We all know that good nutrition and physical exercise is key to keeping our dogs happy and healthy. One of the core elements of dog care that often gets overlooked is mental stimulation and overall brain health. Just like it is for us humans, your dog’s mental health is an integral part of their overall health.
When your dog’s brain isn’t being stimulated, it can lead to boredom, unhappiness and even depression. Bored dogs will find ways to amuse themselves, such as chasing their tails, being destructive or barking, resulting in stressful scenarios for everyone at home.
We’re teaming up with Admiral Pet Insurance, to promote the importance of mental stimulation. In this guide you will find tail-wagging rainy day dog activities to keep your dog busy during the colder winter months.
What Is Mental Stimulation?
Mental stimulation is a brain workout for your dog which aims to keep their cognitive health fit and healthy. Canine enrichment is any activity which provides mental stimulation for your dog, engaging their mind, stimulating the senses or moving the body. Mental stimulation can be achieved through a range of enrichment activities.
During the Autumn and Winter months, the wet weather and darker nights tend to result in shorter dog walks. In fact, we often feel guilty thinking that our dogs need a long daily walk to burn off energy, but actually that same energy can be released at home through mental stimulation.
If however, you don’t keep your dog’s brain active, they may seek exciting forms of mental stimulation elsewhere. Dogs have been known to wander off during a walk while following their nose, or getting into incidents with other dogs. Pet insurance will keep you covered in the worst case scenarios. Admiral Pet Insurance will also cover advertising and reward costs up to £250 if your dog goes missing (or up to £500 with a Platinum policy).
What Happens If I Don’t Provide Mental Stimulation?
According to the Guide Dogs, 24% of dog owners didn’t even realise that a dog could suffer with mental health. However, a lack of mental stimulation can often be one of the common causes of canine mental health problems.
Symptoms for mental health issues include low activity levels or hyperactive, loss of appetite, destructiveness and barking. Many pet insurance providers, such as Admiral Pet Insurance, will allow you to claim for treatment for behavioural problems as part of their policies, including depression or anxiety. However, to keep these mental health problems at bay, we need to be providing daily enrichment activities little and often (it’s all about the quality, not quantity).
How Do I Keep My Dog Mentally Stimulated?
Mental stimulation can be done through a variety of enrichment activities. These activities don’t need to be overcomplicated or difficult, nor do they need to be expensive. Remember, you are not doing these activities to test your dogs IQ. Simple games are the most enjoyable for dogs.
It’s also important to note that while treats are the most popular reward for these activities, there are other ways to encourage your dog to do the activity (even while they’re on a diet). Instead of giving your dogs food in a bowl, opt for a snuffle mat! As an alternative to using treats as an incentive, use their favourite toy, or sprinkle some herbs such as parsley or mint to get your dog’s sniffers sniffing.
Too much stimulation however can have the opposite effect and therefore it’s important that we teach our dogs the importance of down time and calm.
Here’s 9 of our favourite rainy day dog activities.
1. Hide & Treat
Play “Hide & Treat” in the house. Treats with strong smells work well, but you can also use your dog’s favourite toys. It’s helpful when you have a second person to help hold the dog back and keep them from being nosy while the treats are being hidden. This also makes it more exciting for your dog.
Put the treats or toys in a hiding place that is easy for your dog to access, such as behind a door, on a chair, under the table. Then when you’re ready, tell your dog to ‘find the treats’. Your dog will have a great time sniffing their way around the house. Don’t forget to give them praise when they’ve found the treat so they know that they’ve understood aim of the game.
Alternatively, skip the treats and make you the prize that they need to find!
2. Obedience Rally
How good is your dog at obedience skills? If they have basic recall, can sit and stay – then they’ll have great fun with this game.
To start, have your dog ‘stay’ in one room. Then walk into another room and call your dog from the other room. Once they get in the other room, they need to sit and stay and stay while you run into another room. Your dog will need a bit of practice, guidance and support at first. Help your dog with plenty of praise and treats! This can also be done as a family game where everyone takes turns calling the dog’s name, getting your dog to sit, until the next person calls the dog.
The added benefit of this game is the physical activity. That combined with the mental stimulation of obedience will tire your dog out.
Bonus game: One you’ve finished playing around the house. Call them to the door that leads to the garden, grab a handful of cheese or treats and throw them outside. Your dog will love sniffing and finding the treats.
3. Cup Game
Simple game which will give you memories of cheesy magicians. All you need is three cups and a couple of treats. Place a couple of treats under one cup, and let your dog try to find them by sniffing the cups. Too easy? Switch it up by moving the cups around, add more cups or teach your dog that in order to get the treat they need to point in a specific way.
4. Teach Them Some New Tricks
One of the best mental stimulation activities for your dog, is actually learning new tricks. Teach them something new, or reinforce the basics. While this activity is good for both mental and physical stimulation, it also brings you closer together.
5. Doggie In The Middle
If there’s two humans in the house, then you’ll have fun playing this activity with your dog. Just like ‘piggie in the middle’, grab a ball or your dog’s favourite toy and start tossing it back and forth with your dog in the middle. Encourage your dog to try to catch it and let them win every now and again to keep it interesting and fun.
6. Doggy TV
Yep, your dog can enjoy their own TV time. YouTube have a bunch of dog videos featuring animals such as squirrels and ducks. Some videos on there have been scientifically put together to ensure the colours are appealing for your dog, as well as the sounds. However, your dog may just enjoy random wildlife videos, or videos of other dogs or cats.
7. Noisy Box
Grab your recycling box, and take out any empty plastic bottles, toilet roll tubes, and other safe recyclable items. It’s better if they have different textures and noises for your dog to snuffle through. Pop them in an alternative box and throw some treats in there so that they are hidden. Tell your dog to find the treats. You can make this easier or harder by removing or adding certain items to the box.
8. Do Some Doggy Yoga (Doga)
Search YouTube for some dog yoga sessions. There’s plenty on there, each focussing on meditating, stretching, massaging and building a close bond together.
Dog massage in itself has plenty of benefits for you and your dog and can help you keep track of your dog’s health as you get to know their body. The more you do it, the easier it is to spot any unusual lumps or bumps.
Dog yoga isn’t a high physical activity, but it does encourage your dog to stay calm and relaxed. Once you’re done, pop a few of your dog’s favourite treats on your yoga mat and then roll the yoga mat back up tightly with the treats inside. Can your dog get them out?
9. Go On A Sniff Walk
Okay so it’s not a rainy day activity that takes place indoors, but just hear us out. Going outside when the rain has stopped can be really exciting for your dog. There’s an abundance of new smells released from the rain. So, instead of taking a long walk, we recommend setting a timer for 10-20 minutes and instead of walking your dog, let them sniff and lead the way. No need to take your dogs lead off, keep it on. See where they would take you if they had the choice and go with it.
Should I Invest In Puzzle Toys?
It would be silly of us not to mention all the classics like Snuffle Mats, Kongs and puzzle toys that you can get in the shop. Are they worth it? Absolutely, click here for a round-up of our favourite puzzle toys. Can you create games that are just as enriching at home at a fraction of the cost? You bet ya! In fact the games you create at home tend to foster a better bond as you facilitate them playing more closely. Click here for some more homemade enriching game ideas.
Share Your Favourite Rainy Day Dog Activities
Do you have any favourite games you play at home? Perhaps you have some alternative solutions to keeping your dog’s brain active. Share them in the comments below and help a fellow dog owner.
Please note: There are different ways to train a dog, what works for one might not work for another. Tailor each game so that it is suitable for your dog. This is just one method of supporting your dog based on research. If in doubt, please seek professional advice from a professional dog trainer, or vet.