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4 brain games for dogs

While daily exercise is vital for Fido to keep his body fit and healthy, there are ways to keep his mind active and sharp too. After he’s learned basic commands (e.g. sit, stay and down), some owners wonder if there are other ways to challenge his mind? The answer: brain games.

Brain games for dogs can be a great tool for dog parents to curb destructive behaviors and reduce stress in their dogs (ex. separation anxiety).

Here we have put together our favorite seven brain games that will keep Fido’s mind active and will help to build a strong bond with your dog. Next time you see your pooch, pick one of the games below, and give them a try!

Game 1: Muffin Tin Madness

This game is top of our list because most owners will have access to the equipment in their kitchen, and it’s a game you can play now.

What you will need:

  • A muffin tin
  • Tennis balls
  • Dog treats

How to play:

  • Place a single dog treats in one of the muffin holes in the tin.
  • Place a tennis ball over the hole with the treat.
  • Encourage the dog to move the tennis ball out of the way to get to the food/treat.

Keep in mind:

This game is better suited to those dog breeds with longer noses, such as a Labrador or Poodle. You may find brachycephalic breeds, like the Pug or French Bulldog, can’t retrieve the food or treats from the holes.

Tip: for flat-faced dogs, a cupcake tin may work in place of a muffin tin.

Also, this game is generally geared towards food-orientated pooches, as opposed to toy-orientated pooches—as they may simply run off with the tennis balls!

Game 2: Hide And Seek

Most dogs will come and search for you if you suddenly disappear—it’s instinctual…unless they’re chasing a squirrel of course.

What you will need:

  • Your dog
  • You

How to play:

  • Hide from your dog—behind a curtain, in a closet with the door open, etc.
  • Shout “go seek” from your hiding place. (Repeat “go seek” until you hear him moving. As with training a puppy, it’s better to use a command once.)
  • When he finds you, praise him and reward him with a treat.
  • Eventually, introduce the “stay” command when you hide. Then shout “go seek” for him to find you.

Keep in mind:

This is a perfect game to involve kids and most dogs will love it. It’s a game for those pooches with a search instinct.

Game 3: Toy Treasure Hunt

Who doesn’t like a treasure hunt? Great for kids and dogs, this game is best suited to dogs who like to chase and be at the center of attention.

What you will need:

  • High value treat (peanut butter or liver cake)
  • Dog toys

How to play:

  • Start by hiding toys in various places around the house with the high value treat next to them.
  • Once you have hidden two or three toys, approach Fido with a high value treat.
  • Allow Fido to sniff the high value treat.
  • Throw the treat towards the first hidden toy and say “hunt.” This will set Fido off in the right direction if he’s struggling at first.

The more you repeat this, the more he will learn what he must do. Eventually you will be able to play by just saying “hunt.”

Keep in mind:

A treasure hunt is perfect for those dogs with a high search and retrieve drive like poodles, Labradors and spaniels.

Game 4: Slow Down

Some dogs are just fast eaters and Labradors being top of that list. As soon as you put their bowl down, it’s gone. Eating fast can sometimes cause bloat in dogs.

If you do want to slow their eating down, there are a number of slow feeders on the market, but, providing your pooch isn’t particularly destructive you can use a plastic bottle.

What you will need:

  • Good quality, dog-safe plastic bottle with a relatively narrow neck
  • Kibble

How to play:

  • Remove the lid from the bottle (including the thin band which breaks the seal).
  • Fill the plastic bottle with his meal allowance and put some larger treats in to impede the flow of the kibble through the bottle neck.
  • Place the bottle on the floor.
  • Your dog will move the bottle around—nuzzling or shaking it—to allow the kibble to fall out.

Keep in mind:

Make sure the kibble does flow, otherwise you will end up with a frustrated pooch who is trying to chew through a plastic bottle, this is dangerous for your dog. If he doesn’t understand the concept and does just try to chew the plastic bottle, stop feeding him this way.

Conclusion

We hope some of these games have given you some ideas on how to keep Fido’s mind fit and active—as always, you know your dog best and you should only try an activity if you think it is safe for Fido to do so.


John Woods is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. He is a dog-parent to his two rescue dogs, Jeff and James. When he’s not looking after his dogs, or training clients’ dogs, he is an editor for a pet magazine

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