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Mental Stimulation for Dogs & Puppies: Exercises, Games & More | Pupford

January 11th, 2024

Filed under Health + Wellness

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If I said 'exercise for your dog', what's the first thing that comes to mind? (You're probably lying if you say mental exercise or stimulation 😜!)

Most people go right for the physical stuff -- walks, laps around the park, jogging or running with their dog, that kind of stuff.

While physical activity is certainly an important part of keeping our pups healthy, it’s only part of the bigger picture.

Most pup parents aren’t giving their dogs enough mental stimulation exercise, which is just as important for a dog’s well-being (and your personal sanity).

In this article, we’re going to talk about why mental exercise and stimulation for dogs are important and what you can start doing with your dog to get that brain work in.

Here's what we will cover:

  • Why is mental exercise important for dogs?
  • What can happen if your dog doesn't get mental exercise?
  • Is there such a thing as too much mental exercise?
  • Can you do both physical and mental exercise together?
  • Mental exercise examples, games, and ideas

Let’s jump in from the beginning! 👇

Related Reading: Does My Dog Play More When I'm Watching?


grey-dog-doing-nose-work-for-mental-exercise | Pupford

Let's put it this way. A mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog.

While it’s important to make sure your dog gets enough physical activity each day, it’s equally important that they get enough mental exercise too.

Believe it or not, mental fatigue can make your dog more tired than physical fatigue. That’s why mental exercise decreases hyperactivity, boredom, and destructive behaviors.

Don’t believe us? Try this experiment ⤵️

One day, give your dog rigorous physical activity, like an extra-long play session or a hike.

Another day, give them a mental game to play for the same amount of time (we’ll have plenty of examples later in this article) and see which day they seem more tired.

Let us know in the comments which one makes them snooze harder.

In short, mental exercise and working your dog's brain gives your pup the outlet they need for extra energy -- and keeps them out of trouble. This brings us to our next topic…

🧠 Work your dog's brain with our collection of mental exercise toys and games. Shop here!


brown-dog-tired-after-mental-exercise | Pupford

When dogs don’t get enough mental stimulation they get bored.

And when dogs get bored, they get destructive.

And when dogs are destructive, well... we won't go there!

Sidenote: If you find your dog tends to destroy things when you’re gone head here.

Let be clear. Your dog didn’t chew your shoes while you were out because he was mad at you – it’s likely because he was bored and needed stimulation.

If dogs don’t get enough brain exercise, they’re more likely to show digging, excessive barking, and unwanted chewing behaviors.

There’s a very good chance that mental exercise and stimulation is just the thing your pup needs to kick those unwanted habits (along with some training, as well)!

🐶 Don't miss out! Sign up for a 100% free online dog training course, 30 Day Perfect Pup with Zak George. Get access to videos & daily tips covering biting, leash walking, potty training and more! Sign up for free here! 🐶


With what we just said, you might think “the more, the better!”

But that’s not always the case.

While over-stimulating dogs doesn’t have the same physical impact as overdoing it with physical exercise (joint issues, paw pad wear and tear, etc.), there’s no need to be performing hours of brain games with your pup.

The goal of mental exercise is to engage your dog. Too much of it can have the opposite effect and cause your dog to become bored or frustrated with the activities.

And like we said before when your dog is bored or frustrated, that’s when the trouble can start.

So don’t feel like you need to spend hours on this with your dog – mental exercise and stimulation sessions as short as 5-10 minutes can have a meaningful impact.

Remember, it’s the quality, not length, of the activity that will make an impact.

Related Reading: 4 Impulse Control Games for Dogs



For pup parents who might be worried about making time for both physical and mental exercise, don’t worry! There are plenty of activities you can do with your pup that satisfy both needs.

Any type of “interactive play” like fetch and tug of war is perfect for getting your pup’s pent-up energy out while also providing mental stimulation.

Challenge your dog with interactive play games.

Surprise them by changing direction frequently, making them guess where you’re going to throw/pull their toys, and have multiple toys, including interactive toys, in the mix to keep them on their paws!


