Keeping your German shepherd entertained and stimulated is crucial for a happy, well-behaved GSD.
Many owners message in asking for ideas to keep their GSD busy and stimulated. If you’re lacking a few ideas or need some clarification on mental stimulation in general, this article has what you need.
I’ll run through the best ways to mentally stimulate your GSD, and explain why it’s so important.
Why Mental Stimulation Is Crucial For German Shepherds
Mental stimulation is the secret key to a happy, well-behaved, obedient German shepherd. We can think of mental stimulation like exercise, but for the brain.
Due to their working background, GSDs are at their best when solving problems, completing tasks for their owners, and feeling useful to the pack. This is a standard trait across all working breeds.
Being properly stimulated on a daily basis will result in a GSD that’s more obedient, receptive to your commands, calm, social, and friendly.
I receive a lot of messages about how an owner will walk their GSD for an hour, only for them to be bouncing with energy again after 20 minutes of being home… This is nearly always due to being mentally understimulated. Without exercising a dog’s mind, they’ll never be truly tired.
It’s definitely worth implementing some of the tricks, tips, and games that are given below on a daily basis. Positive results will soon start to show.
8 Ways To Keep Your German Shepherd Mentally Stimulated
Let’s run through some great ways you can keep your German shepherd mentally stimulated and entertained.
1. Nose work games
There are many kinds of “nose work” games out there, but I’ll explain one of the most basic and fun ones.
Nose work games are essentially games that get your German shepherd to use their sense of smell to solve the challenge.
German shepherds can smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than we can. It’s by far their most powerful sense, so when we engage it, their mind go into overdrive!
What to do:
Command your GSD to sit, and while they watch you, place a treat underneath a cushion. Give them the okay command. They will run straight to the cushion and get the treat…
Next, take your GSD out of the room and ask them to sit, go back to the room and hide a treat underneath a different cushion… Call your GSD and the game begins!
They will likely go straight back to the same place, but encourage them to keep finding it. They will be going bonkers at this point.
Of course, don’t make it too difficult. But as your GSD improves you can easily advance this game to be harder.
2. Puzzle toys
Interactive puzzle toys are great to get your German shepherd’s mind working. These are toys that require your dog to solve a problem in order to receive a treat. Some are very easy and others are more complex.
Some puzzle toys are more like set-and-forget toys, that your GSD can play with alone, and some require your involvement as they’re more complex.
The ones that are set-and-forget are perfect for when you need to leave your German shep home alone for a while.
Puzzle toys we like:
I’ve been using the Star Mark Bob a Lot for a while now and have to say it’s pretty good. It’s a toy that dogs can play with on their own, and can provide a solid 45 minutes of entertainment
This is essentially a slow feeder. It’s a hollow ball that can be filled with treats or even kibble. The ball has a small opening (that’s adjustable) where the treats fall out. Your GSD just has to work out the correct direction to roll it.
Another toy that’s great for when you are there to assist, is the Nina Ottosson. This one has removable pieces so it’s necessary to reset it every time. This involves your dog performing two actions before the treat is removed, so it’s a little more complex and will require more brainpower.
3. Durable chew toys
Chew toys are a surprisingly convenient way to keep your German shepherd mentally stimulated.
Chomping down on a tough rubbery chewy texture can release pent-up energy and tension and provide valuable stress release.
Although your GSD isn’t actively solving a problem or completing a task, it’s still providing them with adequate satisfaction and can still be considered mental stimulation.
Try a tough rubbery toy like this one.
4. Increase socialization
Socialization could be the most potent form of mental stimulation for any dog. So if you were to only choose one thing from this list, make it be this one!
Socializing your German shepherd means more visits to the dog park, encouraging more interactions with other dogs and letting them play, meeting up with friends and their dogs, or going to doggy playgroups.
Sniffing butts, wagging tails, play fighting, and chasing, it’s all extremely stimulating for dogs. Nothing gets their mind working like mingling with both new and existing canine buddies.
Not only is it super stimulating, but socialization has a myriad of other benefits too. It’ll make your GSD friendlier, more approachable, better behaved and they will be so much happier in general.
Of course, this requires your GSD to be somewhat friendly in the first place. If yours is very dog-reactive, then this is definitely an area worth improving!
5. Continue with command training
The reason I say “continue” is because most owners stop way too early with command training!
Learning the classics “sit, stay, down, paw, come, drop” are all fairly easy and most GSDs pick them up quickly. The problem is that most owners stop training them shortly after.
There is so much further these commands can go and it’s such an easy way to provide your GSD with valuable mental stimulation.
Even though your GSD can sit and stay with ease, it doesn’t mean it’s boring for them. Most are extremely happy and engaged the moment we start a little impromptu training session.
With a little creativity, you can make this training more advanced. For example, getting your GSD to wait longer while they are sitting, or asking them to sit and wait in another room…
For how easy it is to do this, it’ll provide your German shepherd with some excellent stimulation. Try doing this for 15-20 minutes every day.
6. Agility training
If you have a medium to large yard, this is an awesome way to combine physical and mental exercise.
Training your German shepherd to go around an agility course will have them weaving, ducking, jumping, and crawling…
Not only is this an excellent physical activity but it will require intense focus and coordination, especially as you encourage your GSD to pick up the speed.
Please note* this can be tricky at first and will definitely take a few weeks before you can successfully train your GSD to do the correct thing (like weave through the poles).
It will be totally worth it in the long run however and will be super satisfying for your German shepherd to complete.
I’ve done this several times with dogs of all different breeds, and once they learn how to go around the course, they absolutely LOVE it.
7. Hide and seek
Believe it or not, hide and seek isn’t just reserved for kids! We adults can play with our canine buddies too.
You can easily start a game of hide-and-seek by hiding behind a door when your German shepherd is none the wiser.
The game starts as soon as you call them and they can’t immediately find you.
Your GSD’s mind will be working overtime trying to figure out where you are. Of course, there is a fine line between this being a fun stimulating game, or a frustrating one. So don’t make it too hard!
With time, your GSD will actually come to learn this is a game, and you can hide in different spots around the house.
Yep, at 30 years old, I’ve been playing hide and seek with my dogs. It’s a bit weird but it works! Don’t knock it till you tried it!
8. Increase general engagement and interaction
Last but not least, you can provide mental stimulation simply by interacting more with your German shepherd.
Every time you talk to them, they will be attentively listening to you, trying to figure out what you’re communicating.
Even doing this alone, is mentally engaging.
If you are able to take a little extra time out of your day to focus on your GSD, talk to them, play with them, train them, and more, positive reactions will happen quickly.
Increased engagement won’t just satisfy their minds, it’ll also improve your bond and connection with your German shepherd. Which for many, is worth every second of their time.
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How Much Mental Stimulation Do GSDs Need?
It’s quite hard to answer “how much” mental stimulation we should be giving because it comes in so many different forms! Ultimately, the more mental stimulation, the better.
If you can ensure your GSD receives at least some form of mental stimulation every single day, then that’s a great start and you can gauge it from there…
Ideally, most days should include time at the dog park for your GSD to mingle with others, just like it should include 20 minutes of training, plenty of your attention, and some belly rubs.
You’ll know when you are hitting the right amount of stimulation because you’ll see positive results. Your GSD will be calmer, more relaxed, obedient, and will have excellent behavior all-round.
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