We all understand the importance of that daily walk with our dog.  Fido can burn off some of his energy, he can have a good sniff, meet some friends and have a chin rub from the neighbors.

Alongside his daily exercise, mental stimulation is just as important.  It keeps his mind active and wards of cognitive decline. Think brain games for dogs!  

Studies have shown that when given the choice, animals will always choose a more complex, stimulating environment.  It makes total sense that when we offer mental stimulation, dogs are less stressed and better able to manage anxious behaviors.

So how do we do it?  Here we have a few games to start you off!

Muffin Tin Madness Dog Game

A great game for food orientated pooches. Dogs who love their food  will adore this game, just be mindful of brachycephalic breeds who have shorter muzzles. In this instance, a cupcake tin may be better suited for this dog game.

What you will need:

  • A Muffin Tin
  • Tennis Balls
  • Food or treats

Start by placing the food, or treats, in to some or all muffin holes in the tin. Then put a tennis ball in each muffin tin hole to cover the treats.

Encourage your dog to move the tennis ball out of the way to get to the food/treat.  Not ideally suited for toy-orientated dogs, they may choose to run off with the tennis balls instead!

Spin the Bottle

Another game for those food orientated pooches.

What you will need:

  • A plastic bottle (lid removed)
  • Doweling or bamboo
  • Treats

Pierce holes in the side of the bottle so you can push the doweling through.  The bottle should be able to spin on the length of doweling. If you want to make it harder for Fido, you can make the holes smaller which increases the resistance against the doweling.  Or you can hold the bottle as he’s trying to spin it.

Add some treats to the bottle, with some larger sized treats to impede the flow.  

Fido needs to spin the bottle, to shake the treats up, to allow them to fall out of the bottle.  

If you keep a long length of doweling, you can add more bottles along it so he has a range to choose from and play with.

This is also a great idea for those fast eaters.  If Fido is fed on dry kibble, you can put his meal in the bottle with some larger treats to impede the flow. He’s got to work for his food!

Name Game

A great game to teach Fido the name of his toys! Encourage Fido to retrieve a toy.  As soon as he collects it, label the toy, “ball!” “rope!” etc.

Praise and reward him as he does.  

Repeat.   

Start with one or two toys.  Once he has learnt the name of a few, introduce more toys.

This is a great game to introduce tidy up time.  As Fido retrieves the toys, hold your hand over a storage box.  As he gives you the toy, label the behavior “tidy.” Praise and reward.  Eventually, he will tidy on command. Disclaimer: we can’t guarantee the same approach will work with kids.  

Show Stoppers!

Two brilliant tricks to show off at parties are shy dog and touch.

What you will need:

  • Post it notes
  • Treats

Stick a post-it-note on Fido’s nose.  He should instinctively paw at it to remove it.  As he does, praise and reward him (potentially with Liver treats)

Liver treats are great high value treats!  They’re simple to make. Buy some liver and chop into small blocks.  Put on a baking tray on a low heat in the oven, for 2-3 hours. Allow them to cool and you have some very aromatic treats to get Fido’s attention.    

Repeat the process. Don’t worry if he removes it, just apply another one. As he paws to remove the post-it note from his nose, label the behavior “shy dog!”

Repeat.

Eventually, he will be a shy dog, on command.  

Alternatively to shy dog you can try touch!

Hold out a treat in a closed hand and offer to Fido.  As soon as his nose touches your hand, release the treat and label the behavior “touch.”  

Repeat.

Eventually, do the same, but with an empty hand.  As he moves towards your hand, praise and release the treat from your other hand.  

Remember you want him to touch on command, so if he touches your hand just because he thinks he can get a treat, ignore him.  

Conclusion

Bored dogs are unhappy dogs; they often become destructive to their environment and themselves.  Brain games are a great way to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs; their daily walks meet their physical needs, here we are keeping his mind fit and healthy too.  We hope these games have given you a good place to start; once you get into them, you’ll likely start creating your own. Figure out what Fido enjoys and whether he is food or toy orientated.  Stay safe and happy playing!