Remember, your dog’s mental exercise routine doesn’t have to be long and complex. You just want to make sure you choose activities that provide a good mental challenge.

While the possibilities are endless, here are some of our favorite ways to provide mental stimulation for a dog. 👇


Snuffle mats are inexpensive to buy and really easy to make! It's a quick brain game that makes your dog use their nose and mind.

Fill it with high-value treats that will encourage your dog to keep searching through it until they find their reward.

You can buy one or make your own.


Training sessions are great multi-purpose tools for your dogs. They let you teach your dog new skills and tricks, improve listening, give physical exercise, and give mental stimulation.

One of the best routes for a 'mentally engaging' training session is to work on impulse control and/or trick training with your dog!

PS- You can learn over 40 different tricks and impulse control games in the Pupford Academy. Learn more here.


Forward-and-Backward-Leg-Weaves | Pupford

Obstacle courses can be built out of the things you already have in your house. An obstacle course is a fun and effective mental stimulation exercise.

Gather some chairs, boxes, crates, puzzle toys, and whatever else you have available to create a course that makes your dog think and problem solve to get through it.

Here is an obstacle course to inspire you!


Hide and seek can be played with treats or humans, which is a great way to get kiddos involved.

Be sure to use high-value but low-calorie treats so you can hide multiple around the house and really get your dog searching.

Just get your dog into a sit-stay (or put them in their crate if their stay isn't strong), hide treats (or yourself), and then release them to get them!

🧠 Work your dog's brain with our collection of mental exercise toys and games. Shop here!


Fetch and tug of war are classic dog games for a reason. It’s an easy way for your dog to get both physical and mental exercise, indoors or out.

Be sure to really make them work here -- get them thinking, predicting, and working to outsmart you. This turns a classic game into a mental engagement exercise!


Puzzle feeders, puzzle toys, and lick mats are great for incorporating mental stimulation into your feeding routine.

Puzzle feeders and interactive toys are great for kibble-type food, while lick mats are ideal for dehydrated food.

Your pup will have fun, work their brain, and get food -- what’s better than that?!

Get your Pure Focus Lick Mat here.

Dog-Licking-Focus-Mat | Pupford


Foraging boxes are one of the simplest, least expensive puzzle games you can make for your dog to work their mind. These are a great addition to hide and seek for the ultimate mental and physical workout combo.

Related Reading: Contrafreeloading & Dogs

Here’s a great example.


The cup game is a lot of fun for your dog, and entertaining for you to watch.

Put multiple cups face down in front of your dog, with a treat in one of them, and let your dog try to figure out which one has the treat.

You’ll probably want to video this… trust us.


black-and-white-dog-retrieving-toys-for-mental-exercise | Pupford

The name game is great for dogs who know all of their basic skills and need a challenge.

Give your pup’s toys specific names, line them up, and ask them to retrieve certain ones. It might take some time to get the hang of this one, so it’s a great long-term skill to practice!


Enrichment Chew Toys are easy-to-use brain games that helps exercise your dog's mind and keep them busy! Put spreads, treats, or chews into different toys like this one and let them go to town.

Enrichment and interactive toys are ideal for effectively stimulating a puppy or dog!

Long-lasting chews are also great for engaging your dog's mind and will keep them busy for an extended amount of time. Bonus, try putting a Yak Cheese Chew into an enrichment toy.


woman playing a game with a husky dog for mental stimulation | Pupford

Above all, remember that mental stimulation for your dog is a great way to minimize problem behaviors and tire your dog out!

It doesn't have to be complex, just get your dog to use their brain for at least 10-15 minutes per day.

Providing your dog with proper mental stimulation will help reduce problem behaviors, improve your dog's confidence and strengthen your bond!

What are your dog's favorite mental exercises? Tell us in the comments below!

And don't forget to check out our full line of mental exercise toys and games here.

🧠 Work your dog's brain with our collection of mental exercise toys and games. Shop here!


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