You may recognize the adage in our title: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” It usually relates to a skill that a human possesses.
For example, if you don’t regularly use the algebra you learned in 9th grade, chances are you’ve completely forgotten it.
This is because when you learn something, a connection is formed in your brain.
When you revisit that same topic again later, you’re accessing that same connection — and strengthening it each time. But if you don’t revisit it, the connection becomes weak.
This also applies to dogs.
Several studies have shown that trained and stimulated animals have bigger brains with more connections and complexities than untrained and unstimulated animals.
If you stimulate an animal’s brain, they make connections. If you don’t, their brain doesn’t have anything to make connections with — so their brain doesn’t grow.
So how do you help your dog’s brain develop and grow?
How Do You Mentally Stimulate A Dog?
You provide them with unique experiences.
You give them problems to solve.
You create a stimulating environment for them.
Thankfully, there are several creative ways of doing this.
Homemade Brain Games For Dogs
Here are a few ways to introduce dog brain games at home:
#1 – DIY Dog Agility Course
You may have seen it online, or even at a dog show — those super-quick working dogs jumping over obstacles and equipment, incredibly trained and doing exactly what their handler asks of them.
You can do the same with your dog!
If you can get your hands on some basic equipment, then you can turn your backyard garden into your very own dog agility course.
DIY Dog Agility Equipment Ideas:
- A kid’s play tunnel (big enough to allow your dog to pass through)
- Small cones with half-circle cut outs at the top
- Garden bamboo canes
- Hula hoops
- Garden stool
- Low table
- Cat carrier
- Pop-up laundry hamper
Fun Ways To Use These Items:
- Set a cat carrier or low stool as obstacles for your dog to jump over.
- Hold a hula hoop vertically and encourage your dog to jump through. (Start by holding it very low to the ground.)
- Place bamboo canes on top of the cones to make your own dog jump.
- Dig the bamboo canes into the ground vertically to create weave poles. Teach your dog to go in and out of the poles in order.
- Place a hula hoop on the ground. Teach your dog to sit/stop/lay down inside of the hoop and remain there until given a signal.
- Place a tunnel-like object on the ground (like a pop-up laundry hamper). Encourage your dog to enter the tunnel (throw a ball or treat inside), making sure that they can see the way out. Once they become confident passing through a short tunnel, that’s when you can create a curve in the tunnel… or make it longer!
#2 – DIY Flyball Game For Dogs
If your dog loves a tennis ball, then this will be a brilliant game!
While, not technically full blown Flyball, you can still create your own style of Flyball in your backyard.
You simply need to create some hurdles in your yard. For example, if you have some cones that you can place bamboo sticks on to create low jumps, that would be perfect.
How To Do It:
The idea is to get your dog over the hurdles, to the tennis ball, retrieve the ball, and then go back over all the hurdles again.
Start by encouraging your dog over the hurdles.
- You can lure with a toy or a treat, until they get the hang of it.
- If you have a helper holding the tennis ball at the end of the run of hurdles, that will naturally be a pull for your dog.
- If you don’t have a helper, you can encourage your dog over the hurdles and then at the last one, throw the ball for them to retrieve.
It’s not the real thing, unless you have a team of dogs running and competing at once — but it’s super fun having your own fun dog game in your backyard!
#3 – Dog Hide And Seek Game Variations
Hide and Seek is one of the most popular brain games for dogs. It’s perfect for all dogs.
Variation 1: You simply hide their toys and/or treats around your house. At first, your dog may need to watch where you hide them. But eventually they will understand they need to sniff the treasure out and find them on their own!
Variation 2: You can even play human hide and seek. This is a great game if you have kids or grandkids. To extend on this game even further, you could also play a tennis type (back and forth) hide and seek game with your dog. Here’s how:
- Ask the kids to hide and call the dog.
- The dog will find them.
- The kids should reward the dog and say, “Seek!” (to label the behavior).
- If another kid is hiding somewhere, they will shout, and when the dog finds them, they reward the dog and say, “Seek!”
- Eventually, you should get to the stage where all the kids can hide and the dog will go seek them, as soon as they hear the word “Seek!”
The Bottom Line
To keep your dog’s mind active, you just need to expose them to new and unique experiences.
We hope these homemade brain games for dogs have given you some food for thought. Get creative and have fun with your dog!
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Our guest contributor, John, is the founder of All Things Dogs. He’s a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, a graduate in Animal Behavior and Welfare, and a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association of America.
I like to help Dog Parents find unique ways to do things that will save time & money — so I write about "outside the box" Dog Tips and Dog Hacks that most wouldn't think of. I’m a lifelong dog owner — currently have 2 mixed breed Golden Aussies that we found abandoned on the side of the road as puppies. I've always trained my own dogs and help friends train theirs, as well. Professionally, I worked at a vet and have several friends who are veterinarians — whom I consult with regularly. (And just because I love animals so much, I also worked at a Zoo for awhile!) I've been sharing my best ideas with others by blogging full-time since 1998 (the same year that Google started… and before the days of Facebook and YouTube). My daily motivation is to help first-time dog owners be better prepared from the first day your new puppy enters your home. I like to help dog owners understand what's 'normal' and what you can expect in terms of living with and training your dog — how to get through the ups & downs of potty training, chewing, teaching commands, getting your dog to listen, and everything else that takes place during that hectic first year! When I'm not training, walking, grooming, or making homemade treats for my dogs, you will find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites). To date, I've written over 500 articles for dog owners on this site!