We all know the feelings of guilt and concern when we leave our dogs alone at home but most dogs are perfectly content to be on their own for a few hours at a time. However, to avoid your dog getting bored, frustrated, destructive or anxious, I’ve pulled together five of the best ways to mentally stimulate dogs and keep them occupied when left alone. A busy dog is a happy dog and mental stimulation will help to alleviate any anxiety he may feel about staying home alone. It will also tire him out so he can have a good old snooze while you’re out. The more positive associations, the better!
With most dogs being highly food-motivated, one of my top tips is to leave your dog with a treat dispensing toy such as a Kong® filled with peanut butter. Thanks to the smell and sticky texture, it is the perfect food to stimulate your dog and keep him occupied for hours as he tries to lick every last bit clean. Choose a special peanut butter for dogs as human types may include ingredients that your dog cannot easily digest. This tip will work with any hollow toy where the dog really has to work to get his rewards.
Any type of interactive or puzzle toy that keeps your dog focused will provide that essential mental stimulation. Brainteasing toys are increasingly popular and promote healthy cognitive functions. Even if the ‘game’ lasts for just 15 minutes, it will give them a challenge, keep them engaged and tire them out mentally in a healthy way.
Follow Your Nose
I specialise in Nose Work because this is one of the best ways to harness your dog’s natural abilities. Dogs are natural born sniffers. A favourite game is ‘find it’ or ‘hide and seek’. Chop up tiny bits of liver, carrot or another favourite food and scatter them throughout the house before you go out. I prefer to use liver because it has a very strong smell and really gets the dogs excited. Even after your dog has found the very last bit, he will still be on the hunt because dogs just love nose work games. Make sure to start easy and then make the game more difficult so your dog really has to use his sniff to find his treats.
Arrange Play Dates
Dogs are always happy to have a playmate and you’ll probably have a friend or neighbour who leaves their dog at home for extended periods too. If you leave your dog alone on a regular basis, it’s great to introduce him to a friend for play dates. This will tire your dog out no end and mean there is always someone to keep him company.
Always introduce your dog to their friend outside of the home to avoid any territorial aggression and make sure that both dogs are perfectly content with one another before leaving them alone. This also means that you can leave your dog at their friend’s house sometimes for another set of smells, sights and sounds to keep him entertained.
Wrap It Up
Take an old bed sheet or duvet cover (the larger the better) and wrap a squeaky top up inside. Layer the bedcover over as much as possible so that the toy is really wrapped up. Then, press on the toy until it squeaks so that your dog knows it’s there. They will spend many happy hours scrabbling to get their ball and at their end – they’ll be rewarded with a noisy toy to keep them entertained. Make sure that these toys are hardy to avoid choking hazards, as dogs that like to chew may well rip toys apart if left alone for a long period. You can also check outrope toys and other sturdy choices that also keep your dog’s teeth in good shape.
Open Things Up
Dogs are naturally very curious so it’s important to keep your home as open as possible while you are out. Open the curtains at the back windows so your dog can watch the world go by. You can also do this at the front if security is not an issue. Set some blankets or cushions down so your dog can snuggle up and get comfy. This is a very simple yet highly effective way to mentally stimulate dogs. Enhance the atmosphere by leaving some soothing music on – easy listening or classical music is your best bet. There are also some great YouTube videos designed specifically to calm dog anxiety.
Learning How to Mentally Stimulate Dogs
While it’s important to know how to mentally stimulate dogs so you can keep your pet happy, sometimes it’s not that simple. If your dog suffers from severe separation anxiety and/or is prone to destructive behaviours such as chewing when left alone, I would advise seeking expert support. I offer dog behaviour training to help solve issues that will reduce unwanted behaviour and create a happier, calmer and more content dog.