There are lots of objectives when it comes to training your dog, but beyond the obvious skill and relationship building aspects to training, another advantage is that it challenges your dog and ultimately makes them smarter. And who says it can’t be fun?
Beyond basic obedience training, there are also plenty of fun games for dogs that will be cognitively stimulating on top of being entertaining — for both of you! Read on to learn about several games and activities that will greatly benefit your dog.
1. Teach Your Dog to Make Eye Contact
Teach your dog to give you eye contact. Hold a treat to your forehead or by your eye and ask your dog to look at you. Gradually fade the food to use a hand signal and a verbal command to ask your dog to look at you. Not only does this basic behavior help you get your dog’s attention when he is distracted, but eye contact also triggers a release of oxytocin in both you and your dog. Oxytocin is the hormone for attachment between parent and child. Scientists call these “eye hugs.”
2. Switch Up Your Dog Walking Routine
If you really want to make sure you have your dog’s undivided attention, now and again you should switch up your routine. An easy way to do this is by changing the route you typically take when you walk your dog. You can start off by going in a different direction or making a left when you normally take a right, but can also try somewhere completely new to challenge her even more.
Exposing your dog to new sights, smells and sounds will throw them for a loop, so you want to make sure that they are paying attention to you and following your lead. Make sure before exposing your dog to a new walking environment that it’s safe for both of you.
3. Hot & Cold Game
The “Hot & Cold” game uses verbal communication and vocal tone to help your dog find a hidden treat or toy. Hide a treat when your dog is not looking. Use a calm tone for colder if your dog moves away from the hidden treat. Use a more excited tone for “hotter” as your dog gets closer to the hidden treat. This game increases listening skills. It also helps build the special “language” shared by you and your dog.
4. Teach Your Dog to Solve a Problem
Let your dog figure out how to pull a string to get a treat. Tie a ribbon or small rope to a treat and hide it under a small platform or piece of furniture, far enough back so they cannot reach the treat with their mouth or paw. Encourage your dog to investigate and see how long it takes for him to tug on the string to retrieve the treat. Reasoning skills are essential for developing puppies and older dogs alike. Successful problem solving is also a big confidence booster.
5. DIY Interactive Treat Game for Dogs
Use plastic storage bowls that nest inside each other, either ones that are the same size or ones that go from large to smaller. Place a treat in the bottom container, then place the second container on top. Continue layering treats and containers. Include one treat in the top, open container to get your dog started. Be sure to do this under supervision so your dog does not try to eat the plastic containers. You can work up in level to make this more difficult, by adding more containers as your dog figures out each level.
6. Put Dog Treats in a Plastic Bottle
For this game, use plastic soda bottles, a metal rod, and a wooden base to create treats-in-a-bottle. Put three soda bottles through the metal rod and secure in the wooden base. Put treats in two of the bottles and watch your dog try to get the treats from the bottles
7. Fun and Plush Dog Puzzle Toys
Similar to the games above, there are a variety of puzzle toys available at the AKC Shop that will be especially invigorating for your dog if they’re food motivated. The objective, of course, is to have them use their brain to earn the reward. These interactive toys improve your dog’s memory, as well as teach them to focus on a specific task for a period of time.
8. DIY Dog Agility Course
This is not only mentally stimulating for your dog, but physically as well! You can easily make an obstacle course out of common household objects. Set up your dining room chairs and have your dog weave through them, or set up a broom or mop to have them jump over. Your dog will be following your cues to get through the course, but they’ll be having so much fun they won’t even realize you’re training them!
If you find your dog is truly excelling with this, you may consider getting them involved in agility.
9. Play Hide and Seek With Your Dog
This isn’t just a kid’s game! It’s a fun game to play with your dog — with you being the ultimate reward. Ask your dog to sit and stay, while you take your time finding the perfect hiding spot. When you’re ready, ask your dog to come and find you. Since dogs’ sense of smell is pretty incredible, it shouldn’t take very long for them to find you. Reward them once they discover you. Over time, you can pick more challenging spots to hide in so they have to work extra hard to figure out where you are.
10. Teach Your Dog New Tricks
Teaching your dog a new trick (whether they’re young or old) isn’t always the easiest, but it’s definitely rewarding for both of you. This is something that you may have to work on over time, but will develop attention and obedience skills. One fun one to start with is Under the Bridge. Simply sit on the floor with your knees slightly bent and use a high-value treat or your dog’s favorite toy to tempt them to move under the “bridge” your legs have made. Make sure to give them a lot of praise once they’ve accomplished the task!
Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise for a well-rounded dog. These games and others strengthen not only your dog’s mind but your bond with your canine companion. For more game ideas and to develop an individualized training plan for your dog, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by experienced dog trainers.