10 Fun Brain Games For Dogs
Brain games are a great way to bond with your dog, plus they’re good for teaching basic manners. Mentally stimulating activities like brain games enrich our dogs lives by giving them something meaningful to do, and because these activities alleviate boredom they can decrease the likelihood of our dogs developing behavioral issues such as excessive chewing or barking.
If you’re looking for some easy ways to challenge your dog’s mind (and keep them out of trouble) here’s 10 fun brain games for dogs.
Find the Treats
My absolute favorite brain game for dogs is a game of find the treats. It’s super easy to play (you just need treats), and it can be played pretty much anywhere.
Simple nose work game like find the treats will keep your dog mentally stimulated, and it’s a fun way to let them hone in on their natural sniffing and scavenging abilities.
How to play find the treats with your dog:
- Grab some treats and have your dog sit in a stay position
- While your dog is in the stay position put a few treats on the ground around them
- Give your dog a release command and tell them to “find the treats”
- Encourage them as they start picking up the treats
- Practice a few times until your dog understands what “find the treats” means
- Start placing the treats further away and repeat steps 3 & 4
- Start placing the treats in more challenging places that are out of sight such as under a rug or on a chair and repeat steps 3 & 4
Keep in mind that although dog’s have an excellent sense of smell that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically use it right away when playing this game. If they’re not used to sniffing things out it’ll take a little practice. That’s why gradually increasing the difficulty of where you hide the treats is important.
You’re teaching them to start utilizing their scent to find the treats rather than just relying on sight. Finding the treats themselves is rewarding for your dog, and the addition of your encouragement during the game can keep it exciting.
After your dog has a good concept of what “find the treats” means you can keep upping the game to make it more of a challenge for them. Since Laika’s been playing this game for years she’s gotten pretty good at it. She’ll hunt out those treats wherever I hide them — under rugs, on furniture, or on the window sill behind a curtain. All of those various hiding spots keep it exciting for her, and it’s a really simple way to keep her entertained.
Food Dispensing Toys
Another fun brain game for dogs is using food dispensing toys. A food dispensing toy is any toy that contains food and requires your dog to work to figure out how to obtain the food. To use a food dispensing toy you simply fill it up with treats and encourage your dog to engage with it. As your dog starts moving the toy around it’ll start dispensing treats.
Food dispensing toys are a great way to give your dog some extra mental stimulation. And as with other food related games they give your dog a chance to use their natural scavenging abilities in a fun and challenging way. In the wild our dogs spent a lot of time hunting and searching for food, so they’re pretty receptive to the idea of having to work for their food. Food dispensing toys are an easy way to emulate those natural instincts.
My favorite food dispensing toys are the Bob-A-Lot & the Kong Wobbler. There’s plenty of DIY options as well. You can make your own food dispensing toy out of an old plastic container, bottle, or PVC.
One of my favorite brain games for dogs is using puzzles. They come in a wide variety, but they all have one thing in common — your dog has to figure out how to get the reward (treat). Like other food related games they provide your dog with plenty of mental stimulation and help relieve boredom.
Dog puzzles come in many shapes and sizes, and they’re available at most pet supply stores. Some of them are quite challenging, and others are pretty basic. Some will keep Laika busy for a few minutes, but others take a few seconds.
If you’ve never given your dog a puzzle before I’d start by making your own DIY doggie puzzle out of a muffin tin & tennis balls. You can gauge your dog’s interest in puzzles with it, and determine what level of difficulty is best for them.
The Which Hand Game
The which hand game is an easy way to stimulate your dog’s brain — and the only thing you need to get started is some treats.
How to play the which hand game with your dog:
- Grab some treats and have your dog stay in the sit position
- Allow your dog to watch as you place a treat in one of your hands
- Close your hands into a downward facing fist and extend them out to your dog and ask “which hand?”
- Once your dog touches or signals the correct hand praise them and give them the treat
If your dog doesn’t catch on right away don’t worry. Some dogs get super pumped up by treats and will start pawing at both of your hands due to excitement. By only rewarding them when they touch the correct hand they’ll start to catch on. (if they’re struggling with being polite during this game you may want to work on some impulse control)
One of my favorite brain games for dogs is using a stuffed Kong. I love them because they’re a really simple way to keep my dog busy and mentally stimulated for a long period of time. You can put some treats in there to give your dog something to work for, or if you’re looking for something more challenging try freezing it overnight. If you’re not sure what to use check out our list of 39 healthy treats to stuff in a Kong.
