We all know how important exercise is to the health and well-being of our four-legged family members. But did you know that mental exercise is just as important?
Correctly! Games and exercises that stimulate your dog to think, focus, and problem-solving not only help deplete some of your dog’s seemingly endless energy but are also great at keeping boredom away. They also help build self-confidence, make training easier, and keep your pup mentally fit.
1. The shell game
You will recognize this familiar sleight of hand that the people of ancient Greece first began to play. While people have used the game for gambling and cheating, you want this version to be fun, rewarding, and successful for your dog.
Start slowly and make it easy for your dog at first. Lie on the floor with your dog. When he’s paying attention, turn a single opaque mug upside down and let your dog watch you put a treat under the mug. Let your dog use his nose or paw to move the mug and access the treat. Let him eat the treat and give him praise too! When you’re sure your dog understands this step, add a second mug. Then let him watch you put a treat under just a cup. When your dog chooses the right mug, give them the treat. If he picks the wrong mug, lift the correct mug to show him the treat, but don’t leave it. (You want him to learn that the game is to smell or paw at the cup with the treat underneath, rather than just sniffing or pawing at a cup to win a prize.)
When you’re ready to move on, add a third cup. At this point, just put a treat under a cup and let your dog find the right one. After completing this level, you can make it more challenging by slowly sliding the cups into a new position. But don’t be disheartened if your dog is absolutely baffled by moving the cups around! This can be very difficult for some who do not understand why they treat was magically moved to another location. That’s OK! Just go back to the level that was successful for your dog and play this one – he will love it!
EDITOR’S TIP: You can make things easier for your dog by using pieces of hot dog, cheese, or extra smelly treats and letting them sniff around. When I need super smelly treats, I use Plato Salmon Thinkers Dog Treats (or, as I call them, Stinkers).
Hide-n-seek can be played in a number of different ways, all of which use the same principle of hiding something and asking your dog to find it – you can even hide! Games of hiding and seek can only be played for a few minutes each day and can be changed each time to keep your dog fun and interesting.
If you play hide and seek and use yourself as a hidden treat, ask your dog to sit down and stay first. Then hide behind a chair, in another room, or just out of sight without him following you. Call your dog with a keyword like “Come and find me!” Then reward them with lots of attention, praise, and treats when your dog finds you. Build up more challenging hiding spots, e.g. B. in the bathtub to keep the game interesting and to strengthen your dog’s problem-solving skills. With frequent play, and if your dog is constantly being rewarded for coming to you, your “come and find me” keyword can be used as a callback if your furriest family member is ever let go!
Another variation – one that improves your dog’s natural sense of smell – is to hide a favorite treat or toy and ask your dog to find it. This variant of the game must be taught. So start out very simply, “hide” the treat or toy within sight of your dog, and then slowly work your way up to more difficult hiding spots. Always use a clue like “Go find it!” to let your dog know it’s time to play. And reward him very nicely when he is successful!
Sniffing mats are a well-known solution for stopping dogs that scratch their food too quickly. But these brain strengthening mats can also be used for fun and boredom!
Sniff mats work by encouraging dogs to use their sniffing and hunting skills to find food or treats that are strewn among the strips of fabric. Even if your dog doesn’t eat too quickly, he’ll find it much more fun looking for his food than simply eating it out of a boring bowl. In addition to providing mental stimulation, a sniff mat can also help calm an energetic dog.
Food and treat puzzles are PAW-some for training your dog’s brain! Not only do they require your dog to solve problems, but they’re also great for slowing down dogs who have a tendency to eat too quickly. Best of all, these types of mind games provide instant and instant rewards for your dog’s efforts to enhance behavior and make it easier for him to learn and improve his puzzle skills.
Food and treat puzzles encourage your dog to make an effort to attain or access a delicious treat. From very simple puzzles, like a Kong toy filled with peanut butter, to more advanced puzzles that involve moving pieces and lifting flaps, these games can be used several times a day as rewards or during meals to slow dogs down their Scarves dinner too fast.
While there are tons of great food and treat puzzles out there, it is also easy to build your own puzzle games at home. A muffin pan filled with food or goodies and topped with tennis balls, or an empty 2-liter bottle with small bite-sized goodies in it are just two examples of DIY puzzle goodies – get creative!
Recall, Spending just 15 minutes training your dog’s brain can be as tiring for him as taking an hour for a walk! Are you going to spend 15 minutes training your dog’s brain today?
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