Mental stimulation for dogs: 5 ideas

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Veterinarian reviewed by Dr. Nelva J. Bryant, DVM, MPH - Author: Steph Coelho

Last Updated: March 8, 2023

Imagine leaving a toddler with no interaction, no toys, and no activities for days on end. A lack of mental stimulation might affect that toddler in numerous ways. They might even start to act out. Dogs also need plenty of stimulation to stay mentally healthy.

Think of your dog like a toddler who will never grow out of the terrible twos. You might get through potty training, but for your dog’s entire life, you’re set to be their main source of stimulation and enrichment.

Thankfully, mental stimulation for dogs isn’t complicated. And there are so many ways to keep your dog entertained and happy.

Read on to find out how to spot a lack of mental stimulation in dogs and ways to keep your dog amused and engaged.

Signs your dog is not mentally stimulated enough

How do you know your dog is lacking mental stimulation? Here are a few signs:

  • Excessive chewing of inappropriate items
  • Other forms of destructive behavior, like getting into trash cans
  • Excessive digging
  • Restlessness
  • Whining a lot while you’re around
  • Jumping on you or guests
  • Constant barking

These may also be signs of other underlying issues like separation anxiety. When in doubt, talk to a veterinarian for advice about what to do about bad behaviors.

Types of enrichment and mental stimulation for dogs

According to the Center for Animal Welfare Science, five main types of enrichment can benefit your dog:

  1. Social enrichment: playing with other dogs, interacting with humans
  2. Occupational enrichment: providing dogs with formal or informal tasks
  3. Physical enrichment: providing interest in your dog’s physical environment, like giving them toys to play with
  4. Sensory enrichment: engaging your dog’s senses, like their sense of smell or vision
  5. Nutritional enrichment: encouraging foraging by doing things like hiding dog treats 

The more types of enrichment you incorporate into your dog’s life, the more mentally stimulated they will be.

More mental stimulation can help reduce unwanted behaviors in dogs, like excessive chewing and barking.

5 ideas for mental stimulation for dogs

Play games

Activities like playing fetch or more complicated games like dog puzzle or interactive toys can offer mental stimulation to dogs and prevent them from getting bored.

Playing tug-of-war with your dog or letting them interact with other doggies at the dog park is a form of social enrichment. Depending on how you choose to play together, it can also involve other types of enrichment.

When opting for play to help mentally stimulate their dog, pet parents should consider opting for indestructible dog toys that can offer hours of playtime.

Give them a job to do

Giving your dog a job to do doesn’t have to involve making them do elaborate tasks like fetching your slippers. Some dogs, like police or service dogs, have actual jobs to do. But you can still provide your out-of-work dog with occupational enrichment.

Playing fetch with a tennis ball is one simple way to give your dog a sense of accomplishment and provide them with physical enrichment.

Puzzle toys and treats like tricky treat balls can also offer occupational enrichment, as can basic dog training or training on a DIY agility course. Need help with training sessions? Hire a dog trainer to help you out.

Teaching them new tricks or engaging them in training exercises can also provide mental stimulation.

Physical exercise

Exercise is important for dogs and offers several benefits, including:

  • Improved physical health
  • Stronger healthier joints
  • Better urinary and digestive health
  • Improved emotional and mental health

Whether you decide to take your dog for long walks, hikes, or start a run training program with your pooch, make sure your dog gets consistent physical activity.

And don’t forget to let them sniff as they go. Walking is excellent for physical exercise but can also engage your dog’s senses and offer plenty of sensory enrichment.

Give them a variety of toys to play with

You can’t entertain your dog all the time. Toys are a great way to provide enrichment and mental exercise when you’re not home or too busy to play fetch with Fido.

Offer your dog a mix of toys, including chew toys, interactive dog toys, and indestructible ones that will last a long time. Interactive toys are another way to keep your dog from getting bored.

Make a fun game out of meal time

Another way to keep your dog mentally stimulated is to engage their natural desire to forage. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Use a slow feeder bowl.
  • Hide food in toys or other sneaky places.
  • Make food harder to get at by putting obstacles, like a muffin tin, on top of your dog’s bowl.
  • Get your dog to sniff out their food by hiding it in a blanket.

You can also use treat toys to offer nutritional enrichment, like filling a Kong toy with delicious peanut butter or your pup’s favorite treat. Or try using treats to create a kind of DIY scavenger hunt or obstacle course for your dog.

The best toys for mental stimulation

The best toys for mental stimulation depend on your dog. Some dogs love to play with soft, stuffed animals. Others prefer the challenge of getting kibble out of a treat toy.

Ultimately, indestructible Kong toys are an excellent choice for getting most dogs to work for a treat.


Worried your dog isn’t getting enough mental stimulation? Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to keep your dog happy and engaged, from playing dog games to offering them challenging trick toys.

Just remember, every dog is different. What another dog loves, your dog might find boring. Keep trying various things to see what sparks their interest.


Is chewing mental stimulation for dogs?

Chewing on toys is a form of physical enrichment and can provide mental stimulation. However, if your dog is chewing up things they shouldn’t, it might signify they’re bored.

How many hours of mental stimulation does a dog need?

Expert recommendations vary and might depend on the dog in question. According to the Petcetera Animal Clinic, most dogs need at least 20 minutes of active mental stimulation per day and at least 1 walk.

How do I know if my dog needs mental stimulation?

Acting out is a sign that your dog needs more mental stimulation. If your dog is being destructive or otherwise trying to get your attention, you need to pay it more mind.

How do you mentally stimulate your dog when you’re not home?

Indestructible treat toys are a good way to keep a dog entertained while you’re gone. You can also try putting on soothing music or background noise for enrichment.