Caring for your pet’s mental well-being is just as important as keeping them in shape with walks around the block—dogs need mental workouts, too, to stay psychologically healthy. “Providing stimulating environments and engaging pets in activities that exercise their minds (like play, social interaction, food puzzles, and hiding toys or treats) is an important component of emotional well-being,” says Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, a research scientist at Purina. Play games with your pet at home—like putting a treat under one of three cups that you shuffle around or hide and seek. While you’re away from home, leave activities so your animals to stay entertained.
Bored dogs are looking for trouble.
“When they’re at home by themselves, some dogs will shred the couch because they suffer from separation anxiety, but more often, they’ll do this because they’re bored and tearing it up is fun for them,” says Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, a research scientist at Purina. “A lack of activity options when they’re left alone can lead to this sort of destructive behavior.”
How to keep them busy
Cut down on boredom by providing fun activities to channel some of the restless energy of pets that are left at home. Dr. McGowan suggests toys, like food puzzles, to keep them mentally stimulated. “Many pets will nap after playing brain games,” she says. You can find food puzzles at stores or make one yourself. Try hiding treats inside a cardboard tube (from a toilet paper, wrapping paper, or paper towel roll). For another activity, put a few treats inside a plastic water bottle that your pet can chew through and retrieve the treats. Or freeze small goodies, like fruit or treats, in ice cubes for pets to eat while you’re away.
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Benefits of brain games
Problem solving is a type of enrichment activity that influences and promotes brain development. Dr. McGowan says, “Like people, pets experience the ‘Eureka Effect,’ or the emotional response to problem solving. It’s that aha moment when you finally figure something out.” Accomplishing a challenging task brings a surge of positive emotions. “It boots their confidence, provides control over their environment, and improves emotional well-being,” she says.