Cocker spaniels are little balls of energy and are always looking for something to do. Although many of us have heard of “mental stimulation” before, it’s not always obvious how to actually provide it… Thankfully, it’s not as difficult as it seems, and this article will cover 8 ways you can keep your spaniel stimulated, entertained, and calm.
Why Is Mental Stimulation Essential For Cocker Spaniels?
Before running through the main tips and tricks, it’s worth briefly explaining why mental stimulation is so important in the first place.
We can think of mental stimulation as exercise, but exercise for the brain, instead of the body. Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise, yet it often isn’t given the attention it needs!
All spaniels are from a working background, meaning these dogs MUST have their minds worked as well as their bodies. It’s practically ingrained into their DNA to want to perform tasks and feel useful. Putting their mind to work by solving simple or hard problems, is the only way to do this.
Some typical negative effects of not receiving enough stimulation can be boredom, destructive behavior, disobedience, hyperactivity, anxiety, and even depression.
We often receive messages from owners about how they have given their spaniel the walk of a lifetime, only to find they are bouncing with energy just after a short 20-minute nap. The truth is that without the mind being tired, the body will never be truly tired.
With that, it’s crucial owners provide interesting games, training, and other methods to sufficiently stimulate their spaniel’s mind, on top of covering the basic physical exercise needs. Let’s get into it!
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8 Ways To Keep Your Cocker Spaniel Mentally Stimulated & Entertained
Below are 8 great ways you can keep your cocker spaniel entertained, busy, and sufficiently stimulated.
1. Scent Games
A dog’s sense of smell is anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than ours, and it’s one of the primary they navigate through their life. Their sense of smell is by far their most powerful sense.
With that said, playing games that involve your spaniel using their nose to figure out the problem, is mental stimulation on overdrive! Plus it’s fun and easy to play anytime.
What to do:
To initiate the understanding of the game, have your spaniel sit and stay while she watches you place a treat underneath a cushion on the chair, floor, wherever… Then give your spaniel the command to “go get it”. Of course, she’ll run right to the cushion, flip it, and get the treat. That was the point. But now the game begins…
The next time, have your spaniel sit and stay in a different room, while you now hide the treat underneath a different cushion. Call her in and she’ll go straight to the same place as before, and now the fun begins! Keep encouraging her to find it, and of course, if she’s struggling you can help her. The point is, she’ll be going bonkers with her nose trying to find the treat, and when she does, she’ll be immensely satisfied.
2. Command Training (continued)
Command training includes the basics, like sit, stay, down, drop, come, paw… and more. The thing is, most owners stop with command training the moment their spaniel learns that command. It doesn’t take spaniels long to learn to sit and stay, and we are very quick to stop with the training shortly after.
It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s a big one too. Basic command training should be continued (and advanced upon) for a long time after, even years! By progressing and hitting home the basics, not only can you provide easy mental stimulation every day, but your cocker spaniel will quickly have military-level obedience.
What to do:
Once your spaniel has learned the basics, try raising the difficulty. Sit and stay for example can be made more difficult by increasing the time you have them wait, or by walking further away from them while they wait patiently.
Run through basic commands every single day for 20-30 minutes. You’ll provide a good amount of mental stimulation, satisfy your spaniel, and increase their obedience all at the same time.
3. Increase socialization
Socializing our dogs is essential for a variety of reasons. One of the most important is the fact that it makes dogs friendly and approachable when meeting strangers and other new dogs. Having a dog that’s always friendly makes our lives a lot easier.
The other crucial reason is, of course, mental stimulation. Sniffing butts, chasing each other, play fighting, and general interactions will provide an unrivaled amount of mental stimulation. Socialization is by far the most powerful form of mental stimulation for dogs.
What to do:
Make a conscious effort to visit more dog parks and encourage your cocker spaniel to mingle with others. This could mean leaving the ball at home a few times (games of fetch mesmerize spaniels so much that they probably won’t socialize if you have a ball).
You can also invite friends over with their dogs, or check out if there are doggy meet-ups in your area (Facebook is good for this). It does involve going out of your way, but the benefits of socializing your spaniel more will be absolutely worth it.
4. Puzzle Toys
Another awesome way to keep your cocker spaniel busy and entertained is with puzzle toys, otherwise known as interactive toys. These toys essentially involve your spaniel solving a simple problem in order to receive a treat.
