Energetic Dogs

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Dog doing scent work

How to Tire Out a Working Dog Mentally with Toys and Games

Do you know that energetic dogs have an insatiable need for mental stimulation? They’re smart and intelligent, but without the right kind of mental exercise, they can become bored, frustrated, and even destructive. As pet owners, it’s important to understand how we can meet our pup’s needs through toys, games, and interactive activities. But which ones are the most effective in mentally exhausting working dogs?

Toys & Games are great fun and practical tools that can help burn off your pup’s excess mental energy. By using the right combination of toys and puzzles, brain games, teaching them new commands and tricks, as well as creating DIY ideas will help to engage their minds and emotionally stimulate them.

In this article, I’ll discuss the benefits toys and games provide to your dog and unleash various toys, games, and different DIY ideas that can help to outwear your working dog mentally.

Why Mental Stimulation Is Essential for Working Dogs

Working dogs are highly intelligent, motivated, and inquisitive animals. They need activities that challenge them mentally and physically. One of the most effective ways to keep a working dog engaged is through the use of toys and games.

Stimulating your dog mentally through Toys and Games provides many benefits for working dogs, which are given below.

  1. Prevent Anxiety: Is your beloved pup struggling with anxiety or distress? Toys and games are effective to assist them in maintaining their composure. 
    Giving dogs a task that keeps them engaged makes them less inclined to react negatively when you leave the house.
    Doing this activity can help provide peace of mind for you and your furry companion!
  2. Encourage Positive Play: Puppies have a tendency to cause mayhem–chewing, licking, rolling around on, and digging at anything that catches their eye. Puzzle toys offer puppies a safe and healthy alternative for channeling their curiosity rather than getting into trouble.
  3. Alleviate Boredom: Don’t always have the capacity to engage with your pup? Puzzle toys and activities can provide entertainment for them, offering an independent playtime opportunity. Allowing your dog to expend any extra energy in a constructive way will reduce potential boredom-induced mischief from occurring!
  4. Promote Happiness: Puzzle toys and games are an excellent way to keep your pup entertained, significantly enhancing their happiness and wellness. Not all dogs enjoy regular toys like plushies or squeaky ones; puzzle games provide a unique alternative that’s perfect for pets of any age!
  5. Deter Dementia: What many pet owners don’t know is that, much like humans, dogs, too, can suffer from dementia in their older years. To help your furry friend stay sharp and avoid typical issues such as memory loss, it’s essential to provide them with stimulating activities – puzzle toys are an ideal tool here!
  6. Improve Mental Agility: Toys and games are great for stimulating mental agility in working dogs. Research shows that these activities can help dogs develop analytical thinking and help your dog stay sharp and alert.
  7. Develop Problem-Solving Skills: Toys and puzzles help train working dogs to use their problem-solving skills. As they become more familiar with the toy or puzzle, they will learn to anticipate what comes next and practice creative thinking to solve it.
  8. Improve Focus: Working dogs need to focus on their tasks, and toys and games can help them do this. By introducing challenging activities and toys requiring concentration, you can keep your working dog focused for longer.
  9. Increase Cognitive Function: Toys and games are an excellent way to keep a working dog’s cognitive functions sharp. Their brains stay active and engaged with the challenge of solving the problem.
  10. Boost Confidence: Toys and games also assist in boosting your working dog’s confidence. By introducing new and challenging activities, your dog will learn to be more self-assured and have a more positive outlook on their tasks.

To learn about your dog’s body language, check out: Decoding Canine Body Language: What is Your Dog Saying?

4 Ways To Mentally Tire Out Energetic Dogs

Mental stimulation is just as important for dogs as physical activity, and there are plenty of ways to engage their minds.

Here are some great ideas for mentally tiring out your pup:

By Using Toys & Puzzles

Many toys and food puzzles are available to challenge your pup’s brain. These can be used both as a way to mentally tire out your pet and reinforce positive behaviors.

Drawing on my own experience, I urge pet owners to treat their pups with the following toys and puzzles; they are sure to bring smiles all around!

Movement Seeking Toys

Movement-seeking toys are perfect for dogs that love running and chasing. From bouncing balls to rolling discs, these toys encourage dogs to move around while they also dispense treats unpredictably – making them even more fun!

My suggestion for this type of toy is The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball. Its bumpy surface makes a captivating display of rolling and bouncing, making treats shoot out in unpredictable directions to keep your pup on its toes.

You can also adjust the opening size of the ball to increase or decrease the level of difficulty depending on your dog’s skill level.

The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball2
The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball
The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball3
The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball - Sizes

IPaw Puzzle Toys

Paw puzzles put your dog’s problem-solving, impulse control, and sensory skills all to the test as they try to figure out how to reach the hidden treats inside. A classic example of a paw puzzle toy is a Brick Puzzle game where your pup has to use its nose to locate hidden treats, then use its paws to slide bricks, open lids, and flip blocks in order to access them.