Stuffed Kongs are fun and mentally stimulating for dogs. Kongs are great because they’re dishwasher safe (easy to clean) and pretty tough. We’ve had ours for years and my dog hasn’t been able to put a dent in it. If you’re not a fan of Kongs check out the West Paw Tux toy — it’s my favorite alternative (they are much smaller).
Using a stuffed Kong is also a great way to keep your dog busy while you’re at work. Put your stuffed Kong in the freezer overnight and give it to your dog in the morning as you’re leaving. A frozen Kong will last 30+ minutes for most dogs — much longer if it’s filled completely.
If you’re looking for a way to keep your dog busy and mentally stimulated with minimal effort you can’t go wrong with using a stuffed Kong.
The Shell Game
The shell game is another simple brain game for dogs. You’ve probably seen it before — it’s the game where a treat is hidden under one cup (or shell) and then shuffled around. The shell game will give your plenty of mental stimulation by giving them a chance to work on their problem solving skills.
How to play the shell game with your dog:
- Grab 3 cups and some treats
- Have your dog watch as you place a treat under one of the three cups
- Shuffle the cups around
- Encourage your dog to find the cup with the treat underneath
Hide & Seek
Playing a game of hide and seek is by far one of my dog Laika’s favorite games. It’s a fun interactive game you can play with your dog, and it’s mentally stimulating. If your dog doesn’t have a good stay command down you can ask a friend to help by having them distract your dog as you go and hide.
How to play hide and seek with your dog:
- Have your dog sit in a stay position (or enlist help if your dog keeps peeking)
- Find a hiding spot
- Call your dog
- Praise when they find you
Laika loves a game of hide and seek, and even though I keep picking the same 3 hiding spots over and over she doesn’t seem to mind. Hide and seek lets your dog use some of their natural scent tracking abilities in a fun and stimulating way.
Put Your Toys Away
I know what you’re thinking — putting things away is the opposite of fun, but hear me out for a minute. Teaching your dog something new such as putting their toys away is mentally stimulating. And if you teach them how to do it in a positive way you can make a fun game out of it.
If your dog’s toys are kept in a container you can teach them to put their toys away. I know it sounds weird to teach your dog to clean up after themselves, but it’s actually a lot of fun. Teaching your dog new skills boosts their confidence, and it’s a great way to give them more mental stimulation.
If your dog already knows “drop it” have them pick up a toy and give them their drop it command once they’re standing over the container. Praise them like crazy, then repeat. With some practice and consistently you’ll have a dog that knows how to clean up after himself, and best of all he’ll enjoy it.
The (Toy) Name Game
Another fun brain game for dogs is the name game, and the best way to do it is by using your dog’s toys. Do you already have names for your dogs toys? If so you’re already ahead of the curve.
Start by playing with your dog and one specific toy, giving it a name while you do. After some practice & praise your dog will assign that verbal name with the chosen toy. Once your dog has learned that specific toys name you can test their skills by seeing if they can pick it out among their other toys. After your dog knows the name of one toy you can move on teaching them the name of another.
On average dogs can learn 165 different words, so your dog has the potential to learn the names of a lot of different toys. My dog knows the names of about 30 toys, and having her pick specific ones out of a pile is a great way to boost her problem solving skills. Chaser the Border Collie, an extraordinary example seen in the video below, knows the names of 1000+ toys.
Learning New Tricks
Learning new tricks isn’t the first thing you probably thought of when it comes to brain games for dogs, but they are be a fun way to challenge your dog’s mind (as long as you keep it positive). And teaching your dog new skills is a great way to boost your dog’s confidence.
Does your dog know how to weave through your legs and jump through a hoop? There’s always a new trick you can teach your dog. And teaching your dog how to weave through your legs is a lot easier than it sounds.
What Are Your Dog’s Favorite Brain Games?
What are your favorite brain games for dogs? Do you play hide and seek with your dog? Does your dog enjoy a game of “find the treats?” Let me know in the comments below.