10 Effective Mental Stimulation Games for Dogs


Today I’m going to share 10 games that will keep your dog stimulated at home.

It’s not easy to keep your pup occupied whilst out all day, so it’s super important to ensure that you get the right tools and knowledge to make their experience fun and exciting when you’re out.

Dog walks just don’t cut it, neither will random exercise or sniffing and peeing. Over the years of owning a Golden retriever (super energetic dog), I have learned a thing or two about keeping a dog stimulated.

Back at home in the daytime when I’m off at work, my wife is looking after our little daughter.

Puppies paying with treats and toys on grass

Ways to Increase Mental Stimulation

Dog mental stimulation games aren’t anything new, although its common to find recycled information on the internet.

I’m not too much a big fan of chewing toy games or expensive puzzle box games, pups know how to smell already! These games take time to teach, but with a little help; I’ll teach you how they can be done right.

DIY Games

Do-it-yourself games are simple and easy and also teach your dog to be curious and also to listen. I went through a whole dog training course and learned a lot from the trainer. If you have time you should take-up a group course that is free at some dog obedience schools.

You’ll learn a lot in just a couple of visits. Most of these obedience schools will offer a free training day to see if you like what they are doing.

1. Obstacle course

This is super simple and you can run your dog through this in minutes. First, you go set-up one object, like a small laundry basket. Turn it upside down so the bottom is a steady base. Get your dog to jump on it, done!

Coax them at first so they know it’s ok to jump onto. They’ll do it for the treat, trust me on that. Then you use a command word like Go!

After this get your second object like an empty box on its side. Then when your dog is on the basket, call them into the box. Again with the command word and treat. When you have three objects have them start with the first object and then the second and third.

They’ll learn quickly but each time you repeat the trick, hold back on the treat until they reach the next object. Finally, give the treat reward to your dog in the end.

2. Shell Game

Who doesn’t know Three-card-Monty? I used to watch this go-down on Houston near the F-Train stop in NYC. I finally tried with my dogs, but now I’ve got a good twist on it. I use Axe body spray inside cheap Dixie cups from the Dollar store.

Under one cup you put a treat and then start your show. The body spray throws-off my dog’s noses but makes them listen for that little rattling sound. Which one is it, that’s what you tell your dog!

If your dog finds the treats, they win, right? This is a super fun game to play with dogs.

3. Counting Game

I tell you this one is pretty funny and it happened by accident. One day, I was popping one of those Fritos in my mouth and it landed on the coffee table instead. The oldest one heard it first and went to the table to investigate.

He put one paw on the table to drag it off and I told him “Just one!” and then stopped and waited. I told him OK’ and then he ate it. I think he figured out that he could ask for more by putting his paw on the table.

He did it again and waited, so I repeated the command words “Just one!”, put a down a Frito and then OK’. What do you know? He learned to do it again the next time with two paw taps. Do you get where I’m going with this game?

Exercise Games

This isn’t the old game of fetch but makes your dog learn helpful new skills. You have to start by giving them a treat when they do it, and then later your dog will do it on command. You know scientists have proved that dogs are smarter than most people give them credit for.

I wonder what my dogs think of my crazy thinking games?

4. New Trick Game

Teaching your dog a new trick not only helps with problem-solving but will also keep them mentally stimulated if they play on their own. Pick an action word like crawl or spin. You can even choose a personal emotion like sing and speak.

All it takes is patience and waiting for them to copy you. Once your dogs get it, give that little treat. Always be sure you use movements like you would in Charades. Big and loud, so they see what you want. You’ll have fun with this one.

You can even replace the treat with a toy and try it that way. Although treats work best!

5. Toy Name Game

I know you think it’s not possible, but honestly, this game works every time. Your dog will have a favorite toy. Give it a name that you repeat over and over. Teach your dog to pick it up and hold it in their mouth.

Then ask the name of that toy with your hand outstretched. They’ll learn to give you that toy by name. Use two, three, or more. Each has a name that your dog can remember.

Start with the treat when they give the right toy to you by name. Then give your dog that treat. It takes a couple of days before your dog learns the name, so it won’t happen overnight. Now my dogs can name up to 20 different toys in their collection!

6. Put Your Toys Away

Do you remember that laundry basket? I use one for the dog toys too. Only I taught my dogs to put their toys away when they take them out. Did you ever step on a squeaky knobby toy at 2 in the morning?

Ok then. Since my dogs know the name of each toy, I would wave a treat next to the basket and motion to drop the toy in. I patted my hand at the bottom of the basket repeating the words, “Put your toys away”.

I’m so glad that the snack always works since it only took a week for my dogs to learn this one. But finally, I got lucky and the dogs started to follow my command. Now my floors are toy-free every evening.

Pup in crate with muffin tin

Games for Crates

Now if you’ve ever had a dog, they don’t like going to the Vet. I know why, but I’m not saying anything.

That’s between my Proctologist and me. But, did you know you can train them to get into their crate? Most people call them a carrier and we only keep one for an emergency.

But, these are great for teaching them to enter the crate when it’s time to go somewhere quickly. This is one of those mentally stimulating games for dogs that is an absolute must.

7. Floor is Lava

My little daughter loves this game and it’s a super-easy way to get her into her bed at night. My wife thought of this for the dogs one day and wanted to see if it works. She used a sausage treat to lure the dogs into the crate yelling “Floor is Lava”.

