Expecting your dog to settle at home with no mental stimulation or time to play, is a little like expecting a toddler to sit still for hours on end. It can lead to restlessness, destructiveness and attention seeking behaviour. As intelligent as they are, our dogs need plenty of mental and physical stimulation in order to feel balanced and happy.
Thinking up games for your dog to play at home can be challenging, but really it's just as important for them to play and engage in brain games, as it is for them to walk outdoors each day. A search for dog games online leads owners to all manner or different ideas, and it can be a little overwhelming.
Here we've gathered 10 unusual and exciting brain games for you to try with your canine companion. They'll get both mind and body working, for a tired and satisfied pup at the end of the game.
What games can I play with my dog? Entertaining your pet when bored
The games you can play with your dog are endless in a sense. Dogs seem to find the most simple of objects wildly interesting, meaning that a little creativity and imagination can go a long way. Mind games for dogs are all about getting that brain ticking, so try to think outside the box for ways to entertain your furry friend. Dogs love using their noses, so have a think about what scent trails you could create around the house. Or perhaps you could scatter feed and get them to work for their dinner?
If your dog is the energetic and active type, they might be up for ball games or frisbee outdoors. A game of hide and seek is a great game to help your dog to practice their recall. In searching for you, they're coming to you, with the reward of your company and attention at the end!
What is a dog's favourite game to play?
Much like with people, each dog is an individual, and what works for one dog won't necessarily be fun for another. Some dogs will find time outdoors running and playing (think water play or digging pits) exhilarating, while the calmer, more timid dogs out there may prefer to play mind games indoors.
To find your dog's favourite game, you'll need to experiment and test their reactions. If they seem bright-eyed, alert and focused, this is a good sign. It shows they're engaged and enjoying what's going on around them.
If, on the other hand, you notice any signs of stress, this may indicate they're finding the game too challenging. Signs of stress may include:
- Yawning or lip licking
- Ears back and tail down
- Averting their gaze
- Tremling or scratching
- Moving away from the area you're playing in
If you suspect your dog is feeling overwhelmed, simply stop the game and move on to an activity you know they'll enjoy. Come back to your playtime with fresh enthusiasm and pick another option. You'll soon find the play-style that makes your dog tick.
10 fun games to play with your dog
One the classics out there, this game comes instinctively to many retrieving breeds. It's top of the list of activity games for many dogs, who learn to play from puppyhood.
You don't need to stick to the old fashioned concept of fetch with a stick, as there are now lots of chew safe options on the market. A ball or a squeaky toy can work equally well. Teach your dog to play following these simple steps.
If you feel your pup needs some help with their manners, obedience training is a great place to start. This is a great focus game for your dog, as they'll be practising listening to you as their owner and behaving as you ask them to.
This is a great training game for your dog, as it requires both concentraion and attention to their handler. Speak in an excited tone, getting your dog all wiggly and excited. Then, when you feel the moment is right, ask for a sudden sit. Reward with lots of praise and tasty treats. You'll see your dog becoming more and more focused as they learn how to play the game, hanging on to your every word for the cue, and then waiting patiently for their reward.
Obstacle course at home
If you feel your dog is in need of an activity game, why not try creating an obstacle course at home? You can do this quite simply, with cushions, books and by getting creative with your furniture. Encourage your dog to move around the course, using food to lure them gently until they get the idea. Begin with small and easy obstacles to build their confidence, gradually increasing the difficulty as they grow in ability.
If your dog loves the game of an obstacle course, you may want to try them at agility. This activity combines exercise with an enrichment and focus game for your dog. It helps build a bond with your dog, as you work hand in paw to navigate the equipment and course. This can be a great alternative to herding games for dogs with this drive, as they're focusing their energy and brain on collaborating with you, their owner.
Boredom busting toys
Puzzle games for dogs are a fantastic way to keep boredom at bay. This form of enrichment encourages your pup to use their nose and their brain to get to the food. Fun options for your dog include the wobble toy, a plastic based feeder that has to be wobbled in order to get the food out. Your dog will have to work to paw and nudge the toy onto it's side, at which point they'll be rewarded with a tasty snack. Hardwearing chew toys are also popular, as these not only entertain your dog, they can also be very good for your dog's dental hygiene and teeth.
Along the same line comes the licki mat. This is a small piece of rubber, with grooves and gaps to contain food. Your dog will have to work to get their food out of the gaps, resulting in entertainment for hours. Just remember, if you use peanut butter, make sure it's xylitol free.
Rolled up treat burrito
When it comes to homemade games for dogs, your mind is the only limit on what can be created. If you feel your dog would enjoy a scent game, perhaps it's time to try the treat burrito! Take a towel or blanket you don't mind your dog using. Place a line of treats in the middle, and roll the towel up as you would a burrito. Present it to your dog and let them sniff out the snacks... They'll love working with their nose to unroll the towel and get to the prize inside.
The crate game
Crate games for dogs are a brilliant way of helping your pup become comfortable with the space. To play this game, toss a high value treat in, leaving the door open. Your dog will run in to get the treat. Repeat this over multiple sessions, gradually placing the treat further back into the crate. You'll see your dog's confidence grow as they play the game, learning their crate results in all good things.
Take your dog on "sniffari"
As humans, we spend quite a lot of the time rushing our dogs to and from walks. We're in a hurry and want to get to the destination, but what about our dogs? For our dogs, getting to the destination is often just as exciting as the place itself. There are countless smells and interesting scents we cannot even fathom. With over 200 million olfactory receptors, being outdoors in itself is exciting to your dog. Let them walk slowly and sniff as much as they like, moving between scents at the pace they choose. This is great enrichment, and believe it or not, these kind of walks can be just as mentally stimulating for your dog as a long run around the park!
We hope this list will go some way in illustrating the variety of games for dogs out there, and the varied enrichment we can offer our four-legged friends. For a balanced, relaxed and satisfied dog, mixing up these forms of stimulation is important. A dog that only receives activity games and exercise, will still be lacking the enrichment that comes from puzzle games, scent games and brain games. Keep the options varied and your dog will thank you. As owners, it's great fun to watch your beloved canine have fun and learn new skills through play.