Engage Your Pooch: Fun Ways to Keep Your Dog Mentally and Physically Active

More people are home with their pets these days and just like their humans, pets need to stay both mentally and physically engaged. Rather than have your dog decide how to entertain himself (i.e. eating your favorite shoes or chewing on your couch cushions) here are a few ideas to try out with your pooch.

Teach your dog to “Find It!”

Teaching your dog the basics of scent work is both mentally and physically engaging for your pet by making him feel useful and productive.  All you need are some treats and/or toys. Have your dog “stay” in a certain spot. Place a bit of food or his favorite toy at the other end of the room. Give your dog a command to “find it”. After doing this a few times your dog will understand what you want him to do.

Once your dog seems to know “find it” try increasing the nose challenge. While your dog is in the stay position put the treat or toy out of his line of sight.  The idea is to increase the distance between your pet and the treat/toy.

Using a treat that is “smelly” and putting it out of his line of sight is a great way to teach your dog to use his sense of smell and not sight.  Be sure to shower your dog with praise when he finds the treat.  While teaching this skill, you may want to begin by dragging the treat along the floor to create a scent path until he gets more adept at using his nose.  Place treats in various locations around your home, some easier to find and others more of a challenge.

Another simple nose work game is “which hand”.  Hide a treat in one of your hands while your dog watches and ask your dog “which one”?  If he chooses the wrong hand don’t give him the treat.  When he chooses the correct hand, reward him with the treat and lots of praise.  He will learn to use his nose rather than eyes to find the treat.

Interaction & Play

In addition, to “hide and seek” with treats and toys, there are a number of other games you can play with Rover.  Here are a few:

Tug of War:  Always fun for dogs, a good teaching tool and great exercise.

Fetch: Of course, only if you have the space to do this safely!

Puzzle games: There are many different “treat” puzzles on the market to challenge your pet. We have several options like snuffle mats, Paw5 bowls, Mine Pet Platters, Kong Toys, Licki Mats & more!

Chasing bubbles: All you need is just a bottle and a wand. Bubble stuff is generally non-toxic and this can be great exercise.

How to choose the right toy

Toys provide a great outlet for your pup’s mental and physical energy. A popular one is a stuffed Kong. You can stuff the toy with a variety of treats that will keep your pet busy and entertained. Another great option is our new Licki Mats – these are textured silicone mats that you can put yogurt, peanut butter, canned food, etc. and freeze it!  This provides a long-lasting treat that results in a tired pup! Again, dogs love a challenge and these are great ones that tend to hold up to dogs who may need tougher options. Luckily, they make various sizes for all size dogs!

Why chewing matters

Chewing is a great form of mental stimulation because it allows them to focus on one thing to engage various muscles that surround their jaw resulting in one tired pup!  Great all-natural, non-toxic options include Earth Animal No-Hides, Stash bully sticks, raw bones, duck necks, turkey necks, antlers, water buffalo horns, and more!

Note: We do have great “Boredom Bag” options – our staff will ask you a variety of questions to determine your dog’s likes, dislikes, sensitivities, activity level, and chewing habits to create a customized bag of treats, toys and extra surprises for your cat or dog!

Master the basics…and more

dogs hiking running jumping over log

OK – so we’re all a little guilty (maybe) for letting our dogs off easy. Brush up on basic obedience, or take the opportunity to teach your dog basic obedience commands: sit, down, stay, drop it, and come here.

Take it a step further and teach your dog basic impulse control commands: wait, stay, settle, down, and “place”.  Start by teaching your dog to look at you.  Always reward patient behavior.

Teach your dog a new “skill” like putting their toys away, naming their toys, and finding their toys.  Start with one specific toy that you give a name.  With some practice and praise your dog will learn his specific toys by name.

When teaching your dog a new trick, you may consider clicker training as an option.  This uses conditioning to teach your dog that when he hears the clicker he will get a treat for doing the task he was asked.


Sure, not all dogs are fans of being groomed but it does need to be done now and then.  Brushing, bathing, nail trimming … reward good behavior with treats and praise. It’s important to remember to be patient, dogs can pick up on our anxiety and stress – stay calm!

Calm time

It doesn’t always have to be about physical and mental challenges.  Some snuggling together on the couch, a “doggie massage”, or even reading to your dog can be a wonderful way to spend some quality time with your dog.

If your dog is normally crated when you are at work, it is probably best to continue to utilize crate time for short periods of time during our quarantine times. This may help to reduce separation anxiety when we do begin to return to work.

From teaching your dog tricks, basic scent training, playing games, and providing chew treats/toys there are many great options to keep your pet mentally and physically challenged.


Publications: Cammack, N.R., Yamka, R.M., and Adams, V.J. (2021). Low Number of Owner-Reported Suspected Transmission of Foodborne Pathogens From Raw Meat-Based Diets Fed to Dogs and/or Cats. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 8. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.741575.