An active brain = a healthy, happy dog

Dogs need exercise for their bodies and brains

While exercise plays a huge role in a healthy, active lifestyle, you can’t forget about the importance of your pet’s emotional well-being. This means providing a safe and loving environment, providing lots of mental stimulation and reducing stress.

These days our pets are very different from their hunter ancestors, who spent most of their day looking for food. Many 21st century dogs are couch potatoes, getting fat from inactivity and are beyond bored with few outlets to expend their pent-up energy.

Your dog needs to use his brain on a regular basis for optimum health, well-being, and to help prevent behavioural problems such as destructive chewing and aggression. You don’t have to quit your job and be a stay-at-home pet parent, but you do need to find ways to keep your pet entertained when he’s alone, which for many, is a good part of the day.

Here are some suggestions to keep your dog’s brain active whether he is alone or not:

  1. Feed your dog a meal or treats at least once a day with a food puzzle to give his brain a workout.
    There are many different puzzles to choose from such as a simple “Kong” toy you can fill with peanut butter or your pet’s favourite treat to more complex puzzles that will make him work for his food. For a longer lasting treat, fill a Kong with peanut butter, or pumpkin if your dog’s on a diet, and freeze it before giving it to your dog.
  2. Hide treats around the house and/or yard to get your dog to “hunt” for his food.
    You can even hide his meal in a food puzzle before you head out for the day.
  3. Dogs love to chew so give them plenty of toys to play with and chew on.
    It’s advised, however, not to leave your pet unsupervised when playing with toys or chewing on a bone or chew stick as these may pose a choking hazard.
  4. If you live close to work, consider going home for lunch and spend some time with your companion.
  5. Dogs need socializing and most enjoy spending time with buddies.
    If work keeps you away from home for most of the day, consider hiring a dog walker or drop your dog off at a doggie daycare. Another option is arranging regular “play dates” with dogs of friends or family.
  6. Don’t underestimate the value of regularly playing with your dog.
    Not only is play a great way to strengthen the bond with your dog, it keeps his mind and body active. Just some of the games you can play together include tug-of-war, fetch, hide-and-seek, find it, chase and organized sports such as agility, flyball or nose work.
  7. A great way to constantly get your dog to use his brain is to ask him to follow commands during everyday activities.
    For example, if your dog wants to go for a walk, ask him to sit patiently while you put on his collar and/or leash. Before meal time, ask your dog to sit/stay while you put his food bowl down and then give the command to eat.
  8. All play activities are opportunities to train your dog to do any number of things, from the easy ones like sit, stay and come to more complex tricks.
    Consider attending a training class or two. Look for a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) whose training methods promote positive reinforcement and who you and your dog are comfortable with. A CPDT can help you with anything from simple obedience training to competitive sports such as agility and flyball.



  • Enriching your dog’s life, WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist, Copyright 2009-2014 ASPCA.

This page has been reviewed by our Panel of Experts for accuracy. Our Panel of Experts is comprised of practitioners with varying specialities and perspectives. As such, the views expressed here may not be shared by all members of our Panel.

The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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