Dog enrichment? Keep Your Pups’s Mind Engaged With Smart Games

Last April, in honor of Canine Fitness Month, we discussed the importance of mental exercise, in addition to physical activity. If you’re looking for fun ways to keep your pet’s mind engaged, smart games are a great choice for dog enrichment. We had a blast testing some out on the pooches at Communications HQ. It’s difficult to say who had a better time: us or the dogs!

Mental challenges are good for dog enrichment

Dogs grow bored with routine just like we do, and, in their case, it often results in unwanted behaviors like chewing or barking. Even simple challenges engage your dog’s senses and exercise skills like attentiveness, problem-solving, and memory.

Successful dog enrichment depends on what motivates your pup: food, attention, exercise, toys, all of the above? Just experiment and be prepared for some trial and error. Remember the goal is to have fun. If either of you gets frustrated, take a break.

Let the smart games begin!

Many canine brain games are quite simple and best enjoyed in short sessions. They run the gamut from learning a new trick to playing with a treat dispensing toy. For our test, I chose activities we could put together with household items and minimal set up.

We had good luck matching games to our doggy testers, with one exception: Sophie. Sophie, a shepherd mix, is  smart and independent. While I’ve no doubt she could have aced any game, we underestimated her interest in a play context. She politely tried our makeshift agility course, then bounded away to investigate a squirrel’s burrow. A sniffy walk or training in a formal setting would be more her style.

Homemade agility course

Herbie, a high-strung terrier mystery mix, thrives on praise and attention. His housemate, Steve, a senior bichon, enjoys working to task. Both relished the agility challenge we made with dog-safe objects from the yard. I lured them over, around, and under obstacles with small treats. They learned fast. For Herbie, soon attention and praise would be reward enough.

We could have extended the course with still more challenges. Herbie was so excited that he couldn’t help zooming around the yard afterward!

Muffin tin puzzle 

Steve’s sight and hearing are growing dim, but his focus and sense of smell are going strong. He loved the muffin tin puzzle. The assortment of balls offered an array of textures, and he learned to move the balls with his nose and paws to access the treats beneath. Each success motivated him to continue.

Treasure hunt

Lucy, a pittie mix, was our most food-motivated tester and best suited for a treat treasure hunt. Once she understood our intent, she quickly found the first box. It was exciting to see her nose work downwind of the scent. Our only issue was helping her understand that there were several boxes hidden. The garden setting made this more advanced; for a simpler version, try indoors.

Our dog enrichment afternoon ended with a cup-&-treat memory game

We gave Herbie a shot at this game, but sustained focus isn’t his strong suit.

Lucy, however, watched intently as I dropped part of a greenie into one of three cups. I then shuffled all three on the board. I had rubbed each cup with the treat, so she would have to use her sight and memory to succeed. She clearly followed the location of the treat but wasn’t sure what we wanted her to do about it. Teaching her to point with her nose or paw would take this game up a notch.