Brain Games for the Dog Days of Summer

Food Puzzle Toys

Here we are in what’s known as The Dog Days of Summer. In Western North Carolina where we live, August is typically the hottest and muggiest month of the summer.  

Honestly it’s hard to believe it could be any hotter than it was just a few short weeks ago when the temperatures hit the low to mid-90s. The forecast says those 90+ degree days are returning soon.  

I don’t know about you, but getting out and exercising in this heat is unbearable for me and not safe either. It’s the same for your furry canine companion. The risk of overheating is real for you and your dog.

But what to do if your dog turns into a whirling dervish if she (or he) doesn’t get enough physical exercise? 

Our dog, Cailie, who is quite the high-energy young girl (a 14th month old Australian Shepherd), usually gets at least two solid hours of physical exercise each day. It’s just too uncomfortable for us to be outside in the heat past the 10:00 am mark. Cailie was recently spayed and was put on 7 days of on-leash, restricted activity. Even one day of inactivity brings about restlessness in our high-energy girl.  

Even though I took her on multiple, slow, on-leash “sniff walks” during the cool mornings and late evenings, I noticed she has a little less tolerant for frustration and was more tempted to use her mouth on inappropriate objects. In general, she was a little more fractious. Time to add brain games to Cailie’s day.

Brain games are mental enrichment for your dog. 

Brain work. In the wild, dogs spend a great deal of their waking time trying to obtain food.  Think of the mental (and certainly physical) exercise this quest demands.  Plopping down an entire bowl of food and having your dog gobble it up in less than a minute certainly nixes nature’s design.

Drawing out the length of time it takes your dog to eat, and having him work to get the food out of something other than a traditional food bowl, adds fantastic mental stimulation.  

Mental enrichment can tire a dog just as much as physical exercise. Think about it. It’s the same for you. After the end of a long day of using your brain, you’re worn out. Same for your dog. Thankfully there are some fantastic inexpensive, interactive puzzle toys for dogs. Little physical energy is required to enjoy the toys and each toy provides problem solving opportunities.

Here are three activities that we often use (a quick Google search will show you hundreds of others): 

The Find It Game. It’s an active game, great fun and fantastic mental stimulation. Ask your dog to wait (or have someone hold your dog), place the toy in another room, return to your dog and tell your dog to “find it.” In this video Cailie’s searching for a toy, though you can also use food. 

A KONG Wobbler. The Wobbler is a food-dispensing toy that is weighted on the bottom and sits upright until pushed by a dog’s nose or paw and then periodically dispenses as it wobbles and rolls around. The unpredictable movement keeps dogs challenged. It unscrews for easy filling and cleaning. 

Cailie enjoying the Kong Wobbler

The Muffin Tin Game. This is such an easy and inexpensive way to give your dog some mental enrichment. All it takes is a muffin tin, tennis balls (or other toys) and yummy treats your dog likes. Place a tiny treat under each tennis ball, set the muffin tin down on the floor and enjoy watching your dog search for the smell of the treat and then figure out how to move the ball to get to the treat, then sit back and watch your dog enjoy the game!

The Muffin Tin Game

So beat the heat, help your dog be a better problem solver and enjoy a stronger relationship with your furry friend by playing brain games with your dog.

Check out our YouTube Channel to see other videos of our dogs, Cody and Cailie, along with our former girl, Willow, enjoying Brain Games.

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), a Pat Miller Certified Trainer Level 2, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training and Behavior, a dog*tec Certified Professional Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities and distance consults for clients, dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. and Europe.


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