Is Mental Exercise Really Exercise?

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fitDogFriday_180x150It’s FitDog Friday again, SlimDoggy Jack’s favorite day of the week because he gets to read all the fun posts from his buddies and the cool new fitness activities they’ve been doing. It’s also K9Kamp time, so he’s even more excited to see what his fellow Kampers are up to.

Our post this week is a little different. It’s about mental exercise…and wait, does that really qualify as “exercise”? Absolutely!  We run mental exercise routines everyday with SlimDoggy Jack & Maggie. It’s beneficial to both of them although for different reasons. Jack has a lot of energy – energy that needs to be expended in positive activities in order to keep him on an even keel. A bored dog can become destructive and unruly just as an under-exercised dog can create problems. Maggie needs to build confidence and these exercises are great for that!

We usually do lots of physical exercise and that works great to release excess energy. But we have also been working with a new trainer who has shown us the light as far as the importance of mental exercise. Dogs need to think, to reason, to listen, to learn, to control themselves and making the effort to do that, using ‘willpower’ helps drain energy while building skills.

Jack practicing his "leave it"

Jack practicing his “leave it”.

Take a look at this picture. Here’s Jack practicing his ‘leave it’ command. Note there are three treats on the ground in front of him and he has to leave them until (and if) I allow him to ‘take it’. You can see how attentive he is in this first picture…his willpower is being taxed in the second – taken only a few seconds later. This was a real challenge for him because it was dinner time, but he did great and held it for a good 30 seconds (and for him that’s GREAT).
We also use many different challenge toys with Jack & Maggie. Some are simple Kongs, but some are pretty involved and require some work to be successful with them. Jack typically tries brute force first, but if that doesn’t work, he hunkers down and tries to figure it out.

Jack practicing his "leave it". Take 2.

Jack practicing his “leave it”. Note growing pool of saliva.

Maggie, being a fearful dog tends to shy away from a challenge, but she has really taken to clicker training and has made great progress in building her confidence and in her willingness to try new things. Her mental challenges are different than Jack’s – a big one for her is to just look us in the eye, so we work on that all the time. Maggie is not as strong or fit as Jack. (She came to us undernourished & weak). We work with her more slowly on the physical exertion, but we can do more mental challenges with her. She loves all of the games and now that she knows there’s some food rewards she tackles all of them with gusto.

Here’s a picture of Maggie with a new mental challenge toy. She has to lift the blocks up or knock them over to get the treat and three of them slide, so she has to slide them out of the way. Suffice to say, she got all of them with no help from mom.

Maggie working her challenge toy

Maggie working her challenge toy

As I said, this post was going to be a little bit different than our normal exercise related post, but keeping a dog “fit” also means keeping them mentally healthy and challenging them with exercises that require them to use their brain are essential.

What mental exercise do you engage your dog in? Do you see changes in their behavior as a result?


Please 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!


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  1. Leory is a dog that really needs a mental workout. We try and do a lot of hide and seek, but he gets bored very quickly. Taking him on new adventures really seems to wipe him out, even if it’s just taking a different walking route.
    Jen recently posted…6 Ways Motorists Can Assist Me In Enjoying A Nice Walk With My DogMy Profile

  2. We love mental challenges too and played the same “leave it” game today! That’s why we love agility too, because it works them out both physically and mentally.
    Your pals,
    Diane and Rocco
    Diane recently posted…FitDog Friday: Our K9 Camp Agility ChallengeMy Profile

  3. I love the idea of mental exercise, going to try hide and seek, hope it will alleviate some of the mischief….

  4. Leave It is such an important command to learn. And you’re right, mental stimulation is good and healthy! Interesting what you say about teaching Maggie to look you in the eye. Brooks rarely looked us in the eye but I took it as part of his extreme submissiveness, which he had to be with Kelly. But he also was extremely responsive to the slightest word and was very sensitive to any “no.” Kelly looks us in the eye all the time, and is quite a bit more stubborn!
    Peggy Frezon recently posted…K9 Kamp Exercises from K9 Fit ClubMy Profile

    • Dogs are all so different. Jack always looks me in the eye, but is very responsive and pretty obedient (when not on a critter trail). Maggie is fearful…but also stubborn…doesn’t seem to go together but she is.
      mkob recently posted…Is Mental Exercise Really Exercise?My Profile

