Dogs need physical exercise, but also mental stimulation. One without the other is not enough. Even if you provide enough physical exercise, without some mental stimulation, your dog will be bored, anxious, and prone to destructive behavior. Brain games to play with your dog not only provide mental stimulation but also give you a chance to bond.
Mentally stimulating activities enrich our dogs’ lives and give them something meaningful to do. Just ask yourself, how many people think of themselves as lesser people because their life has no meaning? The same applies to dogs. Brain games alleviate boredom, decrease the risk of destructive behavior, and reduce the chance of issues like barking and excessive chewing.
With that in mind, today, we will talk about some of the best brain games to play with your dog.
Why brain games for dogs?
We touched a bit on this topic. Playing brain games can alleviate boredom, but also prevent destructive behavior. A bored dog can often embark on destructive behavior, including chewing, barking, and more. Bored dog is not a happy dog. And an unhappy dog is not something you would like. After all, dogs are part of our family.
Brain games also give puppies a sense of purpose and achievement. Dogs love to please their owner, and that is something you can achieve through brain games. Last, but not least, mental stimulation activities help you form an even closer bond with your dog.
The top 10 brain games to play with your dog are easy to play, keep your dog engaged, active, and provide fun times for both of you.
Top 10 games to try
Find the treat
Let’s start with something easy and simple. Probably one of the simplest mental stimulation games for dogs. This is an easy way to challenge your dog’s mind. Dogs have a natural sniffing and scavenging instinct, and these games play to their strengths.
To play this game, just gram some treats. Put your dog in a sit and stay position. While your dog is in a stay position, put a few treats on the ground around them. Release your dog, and give him a command to “find the treats”.
Encourage your dog through the game, and praise him when he finds the treats. Practice a few more times so that your dog understands the game. Once your dog is comfortable at finding the treats, start placing them further away and in more challenging places. For example, places that are out of sight, like under the rug.
Keep in mind, that while dogs have natural sniffing instinct, they might not use it right away. Some dogs are not used to sniffing things out. For some dogs, it will take a bit of practice. But that doesn’t mean you should quit. Be patient and consistent in your teaching, and gradually increase the difficulty of the game.
Which hand game
This is a similar game to find the treats. Basically, most brain games for dogs have treats involved. After all, dogs love treats, and they will do basically everything for a treat. Of course, as long as you guide them through the game.
You have probably played this game as a child. Here is the basic concept:
- Grab treats and put your dog in a sit position
- Let your dog watch as you put the treats in one of your hand
- Close your hand, and extend both of your hands to your dog
- Ask your dog “which hand” and let him sniff, touch, and signal the hand he wants you to open. If your dog guesses the correct hand, give him the treat
Some dogs might not catch on right away. But do not worry. You might also encounter a situation in which your dog is super pumped for treats, and will start pawing at both hands. That is just due to pure excitement. Make sure to calm your dog, and reward him only when he touches the correct hand.
This is another game most of us played as children. The game is also a bit controversial since you can see a lot of crooks and frauds play it at tourist places. You have probably seen it before. Basically, a treat is hidden under one cup, or in this case shell, and then shuffled around.
Here is how to play it with your dog.
- Grab three cups and some treats
- Put your dog in a sit position, and let him watch as you place the treat under one of the three cups
- Shuffle the cups as your dog watches
- Encourage the dog to find the cup that has treats underneath by sniffing
Among the brain games for dogs, this is a beginner type game. And again, it involves a lot of treats. You can guess it, dogs love treats, and they are quite the motivation for them.
Here are the rules of the game.
- Grab a muffin tin, be it an old one, or buy a new one if you like
- Place treats in few of the holes
- Cover all the holes with balls, toys, or anything else you find
- Let your dog figure out how to remove the toys, and how to find the treats underneath
Food dispensing toys
As you can see, the first four of brain games to play with your dog are DIY. But if you are too lazy to make up your own game, you can always buy some food dispensing toys. Yes, these are fancier than your DIY games. But both versions get the job done.
Food dispensing toys are toys that contain food and require your dog to work for it. You fill in the toy with treats, and encourage your dog to play with it.
Food dispensing toys are great for mental stimulation. They stimulate the dog’s natural scavenging and sniffing abilities in a challenging way. The Kong toy is one of the most popular food dispensing toys.
Being that the Kong is so popular, he deserves its own place in the top 10 brain games for dogs. Stuffed Kong is really simple to use and will keep your dog busy for a few minutes. Of course, that depends what you stuff the Kong with.
When it comes to Kong toys, we recommend starting with something simple. For example, just a few treats or kibble.
Once your dog gets the hang of it, you can make the stuffed Kong more challenging. How to do that? Simple, by freezing the Kong. Put the stuffed Kong in the freezer overnight, and in the morning, serve it to your dog. There are many recipes for stuffed Kong, and most of them involve human food. Peanut butter is one of our favorites, and dogs love it. But you can find many recipes for stuffed Kong at the toy’s website.
Dog puzzles are similar to food dispenser toys. The difference is in a dispenser toy you can put a lot more food. Dog puzzles have room for just a few treats. They come in a wide variety, and the one thing they have in common is your dog has to work for his treats.
Available in most pet stores, or even online, they can be challenging and easy. We recommend starting with something simple and basic. And then move on to more challenging dog puzzles. The basic ones will keep your dog busy for just a few seconds, and then there are those that will keep him busy for a few minutes.
Hide and Seek
We all played hide and seek as children. The popular game is quite interesting for your dog as well. Fun and interactive, it helps you build a relationship with your dog, all while keeping him mentally stimulated.
Here is how to play it.
- Put your dog in a sit or stay position
- Find a hiding spot
- Call your dog
- Praise your dog when he finds you
You can play the game both inside (if you have a large apartment), or even outside
This game is a bit more advanced and designed for dogs with higher intelligence. Truth be told, most dogs can play it, but you have to be persistent in your training. Basically, you want your dog to learn the name of the toys he plays with. There are a number of ways to play the game, but we will tell you the basic.
- Put your dog in a sit or stay position
- Bring a few toys in front of your dog
- Name every toy, and make sure to let your dog sniff it as you name the toy
- Once your dog is familiar with the name of the toys, say one toy, and command your dog to pick it up
- If your dog picks up the right toy, praise him with a treat
Once your dog is familiar with the game, you can even instruct him to bring the designated toy from a pile of toys, or bring it back
Learning new tricks
This is by far the most interesting of the brain games for dogs. Every dog wants to learn new tricks. And training is the best way to bond with your dog and spend quality time together. The trick with tricks is when to learn them. A dog that has just woke up, will not be enthusiastic about learning new tricks. A dog that is not hungry, cannot be tricked with treats. So, how to teach your dog new tricks?
- Take your dog for a walk
- Make sure to tire him out, but not completely. You do not want him to be exhausted
- Once your dog is tired, but still has some energy, try to teach him a new trick
- Every trick has a basic strategy and guides how to do it, and where to put the treat
- Be persistent in your training, some dogs require a bit more time to learn
- Always reward with treats when your dog gets the job done