Dog plays the cup game with owners with brain games for dogs

11 Fun Brain Games to Keep Your Dog Mentally Stimulated


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Your dog may love chasing after a not-so-fuzzy-anymore tennis ball or showing his strength in a game of tug, but his body isn't the only thing that needs daily exercise. Brain games for dogs help keep your pup mentally stimulated, which is just as important as physical exercise. Enrichment activities are proven to beat boredom, reduce stress, and reinforce socialization practices in dogs. Think about it: Is a dog more likely to become destructive if they're bored and anxious, or if they're mentally exhausted and calm?

Dogs are intelligent animals that are just as much brain as they are brawn. Luckily, there are countless enrichment games you can play with your pooch to keep his frontal lobe fired up. Many of these brain games are free and easy to put together at home, plus a few you can purchase ready-made online.

Take some time to teach your furry best friend one of these fun and mentally stimulating brain games for dogs. You'll thank us later!

1. Hide and Seek

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You spent hours playing this as a kid, and now it's time to pass the baton on to your dog.

To play, tell your dog to stay while you go and hide. When you're ready, yell out, "Ready or not here you come!" Or maybe a simple, "Find me!" will work better.

Your dog should use his ears and nose to seek you out.

Like many of these activities, this one requires that your dog knows a few simple commands like "stay" and "come", but playing hide and seek with your pup will be well worth the effort. As an added bonus, you don't need to buy anything for this game!

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2. Treasure Hunt

dog with nose in pile of wood playing brain games for dogs

Dogs rely on their noses more than any other sense, and their powerful sniffers make the treasure hunt game fun for both you and your dog.

Find something extra smelly that your dog loves, like a Kong full of peanut butter or his favorite old toy. Show him the treasure, and then tell him to sit and stay while you go and hide it.

Say, "Find it!" and watch as he follows his sense of smell to the hidden treasure. If your dog is easily distracted, this might take a few attempts and guidance, but stick with it and you'll be playing in no time!

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3. The Cup Game

You've probably seen this game played in movies by rough-handed hustlers, but here's the doggy version for great mental stimulation.

Line up three old cups on the floor in front of your dog. Hide treats or some tasty kibble under one cup. Let your dog watch as you move the cups around, and give him the treat when he picks the right cup. You can even play this game with your cat if you also have a feline friend.

4. Red Light Green Light

brain games for dogs

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Brain games for dogs don't have to be complicated! Red light green light is a great game for dog training, specifically for dogs who get a little too excited during playtime and need to learn impulse control. Nothing does that better than good, old fashioned physical exercise!

To play with your dog, replace "green light" with "come" and "red light" with "stay." This brain game is perfect for excitable puppies who need to learn that there's a time and a place to zoom around the house!

5. The Name Game

Your dog already recognizes words like "ball," "treat," and "walk." To play the name game, all you have to do is teach him a few more.

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The bigger his vocabulary, the more fun the game is. Tell him the name of an object (or person) and watch in delight as he seeks it out. Not all pooches will take to this immediately, but persistence is worth it. If your pup is particularly talented, you can teach him to bring newspapers, blankets, and more household items this way. Who needs house robots when you have a great dog?

6. 52-Toy Pick Up

german shepherd dog with toy in mouth

When things get messy around the house, you don't have to be the only one to clean things up. With this game, your dog will learn to keep the house tidy without human assistance.

This is a fun way to teach your dog to pick up things like his toys or your dirty laundry. Once he picks up an object, teach him to deposit it in a designated location. "Retrieve" and "drop it" will be your best friends with this simple game. As a bonus, you've got a house helper now!

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7. New Trick

two small dogs at counter begging for food

The new trick game is kind of like dealer's choice. Instead of telling your dog to roll over, say, "new trick!"

He should sit, lay down, rollover, or do whatever else he thinks will impress you enough to make that treat go from your hand to his mouth. The more you play, the more challenging the game is. Don't let him repeat new skills!

8. Treat Toys

The next time you buy your dog a new surprise, make it either a ball or a toy that comes with a treat pouch.

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Your dog will know there's something tasty hidden within his new brain game, but he'll have to use his noggin to get it out. There are several variations of this, and they even make some versions for cats! When your dog figures out one type of toy, grab another one and make him learn the new puzzle. This enrichment activity is great for food-motivated pooches.

9. The Muffin Tin Game

Many brain games for dogs require a purchase, but this game is easy to throw together without running out to the store. This beginner brain game can be set up using things you have lying around the house.

Dig out an old muffin tin and place some smelly treats in a few of the holes. Cover all of the holes with tennis balls or some other kind of toy, and let him figure out how to remove the toys to get to the good stuff. They sell games like this online, but nothing's more satisfying than saving money with a DIY version. Frugal and fun!

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10. Puzzle Games

dog playing with puzzle game on carpet

Doggy treat puzzle games are effective ways to stimulate a canine genius's brain training. Trixie Dog Toys is a company that makes puzzles that require dogs to flip lids, turn knobs, open drawers, and lift up cones to uncover hidden treats.

Both you and your dog will have a blast playing these simple mind games. You'll battle boredom, improve his confidence, and reinforce your already strong bond.

11. Hide N' Slide Puzzle Toy

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This top-rated dog puzzle teaches problem-solving by using your dog's food and treats. It's a more advanced mentally-stimulating game, so keep this toy in mind if your dog needs some enrichment past an intermediate level. If you're looking for something easier, try levels one or two. This game teaches your dog how to get the toy to dispense his treats. If this one is too hard, you can start with an easier one and work your way up.

Remember to take it slow and make sure your dog understands the rules of any new enrichment activity. Brain games for dogs should be fun for both owner and pup. (No one likes a cheater!) Also keep in mind that some of these games might take some additional training on your part. While many dogs learn quickly, some might need some basic training to enjoy these games to their fullest.

Know any fun brain games for dogs? Let fellow dog owners know at our Wide Open Pets Facebook!

Editor's Note: Products featured on Wide Open Pets are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

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READ MORE: Purrfect Cat Games: 10 Ways to Prevent Boredom & Destructive Behavior

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