DIY Dog Mental Exercises

Living in Western Canada in the winter is always a challenge.   That is never truer than trying to exercise your dog in -40 C or -50 C, it is almost impossible.  This set me out on a challenge as a dog mom to come up with some DIY dog mental exercises I could do inside the house.


DIY Dog Mental Exercises - Dog Nose
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With our dog Fergus, he is a guy that needs to have some way to burn off some of his pent-up energy when he can’t go outside to run in the yard due to the super cold weather.   I managed to come up with some pretty effective mental exercises, that seem to really do the trick and even to the point of tiring him out.   In this post I am going to share my 1 biggest tip that we are currently using for our dog.

Nose work

I am sharing our newest and my most favourite exercise that we use almost every day.   That is something I call the “Nose Workout”.   This workout uses your dogs’ nose as a way to create an activity that makes them think and really put their nose to the test. Anytime you can get your dog focusing on a task, that mentally burns energy.   Perfect when they are cooped up inside for days at time.

At home this is an exercise that requires nothing other than a few things you can find in your house and of course dog treats.

Let’s get started at the beginner level first.


diy dog mental exercises - boxes


For the beginner dog, you need to grab 3 small boxes, anything that is a container that is open.   The idea here is to sit your dog in their spot, for us that is his dog bed in the Living Room.  You make your dog lay there calmly while you get the exercise set up.


DIY Dog Mental Exercises - Fergus Doodle Boy in his bed


Then take your small boxes and grab a very enticing dog treat, that your dog absolutely loves.   Rip it into a few small pieces and for the first time put a little something in each box.   Place the boxes in an open area in your house and line them up.   Just spacing them a few feet apart to start.   When you are ready to go, use your GO command.   I use “Find It”, but you could use “Search”, or whatever word works for you.

Then once your dog searches and finds each box with the treat piece, you praise him enthusiastically.   If he misses one box, repeat your command.   I will also use words like “There’s 1 More”.   I know that may sound crazy, but he really seems to understand what I mean.   This comes in handy as you make the game more challenging.

Starting this exercise, you want your dog to be successful at, so don’t make it more challenging until they successfully find and complete the entire exercise. THIS IS KEY!

After your dog has mastered the beginner stage, you can move on to the Intermediate level.




DIY Dog Mental exercises - fergus shirt



For this level, you need to up your hiding game.   At this point, still make sure your dog is sitting and waiting in their spot. Instead of putting the boxes in an open area, you want to separate them and put them in different rooms throughout the house. Again, fill each box with a little of your enticing treat.

Call your dog “Find It” and send them off.   The idea is to rally behind them a bit at this point, making sure that they keep motivated to find the boxes and treats.   This is an easy one my dog Fergus.   He goes from room to room uses his nose to search out the somewhat hidden boxes.


DIY dog mental exercises - dog searching in a box


At this level I am not being to concealing with the boxes, but at the same time I still want to make it a bit more challenging for him.   Some good spots to hide your boxes are around a corner or behind a ½ open door.   Concealed, but not super hard to find.   Once your dog completes this exercise, you again want to give positive praise for their accomplishment.

Depending on how your dog does, you could after a few tries, leave 1 box without anything in it.   That way he still finds it but doesn’t stop searching for the remaining ones with a treat in them.   This is best done is small stages. Every dog learns differently, so gauge how your dog is finding the tasks and access when it is a good time to step it up a bit for them.



As your dog’s skills get better, the harder you can continue to make this mental exercise.   I think that is the best thing about this exercise for me.   The sky is the limit for ways to change up the game.

Expert level means that your dog has mastered the first 2 levels and needs you to “think outside the box”. HAHA!!

What I mean by that is step up the rules for the “Nose Work” exercise.   This can entail using 2 levels in your house to spread out the search area and even closing a flap on a box or two.   At this point it is also not a bad idea to expand the number of boxes that you are using to 4 or 5.

Making these changes is the perfect way to really extend the time it takes for the exercise as well.   This a great thing. The longer the exercise takes the better.   At each level, when you start making changes to the game, do them slowly. Each time they successfully complete it, increase something about that level to make it harder.

They can be things like:

  • adding more boxes
  • close the flap on the boxes
  • extend the hide-and-seek area in your home
  • don’t put a treat in each box
  • hide the boxes up a bit higher than just on the ground level

These are all the small changes that you can make that will keep your dog moving up the levels.   Once your dog is tackling all of these things. you can flip the boxes over or hide them inside a closet that is propped open.   Anything that makes it that much harder to find.   The harder they work, the more mentally tiring it will be.


DIY Dog Mental Exercises - dog relaxed

Mental roundup

I would say that right now Fergus is in the Intermediate level and on his way to becoming an Expert.   We have really enjoyed the challenge of DIY dog mental exercises.   Every time we do this exercise, he does better and better.   I feel like the positive reward and excitement he gets when he completes each time, makes his confidence really grow. There is definitely something to the positive affect it has on him when he is successful.

When we are done this exercise at whatever level we stop at, Fergus is definitely tired.   He usually crashes not long after for a rest.   This is the reward for taking 15-20 minutes out of your day to do this exercise.   So not only is he mentally tired, but it also makes him physically tired.


DIY Dog Mental exercises - tired dog


Building confidence with exercise and success as we know is a key to many things in with our dogs.   That really is the target goal for everything we can do for them.   At the end of the day, the mental exercise and being good at something gives our dogs what they need to be an overall more well-balanced dog.   They look at you as the trainer and this can lead to a much better bond between you and your dog.   The stronger the relationship between you and your dog, the more successful you will both be.

If you are looking for another great way to burn your dog’s mental energy, then check out my post on the Snuffle Mat.

Why Use A Dog Snuffle Mat?

When it comes to being a dog parent, there is no better way to show off your dog love, then with some pretty cool dog gear of your own.  Check out my Sporty Dog Shop for some unique and fun dog designs that you can put on your new favourite product.  Show off your dog pride.



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