Activities To Boost Your Dog’s Mental Health And Burn Excess Energy

Written By L&C Contributor Lena Samford @lenasamford .

There have been times when I’ve made it through the end of a long, hard day and don’t have the time or energy to take my girls for a walk.  (Because let’s be real a glass of wine on the couch sounds pretty dang relaxing!) 

I’ve thought,

“Does this make me a bad dog mom?”

”Do they even need a walk?”

”What else can I do to help them burn off this energy?”

The answer to the first question is NO!  If you’re here at L&C reading this post, I promise you’re a good dog mom —kudos to you!

However, we do know that dogs need some form of exercise daily.  Being sedentary is not good for anyone’s health!

Dogs just like humans need exercise and to experience nature for their mental and physical health

Dogs, just like people, need to get out in nature and move around not only for their physical health to prevent obesity but for their mental health.  If your dog is licking themselves often, peeing or chewing on things around he house, showing signs of aggression, digging holes or barking a lot — they may be bored or mentally unstimulated.  This is a sign that they need more exercise.

But what kind of exercise and how much is right for your dog?  Of course, as dogs are so different, that answer will vary.  I want to provide you with a few different physical and mental exercises that can help your dog to burn off excess energy and potentially even solve some behavioral issues that your dog might be experiencing.

Walking Your Dog

The tried and true method of exercise —walking the dog!  Walking your dog(s) is more important than you think —even for the lazy dog who never seems to want to get out.  

Research has shown that the connection between animals and humans is incredibly strong.  We’ve lived together for so long our genomes have evolved together —meaning we share the same genes that deal with diet and behavior.

When you’re walking your dog you’re not only getting in good physical exercise for both of you, but you’re also building a deeper bond, and improve their mental health which translates into good behaviors.

Regular walks with your dog improve the bond and trust between both of you.

Even if you had a big house, or a big backyard, getting out on walks is important for your dog to be able to experience the world.  Dogs see the world through taste and smell.  In fact, they have more than 100 million sensory receptor sites in their snouts!

On their walks, they can smell other dogs’ scent and learn about their gender, mood and health.   They also get to see new things that stimulate their mind and socialize.  No one would feel good after staring at the same four walls (or four sides of a fence) all day every day!

Just as you want to get out and experience new things and meet new people — so does your dog!

This is especially important if you notice your dog has behavioral issues.  Taking them for a walk will help to establish structure and control.  The routine process of putting them on a leash, walking out of the door and consistently allowing certain walking behaviors will help to solidify you as the one in control.  This will allow you to have more authority in the house afterward —so your “No” command won’t fall on deaf ears.

The amounts of time you should walk your dog per day largely depends on their breed, size and current health status.

2+ Hours: Larger, high-energy dogs like retrievers, shepherds, or boxers.

1+ Hours: Mid-size dogs like terriers, spaniels, or bulldogs.

30+ Minutes: Small dogs like chihuahuas, maltese, or pomeranians.

Keep in mind these are totals and you don’t have to walk them all at one time every day.  It’s recommended that you break it up into small walks.  Focus on a brisk, steady pace throughout the walk to make it effective.

 If your dog isn’t able to walk well, is obese, or fragile —get recommendations from your vet on exercise and never push your dog to exercise.

Playing with your dog is a great way to bond and release stress.

Playing With Your Dog

Similar to walking your dog, playing with your dog will help you to bond and allow them to work off boredom, pent-up energy, and mentally stimulate them.  It will also allow them to show off their personality!  

This is easy if you’re not wanting to get out on a walk and have some extra time while dinner is in the oven.

Play Fetch - Almost every dog loves to play fetch and it’s a great way to burn off bursts of energy.  Here are some tips on getting your dog to actually bring back the ball when you play fetch!  If your dog is good at playing fetch, try upping the game in a small pond or non-chlorinated pool!

Tug-Of-War - Tug-Of-War is pretty self-explanatory.  A back and forth pull between your dog and you.  A few tips: make sure you’re the one instigating the game so they know not everything counts as a toy (for instance your clothing or towels), and keep your hands at or below your waist to discourage jumping.

Hide And Seek - If your dog can sit and stay, try adding an added element with a frame of hide and seek.  With our dogs, I don’t have to hold them back while my partner runs and hides in a closet or under a bed.  If your dog doesn’t have the basic commands down yet, you can have someone hold them while you go hide, then call them and have them find you.  It is truly entertaining and utilities your dog’s sense of smell too!

You can do all these activities with toys or treats as well.  Any form of these games will also give them mental stimulation!

Time for play varies on how much walking, you’ve done that day, as well as the energy level and capability of your dog.  I suggest at least 15 minutes a day of exercise separate from a daily walk. 

Various factors like your dog’s breed, age, overall health and fitness level determine how much physical activity your pup needs.

Mental Exercise

My pit-mix Elaina isn’t able to go on extensive walks or play as long as she used to.  So we are using mental exercises to wear her out along with shorter walks.  If this is the case for your dog, or if you are running low on time or energy for the day, you can wear your dog out by mental exercises!  Mental exercise can wear dogs (and humans) out just as much as physical exercise.  They say a mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog.

New Tricks - The most interactive way to mentally stimulate your dog is to teach them a new trick!  And yes, old dogs can learn new tricks!

My girl Indi was 3 or 4 when I adopted her and I thought she wouldn’t be able to learn the basics.  But with a little bit of training, she now can even sit still and hold treats on her nose until we tell her to eat them!  

Start on the basics and build up to harder tricks like rolling over or standing up on their back legs.

The Cup Game - One game we love to play is the cup game.  You take three plastic cups and put treats under one.  Allow your dog to watch as your rearrange them and then find which one has the treats.  You’d be surprised at how much better they will get a recognizing which one has the treats with practice!

Puzzles Or Memory Games - If you’re wanting something a little less interactive on your end, there are plenty of games you can buy in the form of puzzles or memory games.  The premise is simple — the treats are hidden or hard to get to, and the dog has to sniff them out, move things around and use their brains to get the treats hidden inside.

Dog puzzles are a great way to stimulate your dog’s mind.

Dog puzzle toys on Amazon Finds
Interactive puppy puzzles help to make feeding time more stimulating for you or dog.

Shop dog treat dispenser puzzles on Amazon

Snuffle Feeding Mats
- Try making a DIY Snuffle Mat with any towel to see if your dog is interested.  Make sure it’s not one of your nice towels though!  Lay the towel out, fill with treats, and then loosely fold and knot it up.  Your dog will have to dig around and figure out how to untie the towel to get to the treats!

If they like the game, you can ditch the towel for a thick piece of cardboard or plastic with holes cut throughout in an even pattern.  Take pieces of fleece or any other old material and tie them through the holes creating a thick mass of fabric with loos that will capture the food.  Throw their food in the pile of fleece and have them dig through to find all of the pieces!

After implementing a balanced routine of walking, playing and mental exercise your dog should be feeling and acting much more well-behaved.  Growing your bond and making you both feel great!  Just remember that any form of exercise is better than none.  And doing your best is always valid work!  Happy exercising friends!

P.S. If you want to exercise with a fellow dog mom, check out my YouTube Channel!  My girls are always there with me and room for plenty of petting breaks is always encouraged!

Join Lena and the girls for dog-friendly workouts over on her YouTube Channel

Special thanks to Lena Samford for contributing this awesome piece.  Please follow her @lenasamford on Instagram for more sustainable pet-friendly living and fitness tips.