As your dog gets older, it’s important to keep their brain active in order to prevent cognitive decline and keep them from getting bored. Luckily, there are plenty of games you can play with your dog at home that require only the simplest of materials—an old shoe or a plastic bag, for example—but will keep them interested and engaged mentally and physically.
This list features 7 fun and challenging brain games for dogs to play at home!
1) Look Away
This game builds on your dog’s natural instinct to chase things, while also challenging his memory. You’ll need some treats or a favorite toy. With your dog sitting in front of you, hold a treat (or toy) out of his sight, above and to one side of his head.
Start moving it slowly back toward his face—without him noticing—until he starts looking at it. As soon as he looks up at it, say look away! and quickly move it behind him again before he can follow where it went; give him lots of praise when he doesn’t look at it again immediately.
Gradually increase the distance between yourself and your pup until you can hold something directly over his head without him looking up at it; repeat with different items that interest him.
Take your dog up and down a flight of stairs while giving him commands such as Forward, Left or Right. Try running up and down several flights of stairs with your pup to build endurance.
Bonus: The top-to-bottom exercise will also build his core strength. If you have no stairs in your home, get creative; perhaps even use a sturdy sofa or table to mimic steps.
Your pooch might think that’s just plain fun! (Teacup puppies might be too small to attempt stairs without assistance.)
3) Clothesline Game
A clothesline game is one of many dog toys you can use to challenge your pup’s brain. These aren’t very difficult, but they are fun!
For these games, you will need a sturdy laundry line and some treats. This activity is best played outside or on hardwood or tile flooring that won’t be damaged by dog claws. Lay out a long piece of clothesline from one end of your room (or yard) to another so it creates an even playing field.
Place several dog treats along one side about two feet apart. Instruct your furry friend to retrieve each treat in order. As he gets better at retrieving them, gradually place them farther apart.
To keep things challenging, only give him 10 seconds before moving on to treating again as soon as he brings back his last reward.
3) Tug of War
Many pet owners don’t realize how much their dog is capable of—and brain games are a great way to challenge your pup.
One popular brain game for dogs involves tug-of-war; have your dog sit on one side of a toy and you sit on the other. With both sides holding onto an end, play with him by gently pulling back, encouraging him to pull against you.
You can also try tugging from different angles or letting go in different ways so he has to rethink his strategy each time (for example, by shaking your hand off after he pulls).
5) Hide & Seek
Teaching your dog to play hide and seek can be a fun game that both you and your dog can enjoy.
Whether you’re looking to have a little fun with Fido, or you’re looking to increase his mental stimulation through brain games, here are some tips on teaching your pup how to play hide-and-seek.
But remember: not all dogs will naturally know how to play—so if yours seems confused or uninterested, don’t worry. It might just take more time and practice to get him up to speed. !
6) Puzzle Toys
Puzzle toys are a fun way to keep your dog busy at home. If you’re going to be gone during waking hours, try leaving your dog with a new puzzle toy as an alternative to pacing around your house.
Puzzle toys, such as treat-dispensing toys or food-dispensing toys, also help strengthen bond between owner and pet by keeping dogs busy in their free time.
Balls are a simple toy that provides plenty of entertainment. Whether you play fetch with a ball or use it to entertain your pup, balls are an excellent choice to keep your dog engaged.
A good ball should be light enough that you can throw it without too much effort, but heavy enough to stay put when your dog has it in his mouth.
Most dogs prefer smooth-surface balls; they find ones with bumps or ridges hard to grip and won’t know what to do if there’s a squeaker inside.