According to scientific studies, the average dog has the equivalent intelligence level of a two-year-old child—and like a child, dogs are often bursting with energy and require a great deal of mental stimulation. A couple of walks each day is not enough to satisfy their busy brains, and a bored dog can suffer from mild depression or destructive behavior. Indeed, dogs thrive most when put to ‘work’ learning new tricks, skills, and concepts. Here are some stellar games for dogs that are fun, stimulating, and a great bonding experience for the two of you.
Let the games begin!
DIY obstacle course
If you don’t just happen to have an agility course in your backyard (because, really, who does?) you can be creative and make a simple obstacle course with the help of a few everyday objects, such as:
- Rolled up blankets or towels to mark a path or make a hurdle
- Milk crates, stools or boxes to sit and balance on
- Kitchen chairs to jump up on or run underneath
- Boxes with two open ends that dogs can crawl through
- Baskets, plus a pile of toys for your dog to put in the basket
- A raised pole (or broom) to jump over
- A hula hoop to jump through
- A Frisbee or ball to catch
Clear out enough space in the living room (or, weather permitting, use your backyard) so your dog can run freely without hurting herself or your valuables. Place one or two rolled-up blankets on the ground (depending on how tall or agile your dog is). Walk your dog over the jump a few times. Once she’s got the hang of it, ask her to stay at one end of the room and then call her from the other—hopefully, she will use the obstacle to get to you! If your dog perfects an obstacle, try learning a second one, like a box to hop up on.
If you’ve mastered two, you can try to link the two obstacles together into a course. Some dogs are naturals at this and some aren’t going to want to do it without consistent encouragement from you. Some of these obstacles will come more easily, so start with an easy one or a skill your dog already has (like a sit/stay on a box) and work toward a harder one. Take pictures and give your dog a big hug for her efforts—well done!
The name game
You may not think your dog actually understands you, but she probably knows more words than you realize. Let this video of Chaser (with an impressive vocabulary of over 1,000 words) inspire you. Grab your dog’s two favorite toys and give them each a simple name (rope, bear, stick, etc). Make sure there are no other toys in the room to distract her at first.
Say the name of one of the toys and throw it so she can fetch it. Repeat this a few times. Next, do the same with the other toy. Once you think your dog knows the name of both the toys, put them both on the ground and ask her to fetch one of them, using the name you have given the toy. Big rewards for her with treats and praise every time she gets it right!
Repeat this exercise over a few days, and when you get accurate results with the two toys, you can begin adding in other toys to make it trickier for your dog to identify the correct one. As an advanced exercise, hide the toy in the toy box or other hiding place and see if she can find it. If you have an extremely intelligent dog who easily gets both of the toys’ names, try introducing a few more to her vocabulary. My personal favorite is, “Find the remote.” The key to succeeding at this game is to practice, practice, practice.
Teaching your dog to discover prizes using only her nose is a great game for her body and mind. While all dogs have an excellent sense of smell, sometimes they forget to use it.
This game can get your dog excited about solving the problem of the hidden prize. Set up a small box or cup with a favorite toy, bone, or treat hidden under it. Next, encourage your dog to smell the box or cup to notice the prize within. Lift up the cup or box and enthusiastically congratulate her on her find! Let her eat the treat, fetch the toy, or indulge in the prize she found.
Soon your dog will catch on to this game, and you can add more cups to make it more challenging. As your dog gets better at this, shuffle the cups around in front of your dog and then tell her to ‘find it.’ You may need to encourage your dog to tap the cups over at first until she gets the hang of it.
Make play the reward in this game for a better bonding experience and increased mental stimulation. Not sure your dog will respond to a toy reward? Try using a new toy that you only use when playing this game.
Flirt pole exercise
A flirt pole is simply a pole or handle that has a toy attached by string or rope, much like a fishing pole. You can make your own with a dowel or stick, or buy one at the pet store. A toy with a dangly tail works especially well.
If you use a flexible cord, use a very soft and light toy with your flirt pole, and don’t allow your dog to tug on it during play. (If you attach a hard toy or even a tennis ball to a flexible cord, it might hit you or the dog hard enough that it hurts.)
Drag the object along the ground in front of your dog in a wide circle, or run with it in a straight line for a while to get her warmed up. This warm up step is really important to avoid injury, as later on the dog will be jumping and twisting.
Gradually start raising the toy off the ground while turning in a circle, keeping the toy just out of reach. If your dog becomes discouraged, make it a little easier every once in a while. Let your dog enjoy the toy for a few seconds, then have her do her “Sit” and “Leave it!”
As you become a flirt pole expert, you can get more creative with quick changes in direction and higher jumps, as long as you’re sure that your dog is making good landings and isn’t getting overly tired. Limit your time with this exercise to 5-10 minutes a session once or twice a day.
Do you have a favorite game you play with your dog?