Work Your Dog’s Brain! Fun Mind Games For Your Dog

Work Your Dog’s Brain! Fun Mind Games For Your Dog

The Importance Of Mental Stimulation For Pets

These days, everyone is busy. This means that many dogs spend a lot of time at home in the house or yard with not a lot to do. Yet at the same time, our dogs have often been bred to work and use their amazing brains to do jobs for us. Like people, exercising the brain can help a dog to feel tired, even more than physical exercise. It’s important to leave your dog with things to do when you’re gone but also very important for a dog’s health and wellbeing to spend time exercising their brain when you’re home. This doesn’t have to take up a great deal of time – in fact dogs learn best with several short training sessions rather than one long one.

Brain Boosting Games For Your Dog

Find it!

Wouldn’t it be great if your dog could find your keys or your mobile phone? This trick provides great mental stimulation and is useful for you around the house as well. When a dogs search for an item, they use their amazing power of scent. Having a dog use their sense of smell is a great way to exercise their brains and keep them tired and happy.

You don’t need to teach your dog to use their nose, they already know that. You just need to teach them the object you want them to find and show them that it’s worthwhile to find it.

Here are the steps:

▪ Show them the object you want them to find – you might want to give it a unique name for later when you expand to more items. Let’s say you’re teaching your dog to find the keys. Show them the keys and when they look at them, sniff them or touch them, say, “yes,” and give a treat (or any reward that motivates your dog)

▪ Place the keys on the ground and mark with, “yes,” and reward for the dog sniffing them on the floor

▪ Keep moving the keys around different places of the room and continue to reward for your desired outcome – this could be just sniffing them or picking them up. Reward for small steps towards your end goal

▪ At this point, put a command to the task like, “find keys!”

▪ When your dog is consistently giving you the reaction you want, start to hide the keys where they can’t be seen. This will encourage your dog to use it’s nose.
▪ Gradually increase the difficulty of the location as long as your dog is winning. If they are struggling, take a step back to where they were last successful and practice some more

Object Discrimination

If your dog knows how to fetch, you can start giving each individual object it’s own name. This is an impressive trick when you work your way up to several objects and is a great brain challenging game for your dog. You can combine this game with the Find It game to have your dog fetch different objects by name using their nose. But you should have each one going well separately first before tying it together.

Here’s the steps to name your objects for the dog to fetch:

▪ Choose the first object you want to name. Let’s say it’s a stuffed bear.

▪ Place the bear on the ground and say, “bear,” followed by your dog’s usual fetch command.

▪ Reward your dog for fetching the bear. Practice this several times and then try dropping the fetch command so you are just saying, “bear”

▪ Once your dog is fetching the bear on command, place the bear on the ground again as usual but this time, place a second object on the ground as well. Let’s say it’s a toy sheep.

▪ Test the bear command and only reward your dog if he sticks with the bear. If he gets it wrong, he won’t get his usual reward. If he gets it right, throw a party! Your dog can now fetch the “bear” item by name. Add more items around it to proof the “bear” command.

▪ Repeat this process with the sheep on it’s own and any other objects you want to name.

▪ The real test is when you have trained multiple items and you put them all down together. See if your dog can remember which one is which and only fetch that toy on command.

▪ Remember like all training, if your dog is stuck, take a step back to where he last succeeded.

Hide and Seek

Another task to encourage your dog to use her nose is hide and seek, where your dog has to find you! Make sure you have their favourite reward for them ready for when they do.

This trick uses the dog’s sense of smell, exercises their brain and gives them exercise as well. It can be easier with two people but you can do it alone if your dog can hold a reliable stay.

▪ Have your dog stay or have a friend hold your dog with them in another room

▪ Go and hide. Make the first few easy

▪ If you have a friend helping, they can say, “seek,” and let the dog go.

▪ The first few times, you may need to also call your dog once or twice to show them that they need to find you and give them a bit of help

▪ When they find you, give them a big reward!

▪ Make it slightly harder each time but always keep it fun. Ways to make it harder is to hide inside cupboards, behind doors or go outside and try it in a safe outdoor area.

Tidy Up Your Toys

Wouldn’t it be great if your dog tidied up all their toys when they were done playing? Combine this trick with the object discrimination trick for a super advanced version and blow your friend’s away with how smart your dog is. Your dog needs to know how to fetch for this trick. Be prepared for your dog to be nice and tired after a session of training this helpful trick.


▪ Start with just one of your dog’s toys on the ground and a basket to put the toys in

▪ Stand with the basket in front of you and give your dog the fetch command for that object

▪ Hold your open hand above the basket

▪ As your dog brings the object to your hand or goes to drop the object at your feet, hold a treat above the basket. As your dog goes to take the treat, the toy will fall into the basket. Mark (“yes”) and reward your dog when this happens and give lots of praise.

▪ Repeat multiple times until your dog is reliably dropping the item into the basket

▪ As your dog is successful, stand behind the basket and point to the basket as the dog approaches. Reward after the dog has dropped the toy inside.

▪ Now you can introduce a new cue to this task. To do this, say the new cue right before the old cue and then phase out the old cue. So say, “tidy up, fetch” and then reward as usual. After a few repetitions, try saying, “tidy up,” by itself and see if your dog understands.

▪ Gradually move further away and reward less often by asking for more toys to be tidied up before you give a treat.

Is it important to keep providing mental stimulation for dogs at any age?

It’s absolutely important to provide mental stimulation for a dog of any age, even an older dog. An older dog may tire faster but they will still enjoy it and appreciate you for it.

