5 Ways to Exercise Your Dogs Brain
By Andrew Gregg
Are you smarter than your dog?
If you’re anything like me, the answer’s probably no.
While current events have us stuck at home trying to maintain a safe distance from other human beings, this pandemic has an upside for dog owners: We have way more time than ever to spend with our four-legged best friends.
For most, this probably means more time cuddling. But we should also take this time to instill good habits through proper training. Dogs, like humans, need their physical exercise, of course, but with limited outdoor options, we can give attention to another important aspect of our dog’s well-being: their intelligence.
Researchers studying dog psychology have found that the average dog is about as intelligent as a two year-old human toddler. And dogs’ language comprehension is impressive — the average dog can learn up to 250 words; and in one unique case, a border collie could recognize over 1,000 words.
Dogs are also very good at reading our body language and grasping our intentions. In some cases, they’re better at it than our closest living animal relative — chimpanzees — with whom we share around 99 percent of our DNA.
It should go without saying, but dogs need cognitive and emotional stimulation in order to be healthy. And while intelligence is, to some degree, innate, it can be nurtured.
Here are a few easy ways to exercise your dog’s brain while we wait for someone to invent doggie sudoku.
Kongs, which are almost like little food puzzles for your dog, are maybe the simplest way to keep your dog’s brain and body occupied while you binge-watch your way through the quarantine. At Thousand Hills Pet Resort, we fill our Kongs with peanut butter and freeze them. This helps ensure that dogs will spend as much time with the Kong as possible. But any treat will work to help your dog stave off boredom.
2. Sniffy walks
A dog’s sense of smell is remarkable. Humans have about six million olfactory receptors; dogs have around 300 million. Sniffing is a dog’s way of gathering vital information about the world around them. And while long walks through the neighborhood might be questionable under a lockdown, your dog (and you) will still need exercise and fresh air.
3. Shell game
This might be more fun for you than for your dog. Take three cups, place a treat or piece of kibble under one of the cups — make sure your dog sees which cup the treat is under — then mix the cups around. There are incredible youtube videos of dogs effortlessly getting the right cup every time. With enough practice, your dog will be dropping jaws in no time.
4. Treasure hunts
Dogs love exploring and hunting. Show your dog the treat, have them wait, hide the treat, and have them search for it. Give them positive reinforcement signals so that they don’t wander off and get bored.
5. Teach your dog new tricks
Can your dog roll over? Can they fetch? Do they know how to “nose touch”? Teaching your dog any new trick will exercise their brain, and positively reinforcing their good behavior will strengthen the bond between you. We know that in humans, learning new things — whether it be a new skill or new information — actually changes the way our brains work for the better. Learning increases our capacity for more learning. Teaching your dog new tricks may do the same, and it will definitely boost their self-confidence.