Brain Games are a great way to keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated, helping to keep some of the most common dog behaviour issues that I deal with as a dog trainer at bay.
Why brain games are important
When dogs are left alone all day in their backyards, or while their owners go out to work with nothing to do they get bored or anxious as they are just not getting enough mental and physical stimulation in their day.
Many also miss out on the daily walks, training and socialisation required to create a happy, healthy and well behaved dog, so adding some brain games into your dog’s daily activity can help bring some of this together.
Firstly, interactive toys are great way to get your dog’s body and brains working. Treat dispensing toys and puzzles are great for this, using their food or favourite treats to entice them to play.
My dog Darcy loves his treat dispensing balls that I fill with tiny bits of the Vitapet chicken sticks. He loves trying to push them around the house madly, being rewarded every time a small piece of treat falls out.
In my book Eat, Play, Love Your Dog, I talk about the importance of playing games with your dog to build a bond and to help keep many dog behaviour issues at bay. I also provide a few games and ideas such as the Treat Treasure Hunt below, but also others.
Problem solving with brain games
Brain games are great way to add some fun and stimulation into your dog’s day and are also a great way to help strengthen your bond with your dog.
Not only is it fun and interactive, but it also teaches your dog problem solving.
A really simple game that will get your dog’s brain and body moving is the treasure hunt. There are many others in my book, ‘Eat, Play, Love Your Dog’ too.
Treat Treasure Hunt
Playing a treasure hunt with your dog’s treats or kibble engages them mentally and physically.
It taps into their natural scenting skills, which also makes them feel good.
For first timers, you may have to teach them the rules of the game.
Step 1: For the first couple of times have your dog sit and wait, or restrained on leash, but let them watch as their treats are hidden around the room
Step 2: Release your dog from their sit or leash and, when they target in on a treat, you indicate they are correct by saying ‘yes’ or using a clicker, which is then followed by the reward which is the treat itself.
Once they are reliably doing this, you can say ‘find your treats’ so you are working in some obedience training techniques too.
Step 3: Some dogs are quicker than others, so if your dog is a little unsure about what to do, you could gently lead or direct them over to where the treat is hidden to help
Step 4: After you are confident that your dog understands what ‘find your treats’ means you can start making it a bit more challenging. Have them stay in another room when you hide the treats
Step 5: As they get better at the game start to hide them in places that really require them to use their nose such as under a rug or even an object like a paper cup
The great thing about this game is that you can use it as you are leaving them alone for a while to reduce both boredom and separation anxiety, particularly once they have a strong association with ‘find your treats’.
Simply hide some treats around the house or yard and as you leave give them the cue phrase ‘find your treats’ so they have a positive association with your departure as they go off hunting for food.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a NDTF certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training and boarding business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of Eat, Play, Love Your Dog.