With the use of their paws, they will learn to manipulate objects and use cause and effect to reach the hidden treat inside.

Dog Brick Game3
Dog Brick Game
Dog Brick Game4
Dog Brick Game2

Hide & Seek Puzzle Toys

Hide & Seek Puzzle Toys are perfect for dogs who have a strong urge to burrow, dig and chase after small critters – giving them hours of fun while reducing unwanted behaviors like destructive digging and barking. The concept is simple – hide food inside an object, such as a plush toy, rubber bone, or even a hollowed-out log, and let your pup find the treats.

I personally recommend plush hide a squirrel toy – it comes with squeaky squirrels that your pup can easily find and retrieve with their paws and mouth.

Hide A Squirrel Dog Toy Puzzle
Hide A Squirrel Dog Toy Puzzle 2
Hide A Squirrel Dog Toy Puzzle 3

Chew Puzzle Toys

Chew Puzzle toys work to make the chewing activity more interactive and challenging, as they introduce obstacles between your pup’s snack and teeth, meaning they have to work harder to get their reward. These toys’ unique shapes and textures offer necessary dental stimulation to reduce plaque buildup, while the reward of treats or snacks encourages your pup to keep chewing.

I advise pet owners to use Kong classic red rubber formula to satisfy their dog’s instinctual need of chewing.

Kong Original
Kong Original 3
Kong Original 2

Snuffle Mats

Snuffle mats are an innovative version of the classic food puzzle toy; these plush, fabric mats feature multiple pockets and strips where owners can hide treats for their pets to find. Dogs get excited while searching through all of the different nooks and crannies.

Not only is it a great way to give your pup a challenge, but the snuffle mat also helps improve their focus and attention span as they search through the fronds looking for treats.

For dogs that are hesitant or lack the enthusiasm to complete a more complex puzzle toy, I highly recommend snuffling mats as an ideal solution.

My favorite is the ZMUBB Pet Snuffle Mat for Dogs

Snuffle Mat 3
Snuffle Mat
Snuffle Mat 2

Licking Mats

During the summer, my beloved four-legged friend loves to indulge in one of her favorite toys – licking mats, and I’m sure yours would too! We use MateeyLife Licking Mats that come in different textures and have four distinct zones where you can place wet food or peanut butter, freeze the mat and give it to your dog as a treat.

The repetitive licking action helps release endorphins which have calming effects on dogs who suffer from anxiety.

MateeyLife Licking Mat
MateeyLife Licking Mat2
MateeyLife Licking Mat3

By Playing Brain Games

Brain games are also a great way to mentally exhaust your dog and provide them with a stimulating environment. Toys and treats can be incorporated into these brain games to make them more fun and engaging for you and your dog.

Here I’ve enlisted some of the popular brain games that working dogs love to play.

Shell Game

You’ll need two cups and some particularly aromatic treats for the shell game. Show your furry friend the treat before placing it under one of the cups, then move them around quickly to let her guess which cup is hiding it. Once they get used to this tricky task, make things even more challenging by either adding a third cup or swapping for something with a less pungent smell.

This activity will provide additional mental stimulation and help increase their problem-solving skills!

Cardboard Boxes & Packing Paper

Playing the Cardboard Boxes & Packing Paper game with your dog is a great way to help them mentally. To start playing, gather some cardboard boxes and pack paper. Cut or tear a few small holes into each box so your pup can sniff out their reward.

Place treats or kibble inside the boxes and cover them with wadded-up packing paper. Then, lead your dog to the box and let them sniff out the goodies! I suggest adding stuffed kongs or squeaky toys to make it more interesting. Not only is this a fun game, but this activity also:

  • Boost your canine’s confidence and reduces their anxiety.
  • Moreover, the diverse texture and sound of packing paper give puppies excellent social cues to learn about their environment.
Dog in a box

Musical Rugs

Playing Musical Rugs with your dog is a great way to have fun while also giving them an engaging and exhausting mental workout. To play, arrange four or five rugs, mats, or blankets on the floor. Put some of your favorite music on and dance around or play with your pup while the music plays.

When the music stops, give your pup a command to execute on one of the mats, such as ‘sit’ or ‘lay down.’ Reward them with a treat and restart the music again.

Teaching your pup commands in an active environment encourages better concentration and builds muscle memory for future training sessions.

Dog Speaker Music

Rolled-Up Treat Burrito Towel

The Rolled Up Treat Towel game is a great way to keep your pup entertained and train them at the same time. Grab a towel and spread some treats to play this game.

Roll up the towel into an easy-to-handle burrito for your pup to explore. It is especially great for dogs who are new to Treibball, as they can improve their nose-pushing skills!

Be sure to remove the rolled-up cloth once all the goodies have been found so that your canine companion won’t accidentally eat any fabric while searching for more snacks.Towel Roll Burrito

Towel Roll Burrito

Piggy in the Middle

Do you reminisce about the game from your school days when no one wanted to be in the middle? Your pup, however, will absolutely love being at center stage!

