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Creative ways to keep your dog's brain active

by Katie Stone December 16, 2020 3 min read

Dog running into a yellow agility tunnel

We know that dogs love being physically active—but their brains need a workout, too!

Mental stimulation is crucial for your dog’s cognitive function, mood, and his ability to be trained. Keeping your pup’s brain in top gear will help prevent boredom and misbehavior. And we all know how naughty dogs can be when they’re bored! 

Every dog is different, so it’s important to think about the type of activity to suit your particular pooch. You may have to experiment to see what he enjoys and what he responds to. 

Here are a few easy and creative ways to keep your dog’s brain active! 

Sniff it out

Get three or four empty boxes or plastic containers and place them on the floor. Hide a treat under one of the containers. Make sure your dog doesn’t see which one!

Tell your dog, “Find!” and show him the containers. Watch for him to sniff out the treat and be sure to reward him when he finds it!

Repeat the game, changing which container you hide the treat under each time. Your dog will have to use his nose to find it. 

Increase the challenge by stacking the boxes on top of one another or put a lid on them. This is a great way to encourage your dog to use his brain and his sense of smell.

Which hand?

This game will encourage your dog to pay attention to what you’re doing and communicate with you. Sit in front of him and show him your empty hands. 

Now, while he is watching, take a treat and place it between your palms. Rub your palms together and then quickly make your hands into fists. You will be ‘hiding’ the treat in one of your hands. 

Your pup now has the job of guessing which hand the treat is in! Encourage him to ‘show’ you which hand to open. Again, make sure you reward him when he figures it out. 

Treasure hunt

Change up your dog’s mealtimes or snack times by making it into a game! Divide your dog’s normal meal up into several smaller portions. Then, while he isn’t looking, hide each portion in a different part of the house or the yard. 

Now, take your dog on an adventure around the area, gently encouraging him to sniff out each portion. Each time your dog finds part of his ‘dinner,’ praise him and allow him to eat it up before moving onto the next hiding place. 

This is great for encouraging him to use his eyes, ears, and nose! It also makes dinner time just that little bit more fun for both of you.     

Word association

Dogs can learn words just like humans! It just takes a little patience. 

Choose a selection of your dog’s favorite toys and place them in a row on the ground. Hold each one up in front of your dog and say the name of the toy loudly and slowly. For example, “bone,” or “ball.”

Now, take each toy and hide another room. Then bring your dog into the room and say the name of the toy. 

The trick here is that you only need to repeat the command once or twice for your dog to make the association (we humans often make the mistake of repeating something over and over, which actually isn’t necessary!). 

After the first few rounds, your doggo should start catching on. You can then start adding in more toys to increase the challenge. 

Indoor agility course

You don’t have to be a professional dog trainer to create your own agility course. Simply build one out of things you have at home. 

Make a tunnel out of boxes, or build a slalom out of bottles or cushions. Get creative with leading your dog under and over different objects like blankets, furniture, or baskets. Encourage him to jump over, walk through, or crawl through a ‘course.’ Change the pattern of the course each time so that he never knows what’s coming next!

This is a fun way to keep your dog guessing. It could be quite mentally stimulating for both of you!


The article was written by Katie Stone on December 16, 2020.
Katie Stone
Katie Stone

Katie Stone is a qualified naturopath. She holds degrees in criminology, journalism, and natural medicine. Katie is a lifelong animal lover, who has a keen focus on pet health and how to treat animals with natural medicine. She writes for a wide range of online publications and loves making a difference in the lives of creatures great and small.