While exercise is great for physical stimulation and important for health and wellbeing of your pup, it is important to give their brain regular work outs too! Some behavioral issues can come from a lack of mental stimulation, and so it is important to give your dog a regular outlet for this.

The best way to encourage your dog to relax and engage their brains through calming activity. Four of the best ways to do this are licking, chewing, training, and sniffing. We have curated the best activities to slow your dog down and get them engaging their brains. 

Licking

Frozen Food

Taking your dogs regular food and freezing it (where safe and appropriate to do so!) can be a great way to get your dog licking and cool them down, especially on hot days. 

If your dog has a kibble diet, you can mix their kibble with a little water to make it moist & freezable. Wet & raw food can be frozen as is to create a licking experience for your dog! Stuffing it into a kong before freezing also works well!

When you want to really treat your dog, you can offer them other licking experiences. For example, choosing a low sodium chicken broth and freezing this into a doggie popsicle can be a great outlet for your dog. It also doubles up as something for them to chew! 

Teach a “tongue out” behaviour

Though this is not a licking behaviour per say, it is a game you can play with your dog involving licking. Offer your dog some peanut butter (or other tasty treat) on a spoon and when they stick their tongue out to lick it, give them a treat from elsewhere. After repeating this several times, your dog may offer their tongue for treats. You can then start to put the behaviour on a cue, such as “lick” or “tongue”, making it a great party trick for friends! 

Chewing

Long Lasting Chews

Though it is not a game as suck, providing your dog with a dog safe, long lasting chew is a great way to tire your dog out. 

As much as possible, aim for natural chews, such as rabbit’s ears or yak milk chews. Avoid rawhide or anything brightly colored, as these are made with toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde. 

You can even use these to work on building independence in your dog. Hide a tasty long lasting chew in another room for your puppy to go and find. This is especially good if it’s smelly as it will encourage your dog to go and find it! When they go and find it they will have taken a risk which has paid off with a tasty chew! 

Training

Touch!

Training a new behaviour is a great way to get your dogs brains working and thinking about how to get some tasty treats. A behaviour that is very easy to teach but has many applications is a nose target. This is a behaviour where the dog must come over and touch their nose into your hand. 

To teach this, start with your dog in front of you and simply offer them your hand about an inch from their face. Dogs are naturally curious, and so will likely move in to sniff your hand. The second their nose touches your hand, use your other to offer them a treat. Repeat this several times, until your dogs nose touches your hand. 

Once your dog understands the behaviour, you can start to extend the distance they must cover to touch your hand. You can also try at various heights, so that your dog has to stretch, or between different people so that your dog is bouncing between you!  

Sniffing

The Box Game!  

If you’ve had a series of deliveries, why not reuse the boxes to give your dogs brain a workout! 

To play this game, start by teaching a “go find it” cue. We teach this by saying your chosen cue (usually “find it!”, but it can be anything from “sniff!” to “search!”) and dropping treats on the floor. Once they understand that your chose cue, you can start to make it harder by dropping treats on the floor when they are not looking! 

You can even progress to using old delivery parcels. While your dog is out of the room, hide a few treats in some of the boxes, but not all. The number of hidden treats is entirely up to you, though it is important to note that the few treats, the harder it will be for your dog! Bring the dog back into the room and use your cue word to tell them there’s food to find! 

It is crucial that we don’t use boxes that have previously contained food for this exercise, such as old cereal boxes. This is because dogs noses are so sensitive they will detect the food smell and search for the already consumed food! It is much better to use boxes that contain no scent at all, as your dog will be able to detect the food much easier. 

If you have a dog who isn’t motivated by treats, try hiding their toys in boxes for them to sniff out instead. Alternatively, you can purchase toys just for these games and give them a distinctive scent, such as catnip or chamomile, to make it easier for your dog to sniff out!

Hide & Seek

Hide & seek is a fun and versatile game to play with your dog. Generally speaking, we recommend playing this game indoors to start. Have the door to the room open, and throw a few treats outside. As your dog runs out to get them, HIDE! When your dog comes back in, they’ll have to sniff you out! If they struggle, you can support them by calling their name or making other noises. Once they find you, rewards them with treats, praise or a tug game, whatever your dog enjoys most!

Before starting, it’s a good idea to think up a few easy to get into hiding places so you don’t have any last minute panic!  

This game can also be used to practice recall! Once you’ve hidden, call your dog into the room using their recall cue. Once they find you, shower them with treats, toys and praise.  

You can also build this up to playing outside. If you see an opportune moment, hide and call your dog and let them come and find you. It is always best to play this in enclosed areas, especially if you are using this game to work on recall, in case your dog panics at being unable to find you and runs off in the wrong direction! 

Summary 

There are lots of fun ways to engage your dog at home without the need to dog lots of exercise! Though a long walk can be fun every now and again, it can be nice sometime at home playing games. 

Do you have a favorite brain game for your dog? Leave us a comment below telling us all about it! 


About the Author: Rob Woods is an adventure junkie and often spends his weekends trail running with Nala or competing in agility. He spends most of his spare time writing and reading about dogs.