We all know the importance of those daily walks to keep Fido physically active, but we also need to keep his mind busy. Not only training and working on commands, but we can play certain games too.
Brain games are a great way to reduce boredom ; this is important if we want our home to avoid destruction. Not only that but studies have shown that when given the choice, animals will always choose a more complex and stimulating environment.
That is, they are naturally drawn to keeping occupied. Brain games also help to ward off cognitive decline which is helpful in our older pets. Here are 6 brain games to get you started.
Treasure Hunt for Fido
Ideal for both food and toy orientated pooches, you can hide either high value treats or toys around the home or yard. At first, hold the treat or toy out in front of Fido and allow him to watch you where you hide it. Encourage him to find it. Praise him when he does, giving him the treat or allowing him to play with the toy. Repeat and as he finds the treasure, label the behaviour; for example, “hunt.”
Start with hiding the treasure in easy to access places, eventually moving to harder to reach locations. This is a great game to play in the house or outside in the yard. You can limit it to one room or use the whole house. The world really is your oyster.
Name That Toy
Providing your dog doesn’t destroy his toys as soon as look at them, we can teach him the names of them. Start with one toy. Throw the toy and encourage him to retrieve the toy. As he brings you the toy, label it; “chew,” “ball,” “rope” etc. Praise and reward him. We know that dogs learn from the consequences of their behaviour – if they experience a positive consequence, they are more likely to repeat said behaviour.
Repeat with this toy only, consistently labelling it with its name. Eventually, add in another toy to the task. Throw the toy you have already labelled onto the floor with another toy. Ask him to retrieve the toy you have labelled. Praise and reward when he succeeds. Repeat the above with his range of toys, introducing one name at a time. You should get to the stage where he will confidently retrieve a toy by its name from a whole line up!
Tidy Up Time
Moving on from “Name That Toy,” once you are certain Fido is confident in the naming of his toys, when he retrieves the toy to you, hold your hands over a chosen storage box for his toys only. Remove your hands just as he lets go, so it drops into the storage back. Repeat. Label the behaviour as he drops the toy into the storage box “tidy.” Fido will learn to tidy up on command!
A perfect game for those scent followers or sight-hounds. Find three plastic plant pots to start off with (you may use more in future, but let’s not run before we can walk). Introduce one plant pot to Fido and let him sniff it. Place a high value treat under the pot, let Fido watch you doing it. Encourage him to knock the pot over to get to the treat. Praise, and give him the treat when he gets to it. Repeat. Label the behaviour “search” or any appropriate command you like. Once you are confident Fido understands what he needs to do to get to the treat, introduce a second pot. Place a treat under one pot only. They will either have to watch where you place the treat or follow the scent with their trusty noses. When he gets the right pot, praise and reward. Repeat. Introduce a third pot and repeat again. You may even want to introduce more pots as Fido progresses with the game, or even place a treat under more than one pot.
Muffin Tin Madness
Find a muffin tin, some tennis balls and some high value treats. Liver treats are super-tasty and super-simple to make. Chop some liver into small chunks, appropriately sized for your pooch. Pop in an oven for 2-3 hours on a low heat. Remove and allow to cool.
Put some high value treats into the holes in the muffin tin and place a tennis ball over the top of the treat, it should sit in the hole of the tin. Fido needs to move the tennis ball to get to the treat. This game suits food-orientated pooches more so, toy-orientated pooches may just run off to play with the tennis balls. which isn’t the aim of the game! Brachycephalic breeds may also struggle to move the balls around, so a cake tin may be better suited. In this case, don’t place a tennis ball over every hole, leave space between so their shorter muzzles have room to manoeuvre.
Simple training is just as effective at keeping those minds active. Try working on some party tricks. Teach Fido to be shy on command. Place a post-it-note on his nose, as he paws to get it off, praise and reward him and label the behaviour “shy.” Repeat. With enough repetition, he should paw at his nose when you ask him to be “shy.” You can also teach him to touch a target. Start with a treat in your hand, as soon as his nose touches your hand, label the behaviour “touch.” Give him the treat and praise him. Repeat. Here, dogs quite soon think, if they touch your hand, they get a treat. Only give him a treat when you ask him to touch your hand.
The list of brain games could go on! You will also become creative with your own as you spend more time playing them. Figure out if Fido prefers toys or food and use that to your advantage. Some dogs also like moving around a lot, others are quite happy to play games in close contact with their owner. Make it enjoyable, for you and Fido. Happy playing and stay safe!