We can get into the habit of thinking that exercising our puppies is just about regular daily walks – and there is no doubt that our dogs benefit from these, but exercise isn’t just about stimulating the body.
The opportunity to exercise your puppy’s brain can help in their development and make it easier to teach them tricks and puppy commands. It’s also a fun and interactive way to bond with your puppy and improve your relationship. Keep reading to find out what games for dogs you could try!
Problem solving and mental stimulation are all about using your puppy’s natural enthusiasm for play and games, along with their hardwired behaviours and often-underestimated intelligence, to work out puzzles and learn new skills. For most puppies, using their brains in this way can stimulate them and tire them out.
Puppies are full of energy but their bodies aren’t yet fully developed, so it can be hard to give them the exercise they need to burn off all the excess energy without straining still-growing muscles, joints and bones. Playing games and puzzles will give them more exercise and prevent them from chewing on your furniture.
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There are different types of games for dogs to play, including dog puzzles to stimulate their brains and keep them active. Some will be able to turn their paw to all of them, while others will have very clear favourites. It’s up to you to discover what you and your puppy enjoy.
These can be played anywhere in the house or garden and even during your regular walks. To start this dog game, have someone to help you who can hold your puppy. Show your puppy that you have some treats, then go off and hide somewhere, ideally in a spot that’s fairly easy to find at first.
Your puppy can then be released to come and find you – and be rewarded by both the treats and being reunited with you. Start playing hide and seek when your puppy is still young, as it will improve their recall later in life and make them much more responsive to you.
Another brain game for dogs is a variation on hide and seek, where your puppy needs to use their nose to find a treat or toy. You can lay a trail of treats leading to a favourite toy or even to their dinner – and as your pup gets better at it, you can reduce the number of treats in the trail.
This game is great for puppies and can keep them entertained for ages! Hide treats (or a ball for toy-obsessed pups) under a small towel, under some cushions, in an old sock, or even under plastic flowerpots around the garden for your puppy to sniff out. There are all kinds of ways to get inventive with these brain games for your dog and exercise their mind and nose.
There are plenty of toys on the market that provide a problem-solving challenge in order to access treats. Some roll, some bounce, others move unpredictably or have cleverly moving parts, and all provide a different challenge for your puppy. These can be anything from Kong toys – that you can stuff with food which need little more than a bit of canine dexterity to hold the toy and some serious chewing - to some really complicated dog puzzle toys that need a clever combination of brain, mouth and paws to get to the treats.
Don’t expect them to understand these dog puzzles straight away. Work in partnership with them, show them what to do, and make it easy to start with until they’ve got it worked out.
You don’t have to spend a fortune though – you can hide treats in old toilet rolls, kitchen roll inners, small boxes, or even in an open plastic bottle. Then just encourage your puppy to work out how to get to them. Make sure you supervise all games with your dog and that anything you use as a homemade toy is safe to chew. Watch to make sure your pup doesn’t start pulling bits off or destroying the toy!
Having a dog who will do cool tricks like wave a paw or close the door seems like just a bit of fun. But in reality, making time for regular training sessions and dog games will give them mental stimulation and build the bond between you.
Start simple when teaching your puppy tricks and get them to spin in a circle or put their front feet on an upturned bucket by luring them with a treat. Soon you’ll be able to do more advanced tricks that will amaze your friends!
Once you start to think about working your puppy’s mind as well as their body, you start to look at every toy as a possible brain game for your dog and every walk as a chance to exercise their body and mind. Even better, at a time of life when your puppy is starting to become more independent, these enhanced interactions between you help to keep their focus on you, improve your puppy’s behaviour and training, and give you more tools to successfully navigate your puppy’s adolescence.
If you want to find out more about caring and training for your puppy, take a look at our dog activities article and discover even more fun stuff you can do together.
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