5 Mind Games For Your Agility Dog

mind games for dogsThere are two different kinds of games to play with your dog, physical and mental. The big bonus is when the two are combined such as they are in dog agility. However, the weather and time changes don’t always allow for both to happen and we find we only have room enough to play mind games. If you have carpet you may be able to do some fetching or simple jump combinations, but you never want to do either on slick flooring as it could cause muscle, tendon or ligament damage as they slip and slide around. And believe it or not, good interactive brain games not only keep boredom at bay, they will also tire out your energetic dog, increase confidence, and strengthen the bond between you and your dog as you work together as a team.  Similar to kids games these 5 games will provide endless possibilities to keep you and your dog from going stir-crazy.

Muffin Tin and Tennis Balls
This game can be bought in many different shapes and sizes but the idea is the same. It encourages your dog to use his nose to find hidden treasures while stimulating his brain by teaching him to use his sense of smell. It will take some teaching time to show your dog how the game works but then it time to sit back and enjoy watching your dog’s mind work.

If you do not want to buy a toy you can use a muffin or cupcake tin to suit your dog’s size.  Tennis balls for dogs now come in sizes from grapefruit all the way down to cherry tomato size as do muffin and cupcake tins.  Either way you will need to set the dog up for success by making it “easy” for them to get the treat the first few times.  You may even need to show them how to move the ball out of the way.  Then mix up the treats, varying from kibble to jackpot treats such as cooked chicken.  Don’t fill every pocket either, it is more of a hide and seek game.

Treasure Hunt
Another great game that you can make progressively harder as your dog gets better is a Treasure Hunt.  Once again your dog is going to need to use their nose to get the prize.  In the beginning you will show your dog how the game is played by letting him see where you hid the treat while he waits on a stay.  Release him and if he has trouble, don’t be shy about helping him find it those first few times.  When he gets the idea you will want to start hiding them where he cannot see you.

Other ways you can increase difficulty is to put more than one treat in a room, hid them in increasingly more rooms and place them where other scents mask the treat or toy, like the bottom of the laundry bin or under the food dish. Another variation is to use cardboard boxes. Set up several cardboard boxes of different sizes and, without your dog seeing, place the reward in only one box. Let your dog investigate all of them and provide the reward or a jackpot treat when he selects the correct box. You can even nest the boxes with the treat in a paper towel or toilet roll.  This game has limitless possibilities that can keep you busy for years.

This game can be a riot to play with your dog, but don’t get too hard too fast or your dog will give up.  It is helpful to play this game with two people to be sure your dog stays ready while you hide.  They can also “help” the dog if it looks like they are losing interest.  Be sure to take a tasty treat with you as a reward for the find and additional scent for your dog to pick up on.  If you dog has a solid stay and recall then feel free to go it alone.  Be sure to play when your dog is alert and not during nap time or your dog may give up on the game and take a snooze instead.

Shell Game
This game can be started real easy by just using your hands and only rewarding for a touch to the correct hand with the nose or foot.  If your dog chooses the wrong hand be sure to open it and show them there is nothing inside.  Then close it again and wait for them to touch the correct hand.  In the beginning be ready with a jackpot reward after they receive the treat in your hand.

To play the popular version of the shell game you simply take three opaque containers, place them upside down and with your dog watching, place a treat under one of the containers.  You can either allow the dog to turn the cups over or teach them to touch it with nose or foot.  Make it easy for him at first then when he gets the idea you can “shuffle” the cups before you ask him to identify the correct one.  Start with simply moving the cup with the treat from the right to the left.  No matter if he chooses correctly or not, be sure to turn the cup over and let him see.  Some dogs may never grasp the concept of “following” the treat while you move them so keep the game geared to your dog’s ability.  It should be fun not discouraging for them.

You can also play this game with small containers with small holes placed in the lids so the scent can come out.  The same routine as with your hands will be followed with the containers except you can reward the touch first then open the container for the jackpot reward.  You can make this game harder by using more containers or spacing them out requiring our dog to sniff each one before coming back to the correct container.

Treat Roll Up
This activity is often used in the training of other tricks such as “wipe your feet,” but is a simple, fun and stimulating game on it’s own as well.  You just need a treat and a small rug or towel.  In the beginning you can let your dog watch you place the treat in the rug as you wrap it up in different ways challenging your dog to really hunt for the treat.  If your dog gets frustrated you can make it easier by making only one or two folds around the treat and then giving them a jackpot after they find the hidden treat.  This game really requires your dog to actively hunt for the reward and use more than his nose to retrieve it.