  5. Every time we stop for a picture (which if you’d ask them is far too often) and the boys all have to “stay” and “watch” me, I know that even though we’re stopped, they get a little more worn out because of the mental exercise! Great post.
    Bethany recently posted…Seattle to Buffalo with 3 Dogs Day 6: Welcome to The Empire StateMy Profile

  6. I have one of those doggy board games where mom hides treats under the pieces, my sister has a busy ball that she noses around the house getting food to fall out of, but that is pretty much it unless posing for my photos counts which is kind of a mental task…staying and posing and all 🙂
    emma recently posted…K9 Kamp Week One – The Results | GBGV | FitDog FridayMy Profile

    • I think posing does count…it takes a lot of patience and willpower to sit there when you’d rather be sniffing!
      mkob recently posted…Is Mental Exercise Really Exercise?My Profile

  7. Yes, of course. In this, dogs and humans are the same. We need to balance our attention to our minds and our bodies.

    I’ve loved doing nose work with Honey to stimulate her mentally. It’s amazing to watch her track the scent in the air and move her body to follow the molecules that are passing through her nose.

    It’s interesting to see how different Jack and Maggie are and how you stimulate each of them differently.
    Pamela recently posted…If Dogs Aren’t Allowed… Then Why…?My Profile

    • Jack & Maggie have the most opposite personalities of any dogs we’ve had. It’s fun, but a challenge to keep them both properly stimulated. Maggie is more of a couch potato so it’s easy to let her slack off, but she enjoys the games even more than Jack. Dogs are just great…period.
      mkob recently posted…Is Mental Exercise Really Exercise?My Profile

  8. Can totally relate about mental games/exercise. As a Golden mom does a lot of nose work/find the toy with me when we are outdoors (my doggy dad was a champion of the great outdoors game). It is also useful and helpful when its raining and too hot to go outside. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar
    SUGAR: Golden Woofs recently posted…{This Moment} June Brings Summer BeautyMy Profile

  9. We love to do mental stuff to tire Rita out, especially if we have to cut a walk short for some reason or if the weather is bad. We usually just work on Stay and then some tricks. I will have to try Leave It with her.

    I bought her some toys were you try to get the treats out, but they are kinda hard and she gets SO frustrated. She makes all kinds of crazy noises. Unfortunately, they are not working out the way I’d hoped – pictured just giving them to her and having hours of quiet entertainment for her! Um, nope.
    Jackie Bouchard recently posted…Follow-Up Friday: Pupdates on Past PostsMy Profile

    • I had to find some toys that were ‘easier’ for Maggie as she’d do the same – just get frustrated and sit down. I got a couple of real simple ones and am slowly building her up to harder ones. I started her with the KONG Stuff-A-Ball Dog Toy – and little mini treats that fall right out when she rolls it. Jack, a more advanced competitor loves his Busy Buddy Tug-a-Jug Treat Dispensing Dog Toy, which I think is pretty hard. (Got both on Amazon)
      mkob recently posted…Is Mental Exercise Really Exercise?My Profile

      • Yes! The Tug-a-jug is the one that makes her nuts! She just rams it into things until it will get stuck up on an angle and (hopefully) a treat will fall out. She doesn’t really get the “tug” part of it.

        Maybe I’ll try the Stuff-A-Ball. We got her a Hol-o-bal (sp?) but she gets a little frustrated with that too. Sigh. She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed…
        Jackie Bouchard recently posted…Follow-Up Friday: Pupdates on Past PostsMy Profile

        • BOL…Maggie wouldn’t even attempt the Tug-a-jug…too hard. Maybe she’s not the sharpest tool, but she’s a very cute one!
          mkob recently posted…What are you feeding your dog?My Profile

  10. Thanks for this! Having so many dogs, I simply forgot about this, and we have a ton of mental games to play!! Also, they look so great getting so involved with the games.
    Christine and Riley recently posted…My Little Fat to Fit Dog: Week 1My Profile

  11. Mommy & I have a great time exercising my mind with my many tricks. One of the best tricks where I really have to think is when Mommy and I practice my left paw command vs. right paw command. I sometimes have to think for a minute when Mommy asks me either “PAW” (right paw) or “ASK” (left paw). She loves to see me “working the problem” in my mind and when I give her the correct one, I get this HUGE smile on my face and I am so proud. 🙂
    Two friends of ours also suggested that Mommy get me puzzle games. They do rescue work and head up two amazing organizations, “The Bill Foundation” and “Hope for Paws”. They say they get all the dogs they rescue to do puzzle games and it is fantastic mental exercise.
    I am so glad I could take part in this week’s Fit Dog blog hop!! Hugs to each of you!
    Love, Pixel
    Pixel Blue Eyes & Mommy Jenny recently posted…The Joy of Dog Festivals, Fun Exercise & Being Wise in Hot WeatherMy Profile

    • I would bet the puzzles are great for the rescues and shelter dogs. They are under so much stress, they would be a good release valve.

