Keeping your dog’s brain stimulated is just as important as making sure that they have plenty of physical exercise. There are hundreds of different brain games you can play with your pooch to make sure their minds stay sharp and entertained.
There are many benefits from playing brain games with your dog. These games can improve the relationship between you and your pup, build your dog’s confidence and stop them from becoming bored and frustrated.
If your dog doesn’t have the right level of mental stimulation, you can expect them to start displaying unwanted and destructive behaviours such as chewing on furniture or carpets and excessively barking.
It’s easy to play games with your dog outdoors but it can be difficult to think of brain games to play with your dog when the weather is miserable outside. However, there are still plenty of options to keep your four legged friend’s mind active. Here are five great brain games that you can play with your pup when you're both cooped up indoors.
There are lots of different activity toys available to challenge your dog in many different ways. From Kongs which you fill with their favourite foods, to snuffle mats which hide treats, to balls which drop treats out as they are rolled around.
If you’re looking for a really simple DIY option, you can make a small cut in a tennis ball and fill it with treats. You can then watch as you dog figures out how to roll it around and release the treats. Be careful not to make the hole too large so that the treats drop out to easily, it should be a challenge for them, so make the hole slightly smaller than the size of the treat.
These types of games are great for rainy days, and will keep your pooch entertained for hours. It’s important to remember not to over-feed your dogs with these types of treat games, make sure any treats which they are given are counted towards their daily food allowance.
Hide and Seek
This is a brilliant and easy choice if you don’t have any toys or other games to hand. In this game, your dog will look for their most favourite prize ever - you! Just like the regular game of hide and seek which you probably used to play as a child, hide and seek can be played with your dog too and most dogs love it.
To teach this game you’ll initially need two people to play, but as your dog starts to understand and learn the rules, you’ll be able to play it just the two of you. The first step in teaching this game is to have one person to stay with your dog and ask them to sit and stay, while the second person goes to hide. When first introducing this game, the hider might want to take a treat with them so the dog has a scent to try and sniff out.
When the hider has hidden, one person should call their dog’s name while the other person can give the release command, and encourage the dog to go and find the person who is hiding. Once the dog has mastered this game they should be able play it without a treat, just by following their owners scent.
A treasure hunt can be a really fun challenge for food orientated dogs, and also to slow dogs down who tend to eat too quickly. By hiding their treats or food in various places around the room, it will encourage them to use their nose to sniff out their food.
Challenging your dog to sniff out treats is a great way to encourage them to use all their senses and exercise their brain. To begin with, you shouldn’t make this too difficult. Hide treats in plain sight around the room while they are in the sit position.
When you have finished hiding them, give the release or fetch command and watch them excitedly hunt around for their treats. When they get the hand of this game you can ramp it up a notch, and hide the treats in tricky places, such as under a rug or inside cupboards, or even in different rooms giving them a full treasure hunt throughout your home.
Also known as the shell game, this is a fantastic game which is really simple for you to set up, and a great brain challenge for your dog. You’ll need two cups which are opaque and a few dog treats to start this game.
To begin with, hide a treat under one of the cups and have your dog come and rest his nose on the correct cup. Once he understands the aim of the game you can start to increase the intensity by mixing the cups around or even using more cups.
Each time he selects the right cup, you can reward him with a treat. This game has multiple levels of intensity, making it perfect for all dog breeds no matter how intelligent they are.
The Name Game
Whether your dog only knows the names of one or two items, or can easily learn the name of dozens of items, this can be a great mentally stimulating game to play in the evening when it’s time to tidy up. If you pet doesn’t know the name of any of their toys, it’s quite simple to teach them. Hold the toy in your hand, for example a ball. Encourage your dog to come and sniff and even take hold of the ball in their mouth and say ‘ball’. Once you have repeated this around 20 times, they should then know what a ball is.
Once your dog knows a minimum of 3 objects, you can have a game of ‘pick up’ by calling out the name of one of their toys, and they will bring them to you on command, you can teach them to take them to a dedicated toy basket and tidy up after themselves.
Johnathan Woods is an Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) member and creator of the All Things Dogs website.