How To Sharpen Your Pet’s Mind

Irish Setter dog and gray cat high-fiving

Most of us would get pretty bored if all we did was lie around all day on the couch — but that’s generally what house pets do, especially when we’re away from home. Granted, cats and dogs sleep quite a bit more than humans (averaging 14 hours a day), but they’re still just as prone to boredom as we are.

Providing plenty of opportunities for mental stimulation will help keep your furry friends happier and healthier. It can also help avoid behavioral problems like chewing, scratching, excessive whining or barking, and general depression or lethargy.


Treat-dispensing puzzles are a great way to keep food-motivated dogs engaged. Whether it’s a simpler toy that they roll to get kibble to fall out or a more complicated puzzle with multiple compartments, your pet will love playing with these interactive toys. Bonus: These types of puzzles are also great if your dog eats too fast — they can help avoid digestion problems because they dispense food more slowly.

We all know walks are good for physical exercise, but they can be great for mental health, too! Take different routes for your regular walks. The new smells and surroundings will fascinate your dog. And let her have sniffing breaks where she gets to follow her nose and smell a tree or patch of grass for as long as she likes.

Much like small children, dogs can get bored with the same toys. If your dog has a large collection, try rotating out her toys so she has new items to pique her interest. That rope she’s been ignoring for the past three months will be more interesting when she hasn’t seen or smelled it in several weeks.

If your dog is a social butterfly, help her make new friends by setting up playdates with like-minded dogs! Not only will it be fun and interesting for her, it also helps keep her social skills sharp. You can also bring her along when you’re running errands to expose her to new sights, sounds, and smells.

Many of us stop with tricks after the usual sit/stay/shake. But learning new tricks is a great way to exercise your dog’s brain and build her confidence. From simpler tricks like “go to your bed” and “jump up” to more complex obstacle courses or agility training, you’ll be amazed at what your dog can learn! It’s also a wonderful way to increase the emotional bond between you and your friend.


Make your cat work for his food! Cats are natural hunters, so toys that dispense treats or kibble are a great way to stimulate your feline. And if your cat is prone to vomiting because he eats too quickly, these toys will curb that by forcing him to slow down when eating his meals.

Tap into that hunter instinct by offering self-activated or motion-sensitive toys. Simple and inexpensive toys that feature a ball trapped in a circular track are classics for a reason — cats love trying to catch the ball. There are plenty of other options, including motorized pounce toys that move unpredictably, lasers that you control remotely through an app on your phone, and even toys that use artificial intelligence technology to keep your kitty guessing!

Let your indoor cat explore the great outdoors — teach him to walk on a leash. Most stores stock special cat harnesses and leads to make sure they stay safely attached to you. Taking your cat for a walk lets him explore new sights and smells, pounce on bugs, and climb new objects.

Windows are basically nature’s TV for your cat. Try installing a window shelf or placing a cat tree near a window to make it easier for your friend to watch the world go by. For guaranteed critter viewing, set up a bird or squirrel feeder within view, or find a feeder with suction cups so he can get a front-row seat to the local bird happenings.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you could also install a catio. Catios give your cat access to the yard from a safe, secure enclosure via a window in your home. They can be as simple as a small enclosure that fits over the window, or you can go all-out and create covered walkways and larger “rooms” for him to explore.

And finally, never underestimate the power of good old-fashioned cardboard boxes and paper bags. They may seem boring, but most cats can entertain themselves for hours with a new box or bag. Plus, they’re free or cheap and easy to replace once they’re destroyed.