Exercising isn't just about daily walks. Discover games and activities that provide mental stimulation for puppies and improve the bond between you.
It’s easy to get into the habit of thinking that exercising our puppies is just about regular daily walks – and there is no doubt that our dogs need these to stay happy and healthy, but exercise time isn’t just about stimulating the body.
As your puppy grows up, they are developing their mind as well as their body. The more chances they have to engage in puppy brain games and activities where they have to problem-solve and work with you to achieve success, the better developed their brains will become. Use it or lose it!
The opportunity to exercise your puppy’s brain helps in their development and builds the bond between you. This is a fun and interactive way to have a positive impact on their behaviour and future learning – and will help with the rest of your training.
Keep reading to discover some brain games for dogs you could try!
Why are brain games for your puppy important?
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 use up excess puppy energy at a time when they can’t have enough physical exercise. For most dogs (like most humans) mental exercise can be far more tiring than physical exercise!
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, and doing very basic puppy training exercises, will prevent them from becoming bored and frustrated – and so resort to behaviours you would prefer they didn’t – such as getting fractious, chewing on your furniture or not settling.
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.
Hide and seek puppy mind games
- 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. To start with, it should be somewhere obvious like behind a chair or sofa in the same room.
- 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 games when your puppy is still young, as this helps build their recall later in life and makes finding you a great fun game.
- Once your puppy understands the idea, you can start to make your hiding places a little harder – such as in a different room.
Don’t try to ‘catch your puppy out’. The idea is that they are learning to come to you even when they can’t see you and be rewarded for that – not that you ‘win’!
Nose games for puppy stimulation
Compared to our dog’s, our sense of smell is pretty pathetic! Perhaps that is why we often forget just how important a dog’s nose is to them. Giving your puppy a chance to use their nose opens up a whole new world of games and activities for you both.
You can do these puppy stimulation games from the very first weeks of your puppy coming home. Start small in the house by setting up games where your puppy needs to use their nose to find a treat or toy. There are lots of ways to do this:
- You can take your puppy out of the room and lay a trail of treats leading to a favourite toy or even to their dinner, then let them follow it.
- You could take an old towel, scrunch it up on the floor and hide some treats in the folds (with some really obvious ones).
- Scatter some treats or kibble in a small area on the grass in your puppy-proofed garden and let your puppy hunt them out.
Encourage your puppy every step of the way – and if they look like there are getting confused or unable to find the treats, point them out until they get the hang of it.
Once your puppy is an expert at these, you can sometimes even use them to feed an entire meal.
There are loads more versions of these scent games you can discover and there are all kinds of ways to get inventive with these brain games for your dog and exercise their mind and nose. The only rule is that anything you use must be safe.
Interactive puppy toys for mental stimulation
There are plenty of toys on the market that provide a problem-solving challenge – mostly 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 complicated (and often expensive) dog puzzle toys that need a clever combination of brain, mouth and paws to get to the treats.
Homemade puppy brain toys
You don’t have to spend a fortune to make sure your puppy is getting mentally stimulated with their toys and games! You can hide treats in old toilet rolls, kitchen roll inners, small boxes, or even in an open plastic bottle (with all the lid attachments cut off). Then just encourage your puppy to work out how to get to them – and help them the first few times if necessary. Remember this is a joint effort!
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!
If you move up to more complicated toys and puzzles, don’t expect your puppy to understand these 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. And even them, stay close and praise their successes.
Brain games for puppies includes teaching them fun tricks!
Don’t think training is only about obedience – there are an endless variety of tricks and behaviours you can teach your puppy to expand their repertoire and exercise their clever brain! As your puppy develops and their training progresses, you can start to increase their learning for further mental stimulation.
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 with simple things like luring them with a suitable dog treat to turn in a circle or weave between your legs. Soon you’ll be able to do more advanced dog tricks that will amaze your friends! Make sure to take a look at our guide to see how to do this.
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.
Next, see our guide on puppy sports for those dogs with an active body and mind!