And in one afternoon my dogs learned to get into that crate real quick. They stayed in there until they get the treat. I think for on-the-go emergencies, this could be helpful, too.

8. Until I Say

Now keeping your dogs in that crate is another story. You also need to tell your dog to stay there. When I was a kid, my sister and I used to play “Mother May I”. This is a variation of that game for dogs.

So, in a nutshell, when you get your dog into the crate, hold the treat-up and repeat “Until I say”. Your dog should stay in the crate. You can then close the crate door and feed the treat through the screen. Easy as pecan pie!

9. Say Please

This crate game takes a bit of practice but gets your dog to lay down until you open the gate. The command word is “Say Please” and your dog must remain to lay down until you open the latch.

My dogs would stand up as soon as I touched the latch. I lifted my finger in the air in defiance and stated “Say Please” until my dog went back down. Of course, it helps if you have that sausage snack in your hand too.

Finally, my dogs came around and would wait until I opened the gate to be let-out of the crate. Looking back, this was another week of fun that was worth it.

Indoor Games

When it rains, it pours; so for all those rainy days when you can’t get out. Here are some cool thinking games for your dog to keep busy. Your dog can remember a lot of things if you teach them to be curious.

If you play these games correctly, it can be a real benefit for your other chores around the house.

10. The Muffin Tray Game

Do you know this one? Here’s how I made it even better. You get a big muffin tray and place 9 tennis balls in the muffin holes. There needs to be a treat or two in the tray. The object of this game is for your dog to find the treat.

So, what doesn’t work here? Oh yes, dogs can smell! That’s where my other passion came in to help me out. I’m into making a good BBQ on Fridays, and in a pinch, I like to use a liquid smoke spray.

You give your tennis balls a squirt of that smoke spray and it throws them off that scent trail. My dogs like the smell too and seem to pick up the ball more readily to see where the treat is hidden. My treat in this game is a Frito chip.

11. Help with Chores

The kitchen is always a chore but I’m never home enough to see what happens in the day. One day I came home early to see my oldest dog giving a plastic dish to my Wife! I was blown away that my dog could do this. You can also teach your dog a variation of “Fetch”.

Put a plastic bowl on the ground and say the command “Pick it Up!”€ Your dog will be encouraged easier with a reward. When your dog picks up the bowl, outstretch your hand to take it away.

Then give the treat to your dog. This simple fetch game can make kitchen cleaning a bit easier for you.

12. Hide and Seek

If you’ve already taught your dog to stay put somewhere, you can try this game, too. Command your dog to stay and then find a hiding spot. It can be anywhere you like, but not outside the house.

Hide in a closet, or under the bed. Perhaps you can hide in the shower, or behind a bedroom door? When you’re hidden give-off a quick “ready”€ and wait for them to find you. It’s always fun to see how long it takes for your dog to find you.

Outdoor Games

I love the weekends in the spring and nothing is better than a day at the park with my wife and daughter.

We bring the dogs and try to make a half-day so it’s not too much for us. These kinds of games for puppies are best played outside where your dog gets tons of exercise. I know you’ll love playing them too.

13. The Treasure Hunt

Earlier I told you about the dog toy collection game, so this version is more like a treasure hunt. I play this in the park with my dogs and they always go-nuts trying to find all the hidden toys. Be sure that you space them evenly enough so that they’ll have a good running distance between each toy.

I give them a treat for each that goes back into the treasure chest. By the end of this game, your dog will get exercise from searching and rushing back to you for treats!

Then after you get back home, you can relax knowing your dog got a great brain workout, too. This game is perfect when the full moon is sneaking-up. It helps your dog become less stressed so they can rest easier at night too.

14. Red Means Stop, Green Means Go

Dogs are colorblind but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand command words that indicate color. In this game you make your dog sit and you slowly back away saying red means stop’.

When you are ten paces away you can then tell them green means go’ and wave a treat. Your dog will come to you at that point for the treat.

Begin again doing and repeat the game. Only this time, you can be just half of the way. Show the treat and if your dog starts, yell out to them “Red means Stop” and hide the treat. It will take a bit for them to learn to stop and stay. These two commands will teach them to start and stop for you.

15. Hot and Cold

This is another variant that you can try for your dog that is not complex but loads of fun for your dog. Hide a treat somewhere in the grass. Tell your dog to find the treat. If they go in the opposite direction tell cold’.

Help them at first with turning to the direct path of the treat and yell hot’. When they find it give your dog lots of love and attention. They will later learn that hot means the treat is close by.

This is a pretty advanced game that I saw being used to train DEA drug-sniffing dogs. These pups are excellent hunters and can sense where smells are used to mask the drug itself.

Your dog isn’t looking for drugs but will learn that they are off the scent through being told they are either near or far to a tasty snack.

Conclusion

These brain games will help you to keep your dog healthy and happy no matter if you’re at home or out. I know just how hard it can be for dog owners to manage life plus being a parent too.

It’s the very reason I write this post. You can choose from toys to treats or even other items such as tennis balls, muffin tins (I’ve seen this used before), that will help you to let your dog enjoy their time at home.

Brain games are a great way to do this whilst teaching your dog new tricks in the process. Try it yourself and see how it works out for you!

Sean

Sean is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about Golden Retrievers, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia.

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