There are various types of interactive toys, ranging from ones that will need your assistance when playing, and others that are set and forget. Both styles are great but the set and forget ones are particularly good for when you need to leave your spaniel home alone.
What to do:
Consider investing in either a Star Mark Bob A Lot, or a Nina Ottoson Puzzle Toy. The star mark is set and forget while the Nina Ottoson will require you to help.
Both of these toys will keep your cocker spaniel thoroughly entertained and provide a good amount of mental stimulation in the process. By giving your spaniel a puzzle toy every day, they’ll be calmer, happier, and more content.
5. Snuffle Mats
Snuffle mats are essentially puzzle toys, but we love them so much they have their own section. Snuffle mats have long tassels that you can hide treats in, and then your spaniel just has to sniff around and find them.
While this isn’t particularly hard for them to do, it is very stimulating for them. This game is all about their sense of smell and as we explained earlier, it’s their most powerful sense. Snuffle mats put has their minds working at 100% capacity, and their tails wagging like no tomorrow!
What to do:
After getting a snuffle mat, place a few treats in it and let your spaniels mind kick into gear. They will no doubt love it. If you wanted to make it more difficult, you could hide just one single small treat in the whole mat (when your spaniel isn’t looking) and then encourage her to find that. The more treats in there, the easier it will be.
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6. Hide & Seek
This game isn’t just reserved for our kids! Oh no, we can play with our dogs too, and it’s surprisingly fun. Dog’s love to play this game and it’s easy to do and requires no toys.
I like this one as it’s spontaneous and you can initiate a game when your spaniel is least expecting it.
What to do:
When your spaniel is in a different room and not focusing on you, go to another room (perhaps upstairs) and hide behind the door, call your spaniel, and let the fun begin.
Call her name, and let her mind kick into action trying to find you. Of course, don’t make it too easy or too difficult, but a little trickery never hurts! If you’ve been practicing sit and stay, you can take her back to the starting point, ask her to sit and stay, while you hide again.
I know, sounds a bit crazy, but this game is fun and our dogs love it.
7. Name Her Toys
Yup, it’s getting weirder… But no, seriously we can name our dog’s toys and use this as a fun game to play at any time. P.S there’s a border collie who successfully learned 1000 toys by name.
By giving two or three of your spaniel’s toys names, you can call them out and have your spaniel choose the right one. This makes for an easy mental stimulation game you can play whenever.
What to do:
Ask your spaniel to sit and stay in front of you. Have two toys, one in each hand, both behind your back. Bring one out while repeating the chosen name. Put it back behind your back and bring the other out while repeating a different name. Switch between the two for a few minutes.
Now, try placing both toys on the floor next to each other (but not too close). Call out a name and see if your spaniel chooses the right one. If your spaniel chooses the wrong one, that’s fine, try again and the chances will increase. When she gets it right, praise heavily.
With practice, she’ll know the names of these two toys. And you start playing games with it. As she becomes better, you can add more toys in.
I know, sounds completely crazy, but you would be surprised how mentally stimulating this is for dogs. And pretty impressive too!
8. Increase General Interaction
Last, but certainly not least, is to simply engage and interact with your spaniel more. Whether this means talking, playing, or training with your spaniel more, it all counts.
Increasing this will not only build a stronger bond between you and your spaniel, but they’ll be happier, calmer, and more stimulated.
Sometimes, all it takes is for us to focus more on our dogs and give them some of our undivided attention.
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How Much Mental Stimulation Do Cocker Spaniels Need?
Unfortunately, this isn’t a one answer fits all situation. Mental stimulation is a bit ambiguous and it’s hard to really measure anyway. But in general, the more the better.
If you can dedicate at least a solid hour’s worth of activities and games designed to mentally stimulate your spaniel, then you’re on the right track.
Try to incorporate some of the games and tips highlighted above and your spaniel will greatly appreciate it. I would try to aim for at least one hour’s worth every day, and this doesn’t have to be the same thing.
You could make it up from 20 minutes of training, 20 minutes of nose works games, and 20 from puzzle toys, all at different times throughout the day.
After a while, you’ll find a good balance between their physical and mental exercise, and your cocker spaniel will be happy, calm, and obedient.
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