Brain games sound a little bit like homework, but they’re actually a fun way to keep your dog mentally fit and enjoy themselves at the same time. Brain games are any game you play with your dog that keeps them engaged mentally by problem solving. That could be a wide variety of things like searching for hidden objects, solving puzzle toys, or learning new tricks. As an added bonus, these types of games are especially tiring for dogs, so if you have a pooch with a little extra energy to burn, try these out!
“Find It” Game
In this game, your dog is going to be searching for treats that you hide. Nose work engages dogs both physically and mentally and releases all kinds of good feeling endorphins.
The key to this game is to work it in stages. Start by having your dog in a stay position and placing a few treats on the ground where your dog can see them. Give them a release cue and then the cue “find it” or “search”.
Encourage them as they pick up the treats. Then repeat! As they get the hang of it, move the treats further and further away from them. Eventually you can work up to hiding them out of sight of your dog to increase the challenge and fun!
Homemade Muffin Tin Puzzle
Do a Google search for “puzzle toys for dogs” and you’ll see lots of products out there aimed to stretch your dog’s problem solving skills. While many of these are good options, there are also plenty of puzzles for your dog that you can make with household objects.
If you have a muffin tin and a few tennis balls laying around try this one: place a muffin tin right side up and put kibble in either all or a few of the cups. Place a tennis ball in each of the cups on top of the kibble. Give it to your dog and enjoy watching as they puzzle out how to get to the kibble underneath the tennis balls. After they do, put all those tennis balls to good use with a game of fetch!
If your dog is having trouble with this puzzle or doesn’t seem engaged, try turning the muffin tin upside down and placing the kibble in the space between the cups. Your dog will enjoy working to get the kibble from around the cups and will likely be willing to work harder on the more challenging version.
Hide & Seek
This game is a great way to engage your dog’s brain and reinforce their joy of coming when called.
Give your dog the stay command and then go pick a hiding spot. When first playing this game, you might make it easy like just around the corner in the same room. Then, call your dog and wait until they find you! Don’t forget lots of praise and rewards when they do.
As your dog gets good at this you can increase the difficulty by hiding farther away, in different rooms, behind objects, etc. This game is also fun to play outside if you have a safe space for it.
If your dog is still working on his “stay” skills, you can also have a friend hold your dog while you go hide to make sure no cheating is going on.
In addition to the games listed above, keep your dog learning and engaged by teaching them new tricks, exploring new places and situations and trying new activities. Keeping your dog mentally fit is just as important as keeping them physically fit, so be creative and have fun with it!