Before we begin, we want to help differentiate between physical exercise and brain stimulation. Not to worry, both will tire your furry little buddy out! But "brain games" can also be related to training. We want to layout some helpful tips and ideas that you can integrate into your dog + owner routines, as well as when you're training and/or exercising them.
How do you mentally stimulate a dog?
There are lots of ways to encourage your dog to use his brain and stimulate him mentally. Some are simple, like letting him sniff on a walk. Others are more difficult, such as training or canine sports. Whilst some types of mental stimulation need specialized equipment, the vast majority don’t – and since every dog should have some sort of mental stimulation, it’s all about finding the right brain game for you and your dog.
Special Note from our Blog Post on Pet Training - "Mental stimulation is another vital part of a dog’s overall well-being and happiness. It is just as vital as daily physical exercise. When it is too cold or rainy outside, going through basic training skills indoors can be the exercise our bored dogs need. Or if your dog must limit exercise due to an injury or after a surgery, mental stimulation is necessary to keep them occupied. Another tip is to take a different route when going for a walk. The new (or rarely seen) route will engage your pup more and give them stimulation that they won't get from their regular route or routine." Just a reminder to see the link! Ok back to the games...
Learn a new trick
You might be thinking that this isn’t really a game, but all tricks and commands should be taught in a fun way – and they are certainly good brain training. This doesn’t have to be a ‘serious’ command like recall or sit – why not pick something fun? If you’re stuck for trick ideas, you could choose one of the following:
‘Spin’ and ‘twist’ – a clockwise and counter-clockwise turn. It’s extra-impressive if they can go both ways
‘Shy’ – dog paws at his nose as if shy
‘Speak’ – teach your dog to bark on command. This one is useful as it’s also the first step in teaching your dog not to bark at all
‘Bow’ – if your dog knows a few tricks, they’ll need the bow command for the end of their performance
Don’t forget to start small and keep your sessions short, or you’ll over-tire and frustrate your pooch.
Example of a brain game owner's aren't a fan of
Also known as the ‘cup game’ and ‘shell game’, you’ll need two or more cups and some treats to play ‘which cup’. Simply place some dry dog food under a cup and say ‘which cup’, then wait for your dog to look at or put their nose to the cup. Lift it as soon as they do so, allowing them to have the treat.
Once they have got the idea that ‘which cup’ means they should indicate the cup containing a treat, you can add more cups and even move them around slowly so your dog has to work harder to indicate the right cup.
This is a fun game that works on your dog’s patience and impulse control as well as their focus – they’ll be watching you like a hawk when you try to mix up the cups.
Find the Treats
This is one of the easiest games you can play with your pup. You need no special equipment, and no training – just a spare five minutes.
Essentially, you hide the best dog treats around a room and then tell them to ‘find the treats’, giving encouragement as they do. Since most dogs will naturally sniff out the food, this is an easy game to get started with.
At first, you’ll want to place the treats in an easy place – even within sight. But, once your dog has got the hang of the fact ‘find the treats’ means sniffing, you’ll be able to start hiding them in more and more difficult places. This game allows your dog to use their most powerful sense – their nose – and engages the parts of their brain used for sorting scents.
Another great option for brain games you can play whilst your dog has his dinner is the massive selection of dog puzzle toys available to buy. These have several levels of difficulty depending on how many steps your dog has to complete to get to the food. The hardest food puzzles have three or more steps that must be completed for your dog to get their food.
Food puzzles allow you to put your dog’s brain to work at every mealtime. They’ll have to practice their puzzle-solving and memory skills in order to get to the food.
Food Dispensing Toys
Similar to the puzzle or Find the Treats, but this is specific to those types of toys that force the dog to "work for it." These more active options dispense food when they’re rolled, bashed, pulled, or spun. A treat ball is a simple version, but more complex, self-righting, and DIY versions exist. A food dispensing toy is another great way to train your dog’s brain to solve puzzles. It also helps with frustration and impulse control, as your dog needs to be patient in order to retrieve the food.
Please reach out to Town House for Dogs and Cats for more information or make your appointment today.
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