Challenging a Dog’s Mind and Senses for Overall Fitness

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jack playing find the foodThis week, we are participating in two blog hops.  Our FitDog Friday hop (of course) and also the Zukes Fuel the Love Blog Hop.  We often use Zuke’s treats when training our dogs and when we play games with our dogs that challenge their minds, bodies, and senses.  Today’s post is about the role that mental and sensory stimulation can play in your dog’s overall fitness.zukes fuel the love


Being fit encompasses more than just physical fitness.  Yes, physical activity plays a role in the well-being (behavior, mood, and overall health) of your dog.  Still, your dog requires mental and sensory challenges as well.  These types of challenges tend to keep your dog’s mind and senses sharp and in many cases can provide them with some great physical activity as well.


How a Dog Benefits from Mental Stimulation

There are many reasons why you should challenge your dog with mental and sensory stimulation.

  • Use it or lose it.  Like with our muscular systems, the brain requires activity to keep fit.  This is true for humans and it is also true for dogs.  Keep your dog sharp and mentally fit by using an assortment of games, activities and different exercise routines.
  • Added intensity.  Any physical activity that includes a mental challenge or new sensory input is more intense, and your dog will expend more energy (i.e. they will burn more calories) doing it.  You can add mental and sensory challenges by taking your dog to new places to walk or run or by adding tricks and game type of drills while you are playing or working out with them.
  • Human canine bonding.  Exercising and playing games with your dog can foster the human canine bond.


Benefits of Exercise on the Mind

There are numerous studies (see references below) showing that intense and consistent exercise can also help improve brain function in humans and the same should hold true for dogs. The old expression: “A healthy body yields a healthy mind” sums it up and has been proven to be true.  So make sure your dog’s overall fitness program includes a variety of intense exercise (appropriate for their age and injury history), and a variety of mental and sensory games, so that they remain fit in the fullest sense of the word.  One of our favorite games is called Find the Food.

Find the Food for a New Challenge

One of our favorite games, or perhaps I should say our dogs’ favorite games is called “Find the Food”.  This game provides both mental stimulation and nose work.  The way Maggie May plays, with such energy and enthusiasm, it becomes a mini-workout as well.   We started playing this game many years ago with our Chocolate Lab Sally.  Although it is hard to know for certain, I doubt that even Sally loved the game as much as Maggie and Slimdoggy Jack do.


How to Play Find the Food

The game can be played indoors or outside.  We prefer outside as it is more challenging to the dogs.  Grab a handful or two of low calorie treats.  We often use the Zukes Mini’s due to their low calorie amounts (3 kcals per treat).  With the dogs waiting inside at the front door, we walk around the yard and hide the treats: on the flower pots, on the garden hose, on rocks, in trees, and all over the porch and driveway.  We then return to the house, have the dogs sit and stay before opening the door and letting them go find the food.


The dogs run all over the yard searching for the hidden treats and absolutely love the game.  They are forced to use their eyes and their nose to locate them all.  Our yard is large enough that they get a little exercise as they cover the yard during their hunt.  When they are done, which can often be after 20 minutes or more of searching, they come back into the house and collapse on their beds.  The combination of sensory load, mental stimulation, and physicality really knock them out.  Maggie May looks like she just ran a marathon!

References and Further Reading


fitDogFriday_avatarPlease enjoy our FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggy and our co-hosts Peggy’s Pet Place and To Dog With Love. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!



We are joining our friends over at Dog Tipper and for the Zuke’s #FueltheLove blog hop! For the next two weeks, you’ll be seeing over 30 blogs taking part in this great hop, each sharing news about Zuke’s treats, their Dog and Cat Cancer Fund, their eco-friendly practices, and much more! Many of the blogs will be hosting their own giveaways; some will be participating in a group giveaway. Others will be reviewing treats with their dogs’ opinions on these USA-made treats so be sure and check out the blogs below:

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  1. Search & Find is a favourite of Scooters. Although I haven’t tried using the whole of the backyard for it yet!!
    Paws &Pedals recently posted…Work your Dog – Fun things to do with your dogMy Profile