This stimulating indoor activity is a great way for dogs to get plenty of exercises and mental stimulation. Make sure you have enough room for this fun game – with two people on either side and the dog “in between.” Then challenge your pup by tossing the ball to each other (over their head) and watch as they try to jump for it! It’s a great way to keep them active while having fun.

The Dog Treat Hunt

Brain stimulation for canines is made easy with the dog treat hunt! Not only do pups enjoy this game, but kids will have just as much fun choosing where to hide the yummy treats.

Simply take your pup into one room and then sneak back in to hide a plethora of smelly high-value snacks in another. When you’re done, let your buddy search each hiding spot until he finds all of the treats.

dog scent games

Guess Which Hand?

Guess Which Hand! is a mind-teasing game for dogs that will train their cognitive skills while also providing plenty of fun and reward. To play, sit in front of your dog and hold out your palms to show her your empty hands. Place a treat between your palms and make fists with them – the treat is hidden in one of your fists. Now, your pup must guess which one contains the treat!

Teaching New Commands and Tricks

Not only do dogs find joy in learning new skills, but it also helps keep their minds alert. Similar to playing fun activities, teaching them tricks and commands fosters a stronger relationship between you and your furry friend while creating a common “language” of understanding.

To ensure your dog doesn’t become bored, change things up when they have learned a few commands or tricks already – try teaching them something fresh!

We all have an idea of the classics like ‘paw’ and ‘shake hands, yet there are many more skills you can teach your loyal pup such as:

Roll over

Be shy

Open/Close the door

Cross legs

Drop it

Stay (aka, wait or freeze)

Lay down

Leave it

“Get…” (name a toy)

High five (or wave)


Watch me

Sit pretty


Take it


Put toys away after playtime



Get your dish

Search/Find it

Jump rope

Fetch a drink


DIY Ideas

Another best way to wear down your dog mentally is through do-it-yourself projects. DIY projects are both fun and resourceful, as they involve little to no monetary cost. You can make use of what you have around the house!

Here are some DIY ideas (some involve the use of toys) that you can use to create fun, stimulating activities for your pup.

Make a Busy Bucket

Making a Busy Bucket DIY Idea is an easy, affordable way to keep your furbaby busy while you’re gone. All you have to do is put some treats at the bottom of your container and place a dog toy on top. Fill in any extra space with a hand towel for an added challenge!

You can stack as many layers as you want – just be sure that each layer is filled with toys or treats so your furry friend stays busy for hours trying to get through all the goodies!

Book a Playdate

If you have a pup that loves the company of other dogs, why not set up your regular play date? Booking a play date for your pup weekly or monthly is an easy and economical way to ensure they get the physical and mental stimulation they need.

Not only will your furry friend get out of the house, but they’ll also get to socialize with other dogs and make friends!

TV & Media for Dogs

If you want to make your pet’s day while away from home, try out the revolutionary 24/7 TV channel specifically designed for dogs: DOGTV! This uniquely catered content will both entertain and mentally stimulate your pup with just a press of a button. Not only is it visually stimulating, but it also appeals to their sense of sound.

For additional mental stimulation while away from home, use DOGTV in conjunction with an interactive toy to ease separation anxiety.


Prepare a Dog Show

If you have kids at home, why not create a dog show? Labradors, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Beagles, and Collies are all ideal breeds for kids who love to put on a performance. Allow your little ones to dress up their four-legged friends with costumes, and use positive reinforcement techniques to teach them how to make an entrance when the curtains open!

Not only will this provide hours of joyous entertainment, but it’s also an excellent mental stimulation activity that can help keep both children and dogs active.

Create a Scent Garden

If you have some outdoor space, why not use it to construct a scented garden for your pup? Dilute dog-friendly aromas, such as lavender, rosemary, or spearmint, and spray them onto tree stumps or larger rocks.

The alternate idea is to rub dried herbs directly onto the surface in order to transmit the aroma. Let your furry companion savor these new odors and observe how enthralled they become by exploring this olfactory adventure! After allowing the scent to vanish gradually over a few days, switch up the aroma next time!

lavenders flowers
Spearmint flowers
rosemary flowers

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, there are a variety of toys and games that not only provide your working dog a passageway to burn their mental energy safely but also inhibit them from getting into any trouble. The key is to find out what works best for your pup. By engaging them in activities that challenge their minds and bodies, you can help ensure that your canine companion is mentally exhausted and ready for rest at the end of the day.

Have you tried any of these activities with your dog? What was their reaction? Let us know in the comments below!


Dr. Mohsin Iqbal (DVM, RVMP)

Dr. Mohsin Iqbal is a licensed veterinarian with more than 5 years of experience in veterinary medicine. After receiving his DVM degree from The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan, he worked as a
veterinarian in both government and private sectors. He has a deep passion for animal welfare and has been working for various animal welfare organizations since he was a student. Being President of Animal Rescue Organization Pakistan (AROP), he has been actively involved in animal rescue and welfare activities. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his rescue dogs and cats. 

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