6 Genius Games to Keep Your Dog Mentally Stimulated
by Jessi Larson
A key ingredient to having a happy and healthy dog is ensuring they have adequate mental stimulation. After all, a bored or restless dog can quickly turn to destructive behavior. (Chewed shoes, anyone?) Or worse, they can become depressed and irritable – something you definitely don’t want as a pup parent.
But with how busy life can get, how do you make time to focus on challenging your dog mentally in addition to physically?
Good question. And I think I’ve got some answers.
After four years with a super smart Labrador who gets bored quite easily, I’ve rounded up six genius games that are guaranteed to channel your dog’s energy and get their brain ticking.
Best of all, these enriching games will enhance the bond you share with your beloved furbaby!
Hide-and-go-seek isn’t just for kids. Dogs can play it, too!
To start, have your dog sit and then ask them to stay. While they’re waiting, quietly find a place to hide in a place where they can’t see you. It could be behind a couch, inside a closet or underneath the table.
Once you get settled, say “OK!” – or whatever command you use to release them from the stay position – and watch your dog eagerly try to find you.
If your dog doesn’t seem to get a hang of the game at first, bring a treat with you. That always seems to do the trick.
Get an interactive dog puzzle
I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome interactive dog puzzles are for providing mental stimulation for pups. We got one for Toby when he was a young, rambunctious puppy, and boy, do we get good use out of it.
How it works is that you hide small treats under the puzzle pieces and your dog is challenged to use their paws and mouth to find them. The innovative designs are created for maximum mental stimulation.
When Toby is deep in thought, he gets this deep wrinkle in his forehead. (I might be biased, but it’s pretty freakin’ adorable.) Every time he plays with his dog toy puzzle, the wrinkle comes out. To me, that’s proof that the toy works!
Play the name game
This is an activity that requires a bit of patience and practice, but it’s well worth the effort. Your dog likely has lots of toys, but does he or she know the name of each one? With the name game, they’ll soon find out.
The goal is to get your dog to memorize the name of their most popular toys. To get going, start by taking one of their toys, say their tennis ball, and place it next to them. Repeat “tennis ball” time after time.
Next, place the tennis ball next to their other toys. Tell your pup, “Get your tennis ball!” If your dog returns with the correct toy, reward him or her with a treat.
Slowly incorporate more toys into the rotation, making sure your pup understands and recognizes the name before moving on to the next.
Before you know it, you’ll be able to shout out the name of a toy and your dog will return with it on command!
Teach your dog a new trick
The premise is simple: When your dog seems restless and in need of mental stimulation, find a new trick to teach them.
It could be as simple as teaching them to lie down all the way up to a more complicated trick like playing dead.
Create an obstacle course
You’ve likely seen dog obstacle courses on TV for the Westminster dog show. Or maybe even at your local dog park. It may seem pretty complicated, but creating an obstacle course for your dog is much easier than you’d think.
If you’re handy, you could create it yourself. Here’s a tutorial with everything you need to know.
Or, if you’re like me and can barely hand a hammer, you can always buy a pre-made kit on Amazon.
No matter how it’s made, an obstacle course is an excellent way to challenge your dog and spend time bonding in a special way.
Let your dog explore
And finally, if you’re exhausted but your dog is anything but, simply let them outside or take them to an off leash dog park. Dogs love to explore and discover new things.
For example, the other day Toby was restless and tired of just sitting around the house. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of cooking dinner and couldn’t play with him so I just let him outside. From the window, I watched as he sniffed around the yard, looked for bunnies in the bushes and inquisitively watched the neighbors. The little dose of excitement outside was exactly what he needed to work off some energy and stay active.