  2. That’s one of Mr. N’s favorites as well! We just played a round earlier in the living room which can get kind of chaotic with two dogs running everywhere.
    Tenacious Little Terrier recently posted…NaNoWriMo Part 15My Profile

  3. Can’t believe you have a pic of my very favorite flavor – wabbit! You are right about using our minds, we are doing much more of that now since we help with Bailie’s training and it is good for all of us, not to mention getting those Zuke’s treats for our efforts. We haven’t had an outdoor food hunt yet, but we have done it in the house.
    emma recently posted…Fall Hiking | GBGV | Fitdog FridayMy Profile

  4. What a great game. I haven’t played that with Rocco yet. We’ll give it a try this week!
    Diane recently posted…National Take a Hike Day 2013My Profile

  5. Oooo, fun game! We would love that.

  6. We love the games we play with our Mum!!! We do something like this nearly every day, if we’re not hiking or doing agility. Great info…
    Johann recently posted…Our hike at Fort Mountain!My Profile

  7. We are working hard to increase the mental stimulation. The dogs seem to enjoy it!
    Hailey and Zaphod recently posted…Feline Friday: Nin as a verbMy Profile

  8. I love doing mentally stimulating activities with Luna. We play search and find often and she loves the DIY dog puzzles I make for her.
    Beagles and Bargains recently posted…FitDog Friday: Overcoming ObstaclesMy Profile

  9. Mental stimulation is definitely something we need to work more on. I want to try some nose work games that Donna and the Dogs blog is writing about, but that’s something we’ll do indoors when the weather keeps us inside in the winter. While we can still be outside, this sounds like a great game to try!
    Jan K recently posted…This ‘N That Thursday – We Won & One Crazy CatMy Profile

  10. Find the food is one of our favourite games too! Our yard isn’t large enough to get much exercise from it but when we use the whole house, it’s great rainy day fun! In fact… we’re going to play right now! 🙂
    Bethany recently posted…What Goes Up, Must Come Down: Crystal Mountain’s Dog-Friendly GondolaMy Profile

  11. Hi Y’all!

    I finally got here! The Humans were gone all day. They left in the middle of the dark and just got back with the computer. Don’t worry. I made ’em pay!

    I love to track stuff. My Human sets up tracking stuff for me, but she’s never hidden yummy treats!

    Y’all come by now!
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Follow Up on Fun and FitnessMy Profile

    • Glad you made it. You would do great at this game; I am sure of that.

  12. Sounds like a fun game!
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Follow-up Friday 11-15-13My Profile

  13. Hi Y’all!

    Just hopped by to say “have a great weekend!”

    Y’all come back now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Saturday SpecialMy Profile

  14. Awesome post. Mom thinks it’s SO important to challenge a pup’s mind. Learning tricks is a great way to do this.

    I love playing find the food, but we’ve never tried it outside. What a great idea!
    Garth Riley recently posted…Zuke’s #FueltheLove Blog Hop and Zuke’s GROUP GiveawayMy Profile

  15. Great information. I use a kong treat dispenser and a busy buddy and put Nellie’s diet food in them to challenge my dogs minds. I also challenge their minds by taking them to different places to hunt. They have to use their nose and mind to find the birds. Have a great day.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Nothing But Norman #18My Profile

  16. Very fun game. Do your dogs end up eating other things that are not meant as treat during this search?
    Ruckus the Eskie recently posted…Review: Rockin’ Green Doghouse Rock Pet Detergent @RockinGreenSoapMy Profile

    • Ah yes, rabbit poop is a favorite…and of course avocados if they find them.
      mkob recently posted…PetsMove Senior UpdateMy Profile

  17. I hide treats for Schooner and Skipper before I leave for work. I am up at 5:00 every morning. I have to work fast before they get out of bed to have bed with me in the morning. I hide treats mostly in the house. My husband said they are all over the house looking for the treats. Said it keeps them very busy. Schooner and Skipper have 3 floor to search! They love it.

    • That’s great – will certainly keep them busy and give them some good exercise too!
      mkob recently posted…Black & White Sunday 11-17-13My Profile

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