Like their owners, dogs benefit from mental stimulation – which is why putting some time and effort into brain games for dogs is so important. As dogs (and owners!) get older, they still have a large capability to learn and take on new information.
Recent experiments conducted at Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna using computer style games (sudoku for dogs!) have reinforced the benefits of giving your dog (whatever the age) mental stimulus, and it is believed that this constant training will help slow any mental decline in older dogs.
Below, we’ll share some simple brain training tips on brain training for dogs, which you can try at home to help keep your pet stimulated.
Consistency vs. intensity
Most experts are in agreement that intensity of training is less important than consistency. Just interacting with your dog three to four times a day can be enough. Remember that dogs enjoy social interaction, so any stimulus should involve you as the owner.
Age and health are also important factors. Often owners may confuse age with ability, believing their dog may have forgotten how to do a trick which it performed easily as a puppy. However, arthritis, hearing loss and other ailments associated with old age may just make those tricks difficult. For this reason, it is important to adapt tricks and the way that you approach them. For example, tapping your dog gently on the shoulder rather than voicing commands is much more effective if your dog is hard of hearing.
Dogs like problem solving
To help slow any mental decline and to stimulate a learning environment for younger dogs, you should include some variety into your regime. Simple things like changing the route of your dog walk may not feel like a mind game for a dog, but by doing this you are exposing your dog to new experiences which will aid mental stimulation. Incorporating your dog into routine chores can also help, and if you can find challenges for your dog to complete, it’s even better!
Aside from walks, you can also consider your garden. The average garden can be a bit dull for a dog (however beautiful!), with them usually more interested in what’s on the other side of the fence. Simply changing up your garden with additions such as pull toys hanging from a fence or tree, tubing or boxes to act as tunnels, can make for a new brain game for your dog (under supervision of course)!
Most dogs are motivated by food, so treats act as a great motivator when it comes to any mind games for dogs. They should always be considered as part of your dog’s daily food requirements, whilst still ensuring your dog has a healthy, balanced diet.
Think about using your dog’s meals as a method of mental stimulation. Splitting your dog’s meal and hiding it in several places (obvious places to begin with) can really help improve your dog’s brain capacity. Using toys such as the Kong that can be filled with food are a great way for your dog to exercise their brain.
5 games to help with brain training for dogs
Want to know some more brain games for dogs? Here are some of our favourites!
1. Hide and seek
This classic game is a great brain trainer for your dog. It can start really easy with you almost in sight of your dog, and you can even call them to help. By rewarding your dog when they find you with a treat, you can then start to make the search harder. Ideally, two people would play this, one to hide and one to command (“find Becky” for example). Eventually, you may be surprised how adept your dog is at finding you!
2. Ring stacker
This game is slightly harder and will take patience. Using a pole that has a stack of rings (usually a very young child’s game) you can slowly teach your dog to add a ring to the stack one at a time. Rewarding your dog each time it gets a ring on the pole will give it super encouragement to get the next one.
3. Treat under 2 cups
Like the magician’s trick, you will place a treat under one cup and nothing under the other cup. Let the dog see which cup you place it under, and then let them try and find the treat. It may well knock both cups over to begin with, but with practice, your dog will get the right cup first time. You can then advance the game by moving the cups around. This will be great brain training for your dog!
4. Toy pick up
Isn’t it nice when kids tidy up their rooms for themselves? Well, this game does the same for your dogs! Simply encouraging (with the use of a treat) your dog to collect its toys one by one and put into some form of toy box will really help your dog’s mental stimulation. Eventually you will have your dog routinely putting away all of its own toys, a win-win!
5. Red light/green light
In this game, you are encouraging your dog to listen to your commands even when it is hyper excited. Simply start by getting your dog into a stationary command like sit, wait… (this is the red light). Then have a favourite toy that gets your dog active, such as a tug toy, and start to play with your dog (this is the green light). Then after some short play, move back to the stationary command (red light) and continue like this until your dog is quickly moving between the stationary and active commands.
Brain training tips and more at Oscar & Hooch
We’ve discussed our top tips on brain training for dogs, so now it’s time to try them out for yourself! Which brain training game would work best for keeping your dog healthy and stimulated?
Brain Training for Dogs FAQs
How do I make sure my dog is mentally stimulated?
Interactive toys are a great way of exercising your dog’s brain by letting them chew, lick, sniff and explore.
At what age is a dog’s brain fully developed?
Generally, a dog’s brain is not fully formed until they are around 2 years of age. Socialisation and continued training is especially important in those first two years.
Which breeds are the easiest to train?
Border collies, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and Golden retrievers are among the easiest breeds to train.