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There are lots of objectives when it comes to training your dog. Beyond the obvious skill- and relationship-building aspects, training also challenges your dog and ultimately makes them smarter. And who says brain games for dogs can’t be fun?

Beyond basic obedience training, there are also plenty of fun brain games for dogs and interactive dog toys that will be mentally stimulating and entertaining — for both of you! Read on to learn about several games and activities that will greatly benefit your dog.

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 lure (phasing out using the reward) until you can use a hand signal and a verbal command to ask your dog to look at you.

Alaskan Klee Kai head portrait outdoors with different color eyes.
I_AM_JASON/Getty Images Plus

Not only does this basic behavior help you get your dog’s attention when they’re 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.”

Switch Up Your 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. You can also try walking somewhere completely new to challenge your dog even more.

Before exposing your dog to a new walking environment, make sure that area is safe for both of you. Exposing your dog to new sights, smells, and sounds will throw them for a loop, so you want to make sure that they’re paying attention to you and following your lead.

Hot and Cold Game

The “hot and 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. If your dog moves away from the hidden reward, use a calm tone to indicate they are getting “colder.” Use a more excited tone for “hotter” as your dog gets closer to the hidden treat. This game can improve listening skills. It also helps build the special “language” shared by you and your dog.

Snuffle Mat

Looking for a way to engage your dog? A snuffle mat is a perfect item for curious dogs. This large, interactive nose work mat provides hours of mental stimulation and fun for your pet.

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, then 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 them to tug on the string to retrieve the treat.

Dachshund sniffing at a potted plant on the porch.
RNEDDEER/Getty Images Plus

Reasoning skills are essential for developing puppies and older dogs alike. Successful problem-solving is also a big confidence booster.

DIY Interactive Treat Game for Dogs

Use plastic storage bowls that nest inside each other. The bowls should either be the same size or ones that decrease in size (go from larger 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 increase the level of difficulty by adding more containers.

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 them in the wooden base. Put treats in two of the bottles and watch your dog try to get the treats from the bottles. Make sure your dog doesn’t try to eat or chew the bottles.

Dog Puzzle Toys

Similar to the games above, there are a variety of puzzle toys available. These will be especially exciting if your dog is motivated by food. The objective of a puzzle toy, of course, is to have them use their brain to earn the reward. These interactive toys can improve your dog’s memory, as well as teach them to focus on a specific task for a period of time.

DIY Dog Agility Course

Agility can be a mentally and physically stimulating brain game for your dog. You can easily make an obstacle course out of common household objects that are safe for dogs, or buy a dog agility set.

©Sabine Glässl -

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 that they won’t even realize you’re training them!

If you find your dog is truly excelling at this activity, you may consider getting them involved in this fun dog sport.

Play Hide and Seek With Your Dog

This isn’t just a kids’ 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.

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 it 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 brain games for dogs and others strengthen not only your dog’s mind but your bond with your dog.

Related article: DIY Cognitive Dog Toys for When You Are Stuck at Home
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