10 Awesome Dog Mental Stimulation Games To Keep Your Dog Busy

A golden retriever wearing a pair of red glasses
(Photo: MeghanBrowning/Getty Images)

Here are 10 dog mental stimulation games. My dog loves them, and hopefully, yours will too.

I spent an entire day conducting thorough research on the best mental stimulation games for dogs. Many internet sites do a poor job of outlining exactly what you’ll need and how to play these games. I set out to change that with this article.

Continue reading to learn how to play these games and why they are good for your dog’s mental health.

1. Find The Treat

The goal of this game is straightforward. All you have to do is hide some treats under a cup. Your dog tilts or pushes the cup to one side to find the treats.

What you’ll need:

  • Any little cover, such as a small drinking cup
  • A giant thick towel or a large rug
  • Bag of treats

How the game is played:

  1. Place the rug on the floor.
  2. Place some treats on the rug and cover them up with your cup. They should still be visible, so your dog knows where to look to find them.
  3. Finally, give your dog time to look for the treats.

It sounds simple, right, well not quite. There are many other ways to make this game more difficult for your dog.

One method is to flatten the rug so that the rewards are not immediately visible. This way, your dog won’t be able to tip the cup over as easily. If it’s still too simple, try it on a completely level surface and see how they do. Consider using much larger covers, such as kitchen bowls or containers. Use buckets or baskets to make it even more interesting. It won’t be as simple as reaching out a paw and tipping the cup over this time, as your dog will have to dig deep inside its trick bag to get the rewards.

Use a variety of small, medium, and large covers for the ultimate challenge to see what your dog can do. Mentally challenge your dog by starting easy and then increasing the difficulty as your dog learns how to play the game.

2. Go Fish

Make sure that your dog pulls gently (Photo: SolStock/Getty Images)

What is that saying? You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. So basically, if your dog doesn’t pull, he won’t be able to get the treats. Simply put, your dog must tug on a string or rope to get the bag full of snacks.

What you’ll need:

  • 15-inch-long piece of rope or cord
  • A bag with enough treats and a place to tie the rope.
  • Furniture with a small space between it and the floor
  • Treats

How the game is played:

  1. Attach the rope/cord to your bag.
  2. Fill the bag with snacks.
  3. Place the bag under the furniture.
  4. Keep an eye on your dog as they attempt to figure out how to get the treats closer to them.

Again, like with any game you play with your dog, make the first few times as easy as possible. Your dog must understand that the treats are attainable. As you progress, move the bag back to make it more difficult. I’ve seen with my dog that this can be a challenging game. Don’t be scared to lend a helping hand to your dog.

If the game is too easy for your dog, consider other variations of the game. Try putting the cord and bag in a large horizontal container, such as a bucket. If your dog is getting too skilled at the game, consider placing it on a raised platform, such as the kitchen counter, or loosely tying it up on your garden fence. This variation may require a jump from your dog. My dog had to, but he was too small; so larger dogs may find it far more straightforward.

3. The Name Your Toy Game

Try this game with as many toys as possible (Photo: Anda Stavri Photography/Getty Images)

My dogs’ favourite game is definitely the name game. He hasn’t fully grasped it yet, but he sure enjoys it. “Or at least the treats he receives.” Unlike the other two games, this game focuses on your dog’s memory and will help them develop their skills.

Start by using your dog’s favourite toy to keep the game interesting for them. Give that toy a name and place it on the floor a safe distance away. Request that your dog retrieve it by using the specified word. Do this several times.

When your dog retrieves the toy, make sure to praise and reward him. By doing this, your dog will begin to associate the toy with that exact name.

You can then take it further by arranging the toy among other toys and uninteresting objects. Is your dog able to recognize the toy by its name? If they are, repeat the procedure with another toy. Now, arrange both toys amongst other items. Can your dog tell the difference? Once your dog has mastered one toy, move on to the next. Dogs can learn between 150 and 250 words, making this is a game they can play repeatedly.

4. Remove The Lid

A small puppy dog trying to open up a yellow box with treats inside
Use containers of all shapes and sizes (Photo: Gary Sweetman / Alamy Stock Photo)

The goal of this game is for your dog to figure out how to open a container in order to get the treats inside.

What you’ll need:

  • A box with a detachable cover
  • Delicious treats

How the game is played:

  • Place the box without the lid on the floor.
  • Place treats inside the box in front of your dog; so they know where to find them.
  • Replace the cover loosely on the box so that your dog can still see the treats.
  • Allow your dog to try and open the box.
  • When they lift the lid, praise them.

Once again, at its essence, this game is simple. However, it can be made much more difficult with outside-of-the-box thinking.

The lid can be placed in various ways, including diagonally or totally closing the box. Both will require your dog to use different techniques to obtain the treats. You could even experiment with combining everyday objects. Consider combining different sorts of containers with various types of lids. Whichever option you choose in the end will surely be a challenge to your dog.

5. The Which Hand Game

The which hand game will put your dog’s sense of smell to the test. It’s a game that a lot of dogs pick up on quickly.

How the game is played:

  • Get down on your knees and instruct your dog into a sit-stay position.
  • Hold out both of your clenched fists; one should be holding a treat.
  • Encourage your dog to pick a fist. If your dog chooses the right hand, give him the treat. However, if your dog is incorrect, play the game again. correct

I recommend holding a reward in both hands; so your dog understands the game. Do this a few times in the beginning. Once they’ve figured out how to play, you can start holding a reward in one hand.  Use strong-smelling treats to make it easy for your dog.

You might even wish to play the game in a certain way, such as only having your dog get the treat if they play the game with their paw. Make it clear to your dog that this is what you want them to do. It is entirely up to you how you modify this basic yet effective game to make it more difficult for your dog.

6. Treasure Hunt

A dog digging in the ground
(Photo: Capuski / Getty Images)

The goal of this game is to hide an object in different places and let your dog try to find it.

How the game is played:

  1. Hide the object somewhere in the room while your dog isn’t looking. As usual, start obvious and gradually increase the difficulty as your dog becomes more adept.
  2. Use a cue to get your dog to start looking for the item. Because your dog has no idea what to look for, you will have to join in the hunt as well.
  3. When they find the object, praise them.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3, hiding the object in different places each time.

Your dog will eventually figure out what the game is all about. You won’t have to play such an important role in helping your dog by then. The more you let your dog to play treasure hunt on their own, the more confident they will become with the game.

7. Hide & Seek

A young girl playing hide and seek with her golden retriever
(Photo: Jetta Productions/Walter Hodges/Alamy Stock Photo)

I’m sure you loved playing hide and seek when you were younger. It will be the same for your dog. Hide and seek requires your dog to utilize its sense of smell to track you down by detecting your scent.

How the game is played:

  1. Ask your dog to get into a sit-stay position. You may require the assistance of a family member to calm your dog’s excitement.
  2. Find a suitable hiding place.
  3. Call for your dog.
  4. When they find you, praise them for a job well done.

Hide and seek doesn’t get any more sophisticated than this. However, because it is so simple, your dog will love it.

8. Bring Your Bowl

A dog standing with its silver slow feeder bowl in its mouth
(Photo: James Brokensha Photography/Getty Images)

“Bring your bowl” is a simple yet powerful game. Before you begin, make sure your dog understands the command “take it.”

Initially, you want to teach your dog to take their bowl from your hands and carry it 5 to 10 meters away to other places. Repeat until your dog can take their bowl from you without fuss. The ultimate goal is for your dog to be able to fetch its bowl from wherever it is and carry it to its eating spot. Having your dog collect its own bowl teaches them to think for themselves. This game will act as a stepping stone, teaching your dog to perform many more tasks independently.

9. Body Language

As dog owners, we must understand our dog’s body language. When their tails wag or their ears perk up, we need to know what they’re trying to say. But what if we flipped the script a little? Instead of using verbal commands, consider communicating with your dog solely through actions.

It is critical that you keep it basic, but more importantly, consistent. Don’t use two distinct actions to carry out the same command. You’ll confuse your poor dog. Consistency ensures that your dog understands what you want. The absence of verbal commands will help your dog focus on what you want to teach them.

It’s essential to understand that this isn’t something your dog is wholly unfamiliar with. You’re re-teaching your dog what they already know, but with a tiny twist.

10. Shell Game

An owner and their dog playing a game with small plastic cups
Encourage your dog to use their paw when they pick a shell (Photo: Photoboyko/iStock)

The shell game will put your dog’s problem-solving skills to the test.

What you’ll need:

  • 3 “Shells” or cups
  • Of course, there are treats.

How the game is played:

  1. Place the three cups or shells on a level table.
  2. Use the sit command to get your dog to sit and focus.
  3. Place a treat under one of the cups. Make sure you do it in front of your dog so that they know which cup to follow.
  4. Shuffle the cups gently and slowly.
  5. Encourage your dog to seek out the cup with the treat underneath.
  6. If they choose the correct cup, praise and reward them.
  7. Repeat the process as long as your dog is interested in playing.

So What Now?

Those are some of my favourite brain games to play with my dog. What are yours? Check out our article on other fun games you can play with your dog.

Further Reading