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Keepin’ It Sharp: Mental Stimulation Games for Your Fido!

A picture of Cleo Engel a senior Jack Russell Terrier

In this blog I’m here to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart: keeping our furry friends mentally sharp and focused through problem-solving puzzles and games. Yup, you heard me right – just like us humans, our pups need a little mental exercise to keep their brains in tip-top shape. So, grab those puzzle toys and let’s dive into canine cognition!

Cleo was a master problem-solver despite having doggy dementia, and I saw firsthand the incredible benefits of keeping her mind engaged and active. Cleo was my little girl and my snuggle bug who was well and truly entrenched in our lives long before the big boys came along. As she aged, I could see the physical signs. Arthritis, cataracts and a little bit of deafness are to be expected in a pooch who was well over 15 years old. We made adjustments for her – potty pads around the house, a smaller step at the back door, post it notes at her height on the glass door so she could see when it was closed, paired her verbal cues with visual cues. They’re the things that you do for someone whom has given you years of loyal love and devotion. When I first noticed that Cleo was starting to get stuck in corners and not finding the door to go outside to potty I was shattered. I knew that I needed to keep her brain and body active, so I set out to design a gentle physical and mental exercise routine for her. Below are some of the enrichment games and puzzles that we played.

One of my favourite mental stimulation games is the good old food puzzle. These ingenious toys are designed to challenge your pup’s problem-solving skills while rewarding them with tasty treats along the way. Simply load up the puzzle with some of Fido’s daily food allowance, then sit back and watch as they use their paws, nose, and smarts to unlock the delicious rewards. It’s a win-win for both you and your pup – they get to flex their mental muscles, and you get to enjoy the satisfaction of watching them succeed. You don’t need to go to great expense here. A few paper towel inserts can be just as challenging as a bought puzzle toy if you are a little creative.

Next up, we’ve got the classic KONG toy – a staple in every doggy household. But did you know that this simple rubber toy can also double as a mental stimulation game? That’s right – fill it up with kibble, top it with dog safe peanut butter, freeze it overnight, and voila! You’ve got yourself a challenging puzzle that’ll keep your pup entertained. Not only does it provide mental stimulation, but it also helps soothe teething pups and alleviate boredom. My big boys get a KONG before bed every night and so did Cleo.

How about a game of “cup game” with your pup’s favourite treats? You would have seen magicians do this – the old “find the ball under the cup” trick. Start by placing three cups upside down on the floor, then hide a treat under one of them while your pup watches. Then, mix up the cups and encourage your pup to use their nose and memory to find the hidden treasure. It’s a fun and interactive game that’ll keep your pup’s mind sharp and focused – not to mention, it’s a great way to bond with your Furchild! Plus, you get to teach you pooch to foot target or Boop the Snoot to tell you which cup to lift. This game also teaches Fido some impulse control – never a bad skill to have.

And last but not least, let’s talk about the power of scent work. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and tapping into this natural ability is a fantastic way to provide mental stimulation. Whether it’s hiding treats around the house for them to sniff out, playing hide and seek with you, or enrolling them in a scent work class, giving your doggo the opportunity to use their nose will keep them sharp, focused, and engaged. Scent games are simply amazing for keeping your dog’s brain active. They may lose some of their sight and hearing or become a bit less mobile, but that sense of smell is always sharp no matter what their age. Use this to your advantage to get those doggy neurons firing. Neuroplasticity is a real thing, people. Let it help you to keep your dog’s mind engaged so that they can have a satisfying and enriching retirement.

There’s one thing I want to emphasise about the importance of choosing puzzles and games that are suitable for your dog’s skill level and preferences. Just like us, dogs have their own unique personalities and abilities, so it’s essential to tailor your puzzle games to suit their individual needs.

If your Fido is new to puzzle toys, start with something simple and easy to solve, like a basic treat dispenser (plastic bottle with the lid off and kibble). As they become more confident and proficient, you can gradually increase the difficulty level by introducing more complex puzzles and challenges. Please consider safety first. Puzzle games should always be supervised by a responsible adult or you may have destruction city on your hands. Or, worse still, an enrichment toy swallowed whole!

Don’t forget to make it fun! Mental stimulation games should be an enjoyable experience for both you and your pooch. So, don’t be afraid to get silly (have you seen me train? haha), praise your pup’s efforts, and celebrate their successes along the way. If you’re both not having fun, then you won’t keep playing!

Make puzzle games a regular part of your doggo’s routine to keep their minds sharp and engaged. Whether it’s a quick game before bedtime or a longer session during your morning training session, incorporating mental stimulation into your dog’s daily life will help keep them happy, healthy, and mentally sharp for years to come.

Please remember that mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise when it comes to keeping our furry friends happy and healthy. So, go ahead, get creative, and watch as your pup’s cognitive abilities blossom before your very eyes. Cleo enjoyed brain games right up to the night before she crossed the rainbow bridge. I credit them with keeping her engaged and happy well into her senior years. Regardless of your pooch’s age, they will thank you for it, I paw-mise!

Game On! Let’s Play!


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