21 Brain Games to Play with Your Dog

There’s a huge variety of brain games for dogs. In this article you’ll find 21 ideas for simple games that are easy to play indoors.

Why are brain games so important for dogs?

Every dog needs both physical and mental exercise. When it comes to physical activity, a dog, regardless of their size, needs at least two hours of walking a day. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a Yorkshire Terrier or an Irish Wolfhound, a phlegmatic Chow-Chow or a choleric terrier – any opportunity for longer walks with your dog is great!

When walking, dogs both expend physical energy and take in a lot of information. Walking is incredibly beneficial for dogs, both physically and mentally! 

Still, for all its benefits, walking is not enough. Let’s draw a parallel with people. If we play football or go to the gym, this is absolutely great. We have fun, our body produces endorphins, and we get tired, but this is not enough for us to be totally happy. If we go to the gym every day, it’s very likely that we’ll get bored and end up preferring to read a book, go to a museum, or hang out with a friend. Physical activity is not enough for our wellbeing; we need mental activity as well. Dogs are exactly the same.  

According to some research, 15 minutes of mental activity is equal to 1.5 hours of active walking.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can exercise with a dog for 15 minutes and then have a half-hour walk. Your dog will always need to explore the environment and communicate with other dogs. 

We live in a busy world and we work for 8-12 hours a day. This means that we are likely not at home for at least 14 hours. This is quite hard for our pets. Their bladder is filled within 5 hours, and fecal masses accumulate within 8 hours. This is concerning from a physiological perspective, but, long periods of solitude influence our pet’s psychological state as well.

Studies show that dogs with a normal nervous system feel comfortable alone up to 6 hours. Any more than that and dogs begin to experience discomfort. 

By the way, in the Scandinavian countries you are required by law to hire a dog sitter if you plan to leave your dog alone for more than six hours.

The best 3 ways to entertain a dog

We understand, with our workload, we can’t always provide our dogs with the opportunity to get enough mental stimulation through walking. The good news is that there are many ways to entertain your dog, even indoors. 

  1. Trick training. First of all, this is fun for both owners and dogs. Secondly, the more the dog can do, the better. Finally, you really can’t find anything more adorable than a dog that knows how to hug a teddy bear! On top of that, you can show off your dog’s skills to your guests. Check out our other articles where we’ll tell you how to teach your dog some impressive and useful tricks.
  2. Shaping. This when your dog plays a “guessing game.” This is quite fun and doesn’t require any active actions from the owner. 
  3. Interactive brain games. This involves any combination of mazes and boxes that a dog must learn to open in order to get a treat. There’s a huge variety of interactive games available. The most famous companies producing them are Trixie, Karlie, Nina Ottosson, and Kong, but there are tons of ways to make your own interactive games, too! We’ve prepared a list of 21, so you’re sure to find something that both you and your dog enjoy. 

21 idea for simple brain games for your dog

  1. Which hand? This is the simplest brain game, and you’ll need nothing but some treats. Hold some treats in your fist leaving a small hole between your fingers. Your other fist is empty. Show both fists to your dog. Your dog should be able to sniff and figure out where the treat is. You can also teach your dog the “find it” command for this game.
  2. The shell game. After your dog learns to choose the correct hand, you can ramp up the difficulty and move on to the “shell” game. Take some disposable opaque cups and make a small hole in the bottom. Place a treat under one cup and let your dog figure out where it is. Start with two cups and then gradually add more and more of them.
  3. The box game. Take an empty box and half-fill it with crumpled paper. Place some treats in the box with the paper and let your dog find them. Then you can ramp up the difficulty by partially covering the box with a lid or making a grid of fabric strips across the top of the box so that your dog will have to fight against these obstacles with their face.

  1. A slow-feeder. Some owners complain that their pets eat their food too quickly and inhale their kibble like a vacuum cleaner. Slow feeders are ideal solutions for this. You can purchase these special maze-type bowls in a local pet store. You put food into it, but the dog can’t eat everything right away, since they have to work their way through the maze. As a result, your dog eats for several minutes instead of three seconds. You can make a slow-feeder yourself out of a door or bathroom rubber mat-grid. Place some treats into the holes in the grid and voila!
  2. The candy game. Take some pieces of paper (toilet paper works well). Wrap some treats in the paper and throw these DIY “candies” across your room. You can put all the “candies” into the box, but be ready for all the paper to be scattered around the room. Only use dry treats for this game because the paper may get soaked with raw food juice, and a hungry dog may swallow the “candy” with the paper. It’s not a big deal if your dog eats a small piece of paper, but if your dog eats ends up eating paper regularly because of this game, it’s probably not the best brain teaser for you. Some dogs unwrap each piece of “candy” with their paws and teeth, while others take it into their mouths, skillfully bite off the paper, and spit it out. The “candy” game is perfect for dogs who suffer from separation anxiety and who are prone to destroying the apartment. Dogs can generally eat 10 “candies” in 5 minutes, so you not only help your dog kill some time while you’re out of the house, but you also stimulate them mentally! This will tire your pet out and decrease their anxiety. 
  3. You can take toilet paper tubes, put them vertically in a box, and throw some treats into this box with them.
  4. You can use wine corks instead of toilet paper tubes. Just be careful to clean them first.
  5. What’s in the tube? You can put some treats into a toilet paper tube and seal it from both sides. It is much better to let your dog chew on the tube instead of chewing on linoleum or wallpaper, right?
  6. You can take an egg carton and put a treat in each insert. Put a crumpled paper ball or a tennis ball on top of each treat. This game is perfect for shy dogs. All they have to do is to push balls with their nose and get a tasty reward. After playing this game several times, you can close the carton and let your dog chew on it.
  7. The muffin tin game. Take a muffin tin. Put treats in each cup and cover them with tennis balls or crumpled paper.
  8. If you want to go big, you can take an inflatable children’s pool, put a lot of balls and throw some treats into it. You can’t really tell what your dog’s priorities are here. If you have a lot of balls but you don’t have a pool, don’t worry; you can use any large container. Yes, it is not that spectacular as a swimming pool, but your dog will still have a good time.
  9. The tasty road game. Take a bamboo or a yoga mat and lay out a path of treats, laying them out approximately every 5-10 cm and then rolling the mat up. To warm up, show one treat lying on the mat to your dog. They’ll start to unroll the mat and get tasty rewards. Then you can put treats further and further from one another. Finally there will be a jackpot for your dog — a few treats at the very end of the mat!
  10. You can put some treats in your old socks.
  11. Take a pair of old jeans or an old T-shirt or towel. Crumple them, put dry food in the folds, and let your dog find tasty rewards.

  1. The snuffle mat. Dogs absolutely adore this game! Take a rubber shower mat or an outdoor mat with holes. Take a piece of fleece fabric or old jeans and cut them into long strips, about 2 cm wide. Doubleknot the strips onto each grid. On the reverse side, you’ll get a kind of soft “hedgehog” made of fabric strips, where you can put some dry treats.These DIY snuffle mat will definitely keep your dog busy for a long time. If you don’t have time to make your own, check out your local pet store for similar products.
  2. Snuffle puzzle mats. If you like to do things with your hands, you can sew an enrichment mat with various pockets. You can find tons of patterns online.

  1. Find it! Throw some treats in front of your dog and give them the “find it” command. Then throw the treats farther and farther from your dog or even hide them while your dog is in another room. You can do this with toys as well.
  2. Hide-and-seek. Ask one of your family members to hide and then ask your dog to find him or her. Once detected, the person should give your dog a treat.

  1. What’s in the bottle? Take a small plastic bottle, put some treats into it, and leave it open. While the dog spins the bottle around, the treats will fall out of it.
  2. What’s in the bottle? Part 2. Here’s one more version of the bottle game: cut a hole on the side of the bottle. This hole should be slightly larger than a treat. Fill the bottle with dry treats, close the top, and give the whole thing to your dog. When they roll the bottle around, the treats will fall out of it.
  3. Drill a hole in a tennis ball and carefully rinse the inside before putting treats into it. Your dog will roll the ball and make them fall out.

All dogs enjoy scent-based brain games. These games will be fun activities with tasty rewards, while also teaching your dog how to deal with the frustration of not being able to find treats right away.

CAUTION! Be very careful with toys that have small parts that your dog may swallow. Plastic bottles, tennis balls, cloth toys may be dangerous for your dog’s health, so you should take extra caution. Don’t leave your dog alone with a toy until you’re sure that they won’t try to swallow a piece of it while you’re gone. 

February 1, 2021

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