Importance of Mental Stimulation in Dogs

Sometimes it’s difficult enough just to keep on top of our Shiba Inu’s physical needs.

Our spoiled Shiba Inus require healthy dog food, weekly grooming, the occasional medication, preventive vet care (flea and tick meds and heartworm pills), annual vet visits, toys, treats…the list seems endless!

Responsible Shiba owners go above and beyond to keep their Shiba Inu’s physical needs covered. 

But what about their mental needs?

Is that covered too?

We spend so much time and effort giving our Shibes the best food, toys, and comfort money can buy - yet we sometimes overlook another critical aspect of our dog's overall well-being.

All dogs, no matter the breed, require both physical and mental stimulation to stay healthy and happy.

shiba inu playing with ball

This is particularly true for Shiba Inus, as they are extremely intelligent and inquisitive dogs.

When the Shiba Inu was developed in Japan as a hunting dog, the Japanese wanted a small, intelligent, and independent dog to assist them on their small game hunts.

In order to fulfill all of these criteria, the Shiba Inu had to be quick, both mentally and physically.

Now that the vast majority of Shiba’s are lounging on the couch rather than hunting in the underbrush, it’s easy to forget that our little fox-like little pets are indeed hunting dogs at heart and may become bored without adequate mental stimulus.

Those hunting instincts, coupled with the Shiba Inus innate intelligence, means that they are particularly susceptible to boredom if not challenged enough.

Just like muscles, our dog's brain function will decrease from under use.

3 Ways To Stimulate Your Shiba Inu's Mind

1

Consistent and Meaningful Interaction / Training

2

Interactive Dog Puzzles and Games

3

Dog Agility and Dog "Sports"

To get started on any mental stimulation program, it's first important to determine your Shiba Inu’s mental strengths and weaknesses.

Perhaps they are really good at remembering commands but can’t find things if you hide them around the house, or vice versa. 

Just as human beings can be more competent in one area than another (think: some people are better at math while others are better at history), Shiba Inus can struggle and excel cognitively as well.

By knowing your Shiba Inu's strengths and weaknesses, you can easily tailor a plan that will reinforce your Shiba Inu's strengths and working harder at addressing their weaknesses. 

shiba inu questioning look

In this post, we'll explore some of the best methods to keep your Shiba Inu mentally sharp and entertained.

While puzzle toys and other brainteasers for dogs are a great idea, it’s not always necessary to spend money on dog games. 

Engaging your dog with training and play are two of the best ways to mentally stimulate your Shiba Inu, as well as strengthen the bond between owner and dog.

Meaningful Interaction With Your Shiba Inu

Shiba Inus can usually keep themselves entertained and or content (as most Shiba owners already know) for quite a while - but that isn't necessarily a good thing.

As their owner and favorite person, it’s your job to make sure you are meeting your Shiba Inu’s mental and emotional needs along with their physical ones.

Your Shiba is not going to tell you that they could use some mental challenges just as how your child will not likely ask you for more homework. 

Interacting with your Shiba Inu on a daily basis, outside of simply meeting their physical needs and hanging out with them on the couch, is one of the most important ways you can stimulate your Shiba Inu’s mind while and develop a deeper bond.

shiba inu and women owner

Luckily, there are a variety of different ways in which you can engage with your Shiba Inu in a meaningful way. 

One of the best ways is through continuous and varied training.

No matter how well your Shiba Inu is trained, practicing new skills a few times a week is a great way to keep them mentally sharp.

Even if your Shiba knows all the basic commands by heart, being asked to do them in exchange for a reward is a fun and engaging way to keep them on their toes.

Ask your Shiba Inu to perform the commands that they already know, and then switch up the order in which you ask them.

If you’re feeling particularly motivated, try incorporating some advanced training techniques to your Shiba's session.

Keep the training sessions brief (less than 15 minutes) and as positive as possible. It’s a good idea to offer your Shiba Inu special treats, ones they don’t get everyday, during these training sessions.

Shiba Inu puppy training treats image

This is great both for motivational purposes and to keep your Shiba excited about the task at hand.

You can also try a variety of interactive games with your Shiba Inu. “Hide and Seek” is an fun game to play with your Shiba Inu.

You can hide yourself (with another person holding onto the Shiba to keep them from following you) or you can hide treats or their favorite toy.  

Start off with easy hiding places and gradually progress to more difficult ones.

Praising them when they inevitably find what they’re looking for boosts canine self-esteem and is a great way to foster a strong relationship with your Shiba Inu.

Mentally Stimulating Dog Toys and Puzzles

There are a variety of dog toys on the market that foster canine mental stimulation.

Puzzle toys are great for the naturally curious Shiba Inu and can be used in a variety of ways.

adult shiba inu playing a puzzle game

Most puzzle games involve hiding treats within the toy and letting your Shiba Inu try and figure out where they are and how to reach them. 

You can also try “stuffable toys,” such as Kongs.

While most dog owners use them to keep their dog busy when they aren’t able to attend to them (like when they leave for work in the morning or are trying to accomplish something in the house), these types of toys can also be used as mind games for your Shiba Inu.

You can fill these toys with your Shiba’s favorite treat or a little bit of frozen peanut butter and offer it to them as a tasty treat.

Your Shiba Inu will try everything they can to get all the little crumbs and peanut butter out of the Kong and will keep their minds (and tongues) engaged!

Speaking of crumbs and peanut butter, remember to do these exercises in un-carpeted areas that are easy to clean. 

interactive dog toy for shiba inus

Shiba Inu Sports and Agility Training

Canine sports, such as agility, flyball, and K9 nosework are all great ways to keep your Shiba Inu’s mind sharp.

The challenge of having to perform both physically and mentally is a fantastic way to keep your Shiba Inu engaged and fit.

You will also reap the benefits of additional physical activity and friendly competition. 

If you’re interested in enrolling your Shiba Inu in a canine sport, you can see if they offer classes at your local training school or animal shelter.

Many of these activities require some level of commitment if you want your Shiba Inu to play at the competitive level, but simply enrolling them in the classes and training with them is sufficient if you simply want to keep their mind active.

Don’t worry about teaching old dogs new tricks. As long as your Shiba Inu is physically up to the tasks, dogs of any age can learn dog sports!

The Consequences of Inadequate Mental Stimulation

While it’s an aspect of dog ownership that is often overlooked, the consequences of failing to stimulate your Shiba Inu cognitively can be surprisingly devastating - especially in the long term.

Historically speaking, people didn’t need to consider how to mentally stimulate their dogs.

Dogs were mostly employed as helpers in human tasks, such as hunting, fishing, or herding.

These active dogs got a mental workout everyday effortlessly, simply by performing their daily tasks. 

sleepy shiba inu

Now that dogs are kept primarily for companionship, conscientious dog owners need to find ways to satisfy their dog’s innate curiosity and need for mental stimulation. 

Failing to do so can lead to a variety of problems, such as behavioral issues, boredom, canine depression and even dementia.

Behavioral Problems & Boredom

Because Shiba Inus are so smart, they are unlikely to be satisfied simply lounging on the couch all day every day, especially when you’re at home. 

Shiba Inus need mental stimulation, both because it drastically improves their quality of life, but also because it can help curb the negative effects of boredom.

If your Shiba Inu is bored - especially young Shibas - they are likely to find ways to entertain themselves. 

And their two main methods of entertaining themselves; chewing and barking, are not usually very entertaining to us.

Canine Depression

Just like humans, dogs also can feel depressed, and Shiba Inus are no less susceptible than other breeds.

While most well treated dogs sail through life feeling relatively happy-go-lucky, very intelligent dogs that lack mental stimulation can fall prey to mood disorders such as depression.

shiba inu serious facial expression

Some symptoms of canine depression are:

  • Change in sleep habits
  • Avoidance (hiding)
  • Excessive licking
  • Loss of appetite

If you notice that your Shiba Inu is displaying these symptoms and have ruled out a physiological cause, you may want to consider that their sudden change in mood could be due to boredom and lack of mental stimulus.

It’s important to remember that while you have a variety of other sources of mental stimulation (work, friends, family, television, reading, etc.), your Shiba Inu only has you.

By offering them more attention and exciting toys for when you are unable to spend time with them, you are taking two important steps towards making sure your Shiba Inu is happy, engaged, and healthy.  

If you spend large amounts of time outside the home, you may want to consider a companion dog for your Shiba Inu or a dog walker while you’re away.

Mentally engaging toys and mini training sessions are two  good first steps to try if you notice that your Shiba is acting listlessly and / or bored. 

Reengaging them, building their self-esteem with warranted praise, and generally paying more attention to them can all make a huge difference in your Shiba Inu’s state of mind and overall well-being.

Canine dementia:

Canine dementia, also known as Cognitive Canine Disorder (CCD) is a devastating illness that generally strikes older dogs, and Shiba Inus are no exception.

Similar to the degeneration that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease in humans, CCD can negatively change your Shiba Inu’s behavior, reactions, ability to recognize others, their sleep habits, their mood, and their activity level.

While some instances of CCD are unavoidable, either because they are the result of growths (tumors), or simply the inevitable decline of old age, prevention and therapy is still possible in many cases.

Leticia Fanucchi​​​​

DVM, PhD

Canine dementia is not considered reversible - prevention is the main weapon

Preventing CCD begins from the time your Shiba Inu is a puppy and extends throughout their entire life.

While there are treatments for CCD, the disease itself is largely irreversible. Because of this, prevention is really the key to making sure your Shiba Inu retains their mental fitness for the duration of their lives.

Engaging your Shiba Inu mentally throughout their entire lives via playing, regular attention, and training, is important in preventing CCD.

Conclusion:

Shiba Inus are naturally intelligent and inquisitive dogs. While they can certainly adapt to a life of canine luxury (spending most of their time simply hanging out with you), their active brains require a great deal of mental stimulus.

In order to be healthy, Shiba Inus (like all dogs) require more than simply food, vet care, and the occasional cuddle.

Because boredom and lack of mental stimulation can lead to both behavioral problems and health issues, it’s crucial that you begin engaging with your Shiba Inu in a meaningful and stimulating way from puppyhood.

Luckily, no special equipment or training is required. Utilizing toys and playing games, coupled with regular training sessions and plenty of love, are all great ways to keep your Shiba Inu sharp

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