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In addition to helping wear off some of your dog’s seemingly endless energy, games and exercises that cause your dog to think, focus, and problem solve are excellent for banishing boredom. Plus, they help to build confidence, make training easier, and keep your pup mentally sharp.
We’re all aware of the importance of physical exercise for the health and wellness of our furriest family members. But, did you know mental exercise is equally important?
1. The Shell Game
You’ll recognize this familiar sleight-of-hand game that humans first started playing in ancient Greece. While humans used the game for gambling and to trick others, you’ll want this version to be fun, rewarding, and successful for your dog. That can’t possibly experience boredom while playing this one!
Start slow and make it easy for your dog at first. Get down on the floor with your dog. When he’s paying attention, flip a single opaque cup upside-down and let your dog watch as you place a treat under the cup. Let your dog use his nose or paw to move the cup and access the treat. Let him eat the treat and give him tons of praise, too! When you’re confident your dog understands this step, add a second cup to the mix. Then, let him watch as you place a treat under only one cup. If your dog picks the correct cup, let him have the treat. If he picks the wrong cup, lift the proper cup to show him the treat, but don’t let him have it. (You want him to learn that the game involves nosing or pawing the cup with the treat under it, not just nosing or pawing at any cup to win a prize.)
When you’re ready to move on, add a third cup. At this point, you’re simply placing a treat under one cup and allowing your dog to find the right one. After he’s mastered this level, you can make it more challenging by slowly sliding the cups into a new position. But, don’t be discouraged if sliding the cups around absolutely baffles your dog! This can be very tough for some who don’t understand why the treat magically relocated to another spot. That’s ok! Just revert to whichever level was successful for your dog and play that one—he’ll love it!
EDITOR’S TIP: You can make it easier for your dog by using bits of hot dog, cheese, or extra-smelly treats and letting him sniff around to find it. When I need super smelly treats, I use Plato Salmon Thinkers Dog Treats (or, as I call them, Stinkers)
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Hide-n-seek can be played any number of ways, all using the same principle concept of hiding something and asking your dog to find it—you can even hide yourself! Hide and seek games can be played for just a few minutes every day and can be altered every time to keep it fun and interesting for your dog.
If you play hide and seek using yourself as the hidden treat, start by asking your dog to sit and stay. Then, without him following you, hide behind a chair, in another room, or just out of his sight. Call out to your dog with a cue, like “Come find me!” Then, reward handsomely with lots of attention, praise, and treats when your dog comes to find you. Build up to more challenging hiding spots, like inside the bathtub, to keep the game interesting and to build on your dog’s problem-solving skills. In addition to beating boredom, when played often and when your dog is continually rewarded for coming to you, your “come find me” cue can be used as a recall cue if your furriest family member ever gets loose!
Another variation — one that will work your dog’s natural sense of smell — is to hide a favorite treat or toy and ask your dog to find it. This variation of the game will need to be taught, so start off very easy, “hiding” the treat or toy within sight of your dog, then working slowly toward more difficult hides. Always use a cue, like “go find it!” to let your dog know it’s time to play. And, reward very handsomely when he’s successful!
3. Snuffle Mats Can Banish Boredom
Snuffle mats are a well-known solution for slowing down dogs that scarf down their food too quickly. But, these brain-boosting mats can be used for fun and boredom-busting, too!
Snuffle mats work by encouraging dogs to use their sniffing and hunting skills to locate food or treats tucked and scattered among the fabric strips. Even if your dog doesn’t eat too fast, they’ll have a lot more fun foraging for their meal than simply eating it out of a boring bowl. And, In addition to providing mental stimulation, a snuffle mat can actually help to calm an energetic dog, too.
4. Beat Boredom with Puzzle Feeders
Food and treat puzzles are PAW-some for exercising your dog’s brain and beating bouts of boredom! Not only do they require your dog to problem solve, they’re also great for slowing down dogs that tend to eat too fast. Best of all, these types of brain games offer an instant and immediate reward for your dog’s effort, reinforcing the behavior and making it easier for them to learn and advance in their puzzle skills.
Food and treat puzzles encourage your dog to put forth effort to reach or access a delicious reward. From very simple puzzles, like a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter, to more advanced puzzles that involve moving pieces and lifting flaps, these games can be used several times a day as a reward, or during meal times to slow down dogs that scarf their dinner too quickly.
While there are a ton of amazing food and treat puzzles available, it’s easy to build your own puzzle games at home, too. A muffin pan filled with food or treats and topped with tennis balls, or an empty 2-liter bottle with small bite-sized treats inside are just two examples of D.I.Y puzzle treats — get creative!
Remember, spending just 15 minutes exercising your dog’s brain can be just as tiring for them as walking for an hour! Will you spend 15 minutes exercising your dog’s brain today?
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