Brain Games For Dogs That Need Mental Stimulation

I’ve always stressed that it’s important to know everything about a breed of dog before you decide to make one a part of your family.

I did not do this when Bella became a part of my life. My ex and I kind of just nose-dived into adopting her without any prior knowledge about Dobermans. Turns out, they are high-energy and extremely oral. Having had puppies before [and Lab puppies, at that], I knew better than to leave anything lying around within reach of a little puppy nose. My ex did not. Bella mowed through several pairs of shoes, a backpack, and miscellaneous other items that became fair game. She was extremely stubborn, and took just about a year to potty train, and refused to learn how to shake until we adopted our second Dobie pup, who caught on within the first couple of days.

After my ex and I split ways, I made a vow to both myself and Bella to give her the best possible life I possibly could. I switched her to a raw diet to help with her coat and allergies, and started exercising her regularly, whether it was hiking, running or walking. Even if I came home late at night, I would still take her for a walk just so she could get out of the house for a bit. I learned that dogs really thrive when they have a schedule, especially Bella. As long as she is fed and exercised she’s pretty much a happy camper. Key words: pretty much.

Before my fiancé and I adopted Otis, we both did a ton of research on Puggles. Not knowing anybody who had a Puggle, we wanted to make sure that the pup would be a good fit for Bella and our [eventually] growing family. Are Puggles good with other dogs? With children? Are they high energy or low energy? Are they high maintenance or low maintenance? Like any dog, it’s really a case-by-case basis. And with Puggles being a mix of two breeds, it’s a complete toss-up whether you get more Beagle or Pug. And since Otis came to us from Iowa via a breeder we found online, we didn’t have a chance to meet him or his parents before adopting. We had no idea what his temperament would be, but we really lucked out. He’s spunky and outgoing and literally has no fear. He inherited a lot of Beagle traits, like his adorable, oversized ears, his incredibly strong sniffer, and his high level of energy. Once he’s old enough, he will be a great running and hiking companion for Bella and me.

While both dogs are extremely happy and relaxed after a good walk [or run, in Bella’s case], they both need mental stimulation as well. Not all dogs require this form of exhaustion in addition to exercise, but my two definitely do. There are tons of toys on the market now for dogs that need a brain game, and you know I’ve tried nearly all of them. Amazon is a great place to look if your dog is one that needs a little something extra.

Here are a few toys that I’ve purchased for my fur babies that I really love [especially since Bella has an extremely strong jaw and can destroy just about any toy]:

The well-known Kong toy. It’s durable and versatile. Both my pups have these in respectable sizes, and I just stuff them with peanut butter and stick them in the freezer until I’m ready to unleash them [hint: freezing the peanut butter keeps the dog entertained longer and lengthens the amount of time it takes the dog to get all of the peanut butter out of the kong]. Pet stores also sell Kong filler specifically for these toys, but I have yet to try it. [buy it here]

The Game Changer. This one is also pretty durable and has kept both of my dogs interested for longer than all the others I’ve tried [aside from the Kong]. It pulls apart, and you just insert treats into the cavity. Smash it back together and the dog has to flip it around and move it to get the treats out. Bella ended up figuring out how to pop it open, but I think that’s an unusual occurrence [it’s not easy to pull apart]. Even without treats, there are still crumbs inside and they both continue to chew on it and play with it. [buy it here]

A ball that holds treats! This is awesome – you just pull the teeth away from each other and shove treats inside. It’s great entertainment and also boasts to be a good teeth cleaner. I only gave this one to Otis, since I have a feeling Bella would be able to rip it apart in no time. He absolutely loves it, although the ball is still a little bit too big for him. [buy it here]

Pretty much anything Nylabone. These have always been my go-to puppy chew toy, but now they make flavored bones that are like catnip for puppies. They are nontoxic and great for dogs who are chewers. Both of mine love the flavored bones I’ve gotten them. Both Amazon and pet stores have a ton of different flavor options. I’ve linked one of the flavors we got here, but you can get them at PetSmart and PetCo as well.

Maze Ball. This one is pretty cool. You drop treats into it and move it around so they dispense throughout the ball. Your dog has to bat it around to get the treats out. Bella, being the strong-jawed, intelligent woman that she is, ripped the rubber hole at the top so that she could get the treats easier. I held onto it, though, and Otis has been loving it. It keeps him entertained and also has treat remnants in it which holds his attention even after the treats have been dispensed. [get it here]

The Odin Puzzle Toy. This is similar to the maze ball, where you stick treats inside and the dog has to move the ball around to get the treats out. If you stuff big enough treats in, they are harder to get out and can hold the dog’s attention a little longer. Bella also managed to rip a larger hole in this one, but we still use it for Otis, who loves it. [purchase here]

There are thousands of other toys like this online and in stores, these are just the ones that I ordered that I thought would be durable enough for Bella [some were, some weren’t]. Both my pups are extremely food motivated, so these toys are all great attention holders and distractions because they are all food-based. If your dog isn’t food motivated, it could be the quality of the treats you buy. The pricier and better quality the treat, the more excited your dog is going to get about it. I heard this quote on a podcast I was listening to the other day: “You want treats that are greasy and leave a little something on your hands.”

If you are exercising your dog regularly and you can’t seem to exhaust the pup, it’s probably because he/she needs a little something more than exercise. Breeds like Dobermans, Beagles, German Shepherds and Pointers [to name a few], are “working” dogs, which means they need “jobs.” They need to exercise their brains as well as their bodies. The above toys are great starter kits, especially if you don’t have time to get your dog out of the house one day. I’ve heard of people hiding treats around their house for their dog to find. If you’re comfortable with that, your dog would probably love it. The only reason I hesitate to do that with both of mine is that they would likely be destructive and ruin whatever was hiding the treats.

Whatever your dog needs, there are tons of toys and ideas out there that are great for any breed! And if you want something more breed specific, join a Facebook group or a forum that focuses on your specific breed preference. These are great – I’m a part of a Dobie one and I’ve learned so much more about Bella’s breed.


My little PSA: Please do as much research as possible before adopting a pet into your family, especially a dog. If you plan on rescuing one from the pound, be sure to walk the dog when visiting to see what the energy level is like and how the dog responds to you, other dogs or animals, and children [if you have kids, you should bring them to meet the dog ahead of time]. If you plan on bringing a new puppy into your home, find one that will suit your lifestyle. Whether you believe it or not, your pets are your family and they have wants and needs that need to be fulfilled, just as humans do. Neglecting these will result in an unhappy, naughty, and even aggressive dog. So, do your research!

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