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Indoor Brain Games For You & Your Pup

Whether it’s bad weather, sickness (on your part) or an injury (on your pet’s part), sometimes walkies just aren’t possible. The good news is that exercising your doggo’s brain can be just as effective at wearing them out and keeping them happy. It’s super fun – but dog training also teaches them new things and helps to build their doggy confidence, too.

Here are some great games you can play with your doggo in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a bit of creativity and a handful of dog treats!

First things first

Before you start with the games, have a think about the type of activity that is suitable for your pooch. Is he motivated by dog toys, treats or praise? Does he like agility, tricks, seeking things or playing tug? And finally, does he have any health issues or does his breed affect his ability to do certain things? For example, greyhounds are notoriously unable to ‘sit’ properly for very long, a great dane probably shouldn’t learn to jump into your arms and ‘roll over’ will come more naturally to some dogs than others.

Positive-reinforcement methods ensure your dog has a fun time and helps to build a strong bond between you two. The general rules are simple: if the dog does something you want her to repeat, make it rain treats! If she messes it up, she gets no reaction at all. That way, she quickly learns what does and doesn’t work. Always use a clicker or a ‘praise word’ (the same each time) just as you give them the reward. 

Indoor agility course

This one is great fun and makes use of things you already have knocking around the house. It will work best if you have a small-medium dog, or a big house! First, get creative and think of some different ‘agility’ type activities you can set up. For example:

🐾 Doing paws up’ or ‘get up’ on a footstool

🐾 Crawling on their belly under some dining chairs or a coffee table

🐾 Weaving between some cones/water bottles

🐾 Jumping over some cardboard boxes

🐾 Getting them to do a simple trick (sit, lie down, stay) on a blanket laid out on the floor (or the sofa, if they’re allowed!)

The next step is to work with your dog on each item individually, teaching them what to do. Your pup may get overexcited, but remember: ignore mistakes, and reward progress! Be patient, especially with younger dogs; puppy training takes time and practise. You may need to break the obstacles down, for example jumping over one box first, instead of three in a row, or start with much lower boxes to jump and build up. Use a treat to lure your pupper into the right position.

Once Fido is completely comfortable with each of the separate obstacles, start to combine two into a training session… then three, then four! Soon, you’ll be able to show off your fluffy friend’s incredible indoor agility to your friends and family. And the best part is, most dogs love this sort of activity and might even feel more confident around novel obstacles when they’re out and about or in a new environment. You can also practice on things you encounter on your walks – jumping low branches, hopping up on benches etc. 

Enrichment box

This is a little more hands-off, but it’s a great way to make your pooch work for his supper! Sure, you might have lots of tasty treat-dispensing toys to occupy your doggo when you’re busy or popping out, but do you serve their dinner in a bowl? Well here’s an opportunity to get their canine brain working hard at mealtimes too, helping to keep them entertained for longer. 

If you’re feeding dry food, your (clean) recycling is full of opportunities to create interactive dog toys! Here’s how to put together a kibble-tastic magical mystery box your dog will love.

  1. Pick out some items like egg boxes or yoghurt pots and portion some kibble into each section. Cover it up with scrunched-up balls of paper/newspaper.
  2. Add a couple of pieces of kibble to any (relatively wide-necked) plastic bottles (don’t put the lid on).
  3. Take some paper, or use (and then re-use) an old tea towel. Scrunch it up or tie it in a knot and press some bite-sized morsels into the creases and folds.
  4. If you want to contain this activity, put all of these items into a cardboard box that’s big enough for your dog to have a good old rummage around in. You can also just place them on the floor if you’re not too precious! 
  5. Sprinkle the remaining food over the area (for some ‘quick wins) and let your canine companion go wild! Not too wild though – supervise this activity the first few times to make sure your pooch doesn’t start chewing up the plastic or eating the paper. Remove the various ‘toys’ as your doggo finds the food, so they don’t start chewing on the tasty leftover plastic when they’re done.

If you use wet food too, you can use a durable dog toy for slow feeding this element of their meal. Just pop it in the box and away you go.

Find my keys

This trick is a great one to show off to your friends and family, and it can be a great way to discover if your dog would love scent-work games. This one requires your doggo to be good at retrieving already, so if he’s more likely to run off with a ball you’ve chucked, work