafe and can lead to injuries for both of you. There are plenty of attachment devices available which attach to the frame of your bike to make it safe for you and your dog, and reduce your dog’s pulling.

If you like the idea of cycling with your dog, consider bikejoring. This is a mushing sport, done off-road, where your dog/s run in front of you while you cycle. As with cycling, attachments for bikejoring are available.

Again, make sure you start slowly to allow your dog to get used to running alongside you, or in front of you, and whichever device you choose to use.

Hiking

Is there anything more enjoyable than heading off with a map, and your dog for company? Just as you love exploring new places, your dog loves seeing and sniffing new places too.

If you want to make a weekend of it, or go away for a few days, you won’t have to look hard to find a dog friendly campsite. Bear in mind that you should also check that your route is dog friendly, and where necessary keep your dog on his or her lead.

Dog backpacks are available, which means that they can carry some of the things they need such as food, water, and a canine first aid kit. Don’t overload your dog, and make sure you get your dog used to wearing a backpack before you head out.

REI have got some great advice and tips about going hiking with your dog and the things you might need to take with you.

Agility training

You don’t have to be thinking about taking your dog to Crufts or shows to enjoy agility training.

Agility sees a handler guide and direct their dog through obstacles. Your dog gets to do things like run through tunnels, running up a-frames, and weave through poles, while you run alongside and guide them. This sport can also help to improve the bond between you and your dog.

If you’re thinking about trying agility, visit AgilityNet to find a class near you.

Here are some more unusual sports humans and dogs can do together

  • Skijoring – this is a combination of cross-country skiing and mushing
  • Doga – that’s right, yoga for dogs
  • Heelwork to music – dancing with your dog
  • Schutzhund – a mixture of tracking, obedience and protection work

Remember that before you start any of the more vigorous exercises, such as cycling with your dog or running, you should consult your vet to make sure your dog is fit. The age of your dog is also important, as regular heavy exercise can be harmful for younger dogs.

You should also ensure that both you and your dog have access to water to prevent dehydration, this is especially important in warmer weather.

If you don’t exercise regularly, it’s also recommended that you have a check-up with your GP first.

What do you and your dog do to keep fit?