  12. This is something we haven’t really done a lot with. I did buy one of those treat puzzles for the dogs, but we haven’t gotten it out for a while. Thanks for the reminder that we definitely need to do that! I think it would be especially good for Kobi, who is getting too old for very strenuous physical exercise.
    Jan K recently posted…Kobi’s “Kumfy” PrizeMy Profile

    • Yes as they get older, the physical stuff gets so hard on them…but these things they can always do!
      mkob recently posted…What are you feeding your dog?My Profile

      • And Kobi is always thrilled to do anything that involves treats!
        Jan K recently posted…Kobi’s “Kumfy” PrizeMy Profile

        • But of course!

  13. Hi Y’all!
    Oh my Human puts me through physical, and because I’m a retriever, works in lots of mental retrieving games…like hiding bumpers and then sending (handling, for you retriever people) me to the hidden bumper. Yes, she uses a whistle and hand signals to direct me.
    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Follow Up and Wind Up!My Profile

  14. As always great post and well timed! Combining the dynamic duo of mental and physical stimulation is the basis for our newest DogTread Program – Canine Gym at Home – Coming Soon!! Can’t wait to have SlimDoggy Jack and Maggie test it out!
    DogTread K9FITvest recently posted…DogTread Workout: Canine Exercise with Curb AppealMy Profile

  15. Glad to hear Maggie has taken to clicker training! I hope it is boasting her confidence! That is also a really interesting puzzle. It looks pretty durable. I would love to find or make something similar for Luna. I think mental exercise is really important for dogs who spend a lot of time during the day sleeping like Luna does. Just like with people I am sure it is important to keep using what you have!
    Beagles and Bargains recently posted…FitDog Friday: K9 KampingMy Profile

    • I get all their toys at Amazon. This is from Zanies and is called Wood Interactive Puzzle. It’s wood, so yes, it’s durable. Try it and let us know.
      mkob recently posted…What are you feeding your dog?My Profile

  16. Great games! We do a lot of hide and seek and just finished a ‘Nose Work’ class. Wyatt was always exhausted, after 90 minutes of sniffing for items!

    Wyatt’s Mom
    Wyatt Airedale recently posted…What makes a dog wag? by WyattMy Profile

    • I think Jack would love a ‘nose’ class, going to have to find one nearby.
      mkob recently posted…What are you feeding your dog?My Profile

  17. We’ve had the doggies puzzles! They worked great, loved watching there little brains work. We play lots of hide and seek both indoors and out. I like to fool them, to really get there minds working -by stuffing pillows under a blanket on the couch, they think it’s us! Then they keep searching, it’s great fun for all!

  18. Great post – I’ve found that there is a time of day where Charlie gets really restless. It doesn’t matter if I take him for a run or play, he’s still antsy. That’s the time where I do mental exercises with him, like trick training or getting him to sniff out small treats that I’ve scattered across the yard. A few minutes of this tires him out more than an hour of walking 🙂 Plus it makes life less boring for them.
    Human Rescues Dog recently posted…Dogs and Depression: How A Puppy Became My ProzacMy Profile

  19. I have always heard this to be true but I’m glad to hear you agree. I need to work more with Chester and Gretel on this. The leave it command is something they do ok with on walks (with other dogs) but go deaf when there is any kind of edibles involved. Sometimes they really shouldn’t be eating the stuff they do so I could help keep them safe by teaching them the command. Gretel is super smart but lacks confidence so it might help her in that area too.
    Jessica recently posted…Is My Fat Pet Sending the Wrong Message?My Profile

    • We’ve seen some really changes in Maggie’s confidence as she is learning more commands and being successful. I bet it would help Gretel.
      mkob recently posted…Tale of Tails: BeccaMy Profile

  20. Absolutely love this post! Love the passion you put into it! I have LOTS of mental stimulation puzzles for Joker, and every day do lots of clicker sessions with him. He enjoys it alot!

    BTW I’m so following your blog now =)
    Francesca Villa recently posted…Bathday!My Profile

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