In fact, mental and environmental enrichment is important for all animals!

Consider: Do you have another pet that may be bored?

Young puppies need mental stimulation too and the younger you start, the faster your dog will learn things you want to teach them later on. Ins saying that, you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks! Like elderly dogs, pups may tire quicker so keep sessions short and fun.

Training these kind of challenging tricks not only helps your dog to get tired and satisfied, it also continues to make them smarter as they develop their skills and learn how to learn. And best of all, giving your dog mental stimulation through training increases the bond between you. So it’s a win-win for everyone involved.



How do I stop my dog from digging?

Digging is a common problem. In this article we’ll look at some of the reasons dogs dig as well as some of the options you can use to stop your dog from digging.

So why do dogs dig in the first place? Young dogs may be more prone to digging as they have excess energy and a higher level of curiosity.

Digging can be very rewarding for a dog. Some dogs just love to dig! This can make it difficult to stop as your dog feels rewarded just for doing it. Terriers or part terriers are more genetically programmed to dig so if you have a terrier breed, they may be more likely to dig.
Dogs can dig because they are bored. They may not be getting enough physical exercise or mental stimulation. Consider giving your dog longer walks and some vigorous play. Play time in the back yard is not very fulfilling to a dog because they are in their backyard all the time. They get a lot more tired when they are taken out of the yard for a walk, run or play because as well as the exercise, they get stimulation from taking in the sights and smells.

Usually holes dug at the fence line indicates that the dog wants to get out. If this is the case, consider whether your dog is digging as an attempt to escape.

Is it hot weather? Freshly dug up dirt is cool and some dogs will lay in it to escape the heat if they don’t have enough shelter. Consider if your dog has enough cool shade and other methods to cool down.

If your dog is burying bones or other food, this could be a sign of over feeding

Occasionally a dog may even learn to dig after seeing their owner or another dog dig in the garden!

The method you use to stop your dog from digging depend on the reason the dog is digging; so consider the possibilities mentioned above.

You may need to remove your dog from the environment for a time until he can be supervised.

If your dog is digging in the same area continually, restrict the access to the area – fence it off. If you are going to correct your dog, only do so if you catch him in the act. Punishment after the fact is ineffective. If your dog is only a puppy and is digging, try interrupting the behaviour with something new and distracting for the pup to do. Supervision is key here.

Another option is to provide an alternative, appropriate place to dig – sand pits are great. You can then bury toys and/or treats to encourage the use of the pit instead of your garden.

A great solution I have found is to fill the whole with fresh dog poo – yep. Cover with a layer of dirt. When your dog returns to dig and smells the poo, he won’t want to dig any further! You can also bury rocks or place chicken wire in the hole so it doesn’t feel nice to the dog to hit with his paws.

Ensure dog has access to adequate sleeping area in case your dog is digging for a cool place to rest.

Boredom busters – keeping your dog busy while you are away

Boredom busters – keeping your dog busy while you are away

When you have to leave your young dog or puppy alone while you go out, they are sure to get bored. If you don’t give them a job to do, they will find one themselves. Chewing helps exercise jaw muscles and is a soothing exercise that passes the time. But puppies don’t know that there is a difference between chewing on a chew toy made for dogs or chewing on your household items or furniture.

To help prevent chewing on your precious items, keep them out of reach of your puppy when you can’t supervise. Give your puppy its own safe space to be while you are out where there isn’t anything he or she can destroy. The next step is to give the pup a job to do.

There are hundreds of interactive puzzle toys available for dogs. One famous puzzle toy is the Kong. These can be filled with treats that the dog has to work out of the rubber. The rubber itself can then be chewed and is pretty tough stuff. You can buy super tough Kongs for super strong chewers if they manage to get through a standard Kong. A popular way to stuff a Kong is to use peanut butter with treats through it. The peanut butter makes it last longer as it is sticky and the dog has to lick through it and work the sticky treats out as well. Another great way to stuff a Kong is to freeze it. I make up chicken or beef stock, plug the end of the Kong with blu-tac and wrap it in a freezer bag, fill it with the stock and then freeze it. I also put some treats in as well which freeze into the stock and add an extra job. Once frozen, simply remove the blu-tac stopper and give it to your dog. This is also great for hot days too.

SAFETY: If you have ever wondered why Kongs have a small hole in the small end, it is so that the dog’s tongue can’t get stuck inside the Kong by suction. This is painful and can result in tongue amputation. Never use a cheap imitation product that doesn’t have this hole. Also, make sure you have selected the appropriate sized Kong for your dog so that they can’t get it stuck in their throat and choke on it.

Another freeze toy which I have used myself and my dogs love, is the Dogzilla Deep Freeze. It’s half rubber and half ice-block! You join it together and fill it through the holes and freeze it. I use stock and treats in these too. There are hundreds more interactive toys you can try. Here’s another one that I have used by Premier. It’s called the Busy Buddy Tug-a-jug. The dog has to figure out to pull the rope so that it knocks the treats out. My Border Collie Chester has a ball with this one.

Although some of these can be expensive, I believe you get what you pay for. Cheap products don’t last as well and are often dangerous. Always keep safety in mind when selecting a toy for your dog.

Important TIP: No matter how many toys you have for your dog, rotate them. This means don’t leave all the toys out with the dog all the time, they will just get boring like part of the scenery. Mix it up from time to time. Change the toys around every couple of days. Also mix up the different treats that you put inside them