All dog owners understand the importance of going for a daily walk. Not only does this provide your dog with physical exercise, but the opportunity to burn off energy, sniff around, play with friends and have a few treats off Mrs. Johnson at the end of the street.
But what some dog owners sometimes forget is the importance of mental stimulation for our faithful friends.
Brain games are known to help ward off cognitive decline; which is crucial for our aging pets. When given the choice, animals will always choose a more complex environment; mental stimulation plays a key role in this. Brain games help reduce stress and manage anxious behaviors.
Here we have 4 easy to train brain games to keep Fido’s mind active!
The Name Game!
Here, we are teaching Fido the name of all of his favorite toys, great for those family dogs who are toy driven.
Encourage Fido to retrieve one of his toys. As soon as he collects it, label the toy, “ball!” “chew” or “rope!”. Repeat and praise Fido as he retrieves it.
Start with one or two toys.
If he doesn’t falter to retrieve the correct toy, introduce more toys to the game. This game is testing his memory as well as his recognition.
This game is perfect for those toy orientated dogs – providing they don’t choose to run off with the toy and ignore you.
If this happens, calmly ignore them until they return. Remember, you are praising and providing attention for the behavior you want to see.
You can always use this game to introduce tidy up time – as you ask Fido to retrieve specific toys, hold your hands over an allocated storage box. As he brings the toy to the box, label the behavior “tidy!” - praise and reward.
Spin a Bottle
Perfect for those food orientated pooches. You will need a few supplies:
- An empty plastic bottle
- A cross bar – a piece of doweling or bamboo
Pierce holes on opposite sides of the bottle – large enough so you can push the cross bar through. You should be able to hold the cross bar and the bottle will spin around on the bar.
Put some small treats into the plastic bottle to start with, so it’s easy for Fido in the first attempt.
Food orientated pooches will immediately sniff out the treats in the bottle and attempt to get them out.
They need to learn to spin the bottle, so the treats fall out.
Once they have figured out the basic idea of the game, you can make it more difficult by using a range of sized treats, so some fall out quite easily, others don’t. Or you can move you hands to the cross bar and provide some resistance as they spin the bottle.
If Fido is fed on dry kibble, you could always use this to feed him one of his meals.
Another one for those food orientated pooches and another one to make them think. You will need:
- High value treats
- 3 plastic plant pots
Start with one pot upside down and place a treat underneath it. Allow Fido to watch you place the treat. Then encourage Fido to knock the pot over to get to the treat.
Introduce another plant pot – allowing Fido to watch which pot you put the treat under.
Eventually, you can be working with the three plant pots.
Fido then has to figure out where the treat is – he may have watched you, or he may have sniffed it out.
Watch for impatient dogs who just knock all the pots over to find it - a different game may be best for them; brains over brawn afterall!
A brilliant trick to show off at parties or in the dog park. Most dogs pick up this one within a day. What you will need:
- Post it notes
Post a note on Fido’s nose. He will instinctively paw at it to remove it. As he does, praise and reward him. Do not worry if he removes it, just apply another one.
As he paws to remove the note, label the behavior “shy” or whichever command you think fits.
Repeat. Eventually, he should be a shy dog, on command.
Inadequate mental stimulation has presented itself in many ways in dogs from pacing and destruction to self-licking and self-harm.
To keep Fido fit and healthy, we need to provide for both his physical and mental needs. We hope these four games have given you a good starting point; be creative, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to give Fido’s mind a work out just by looking around the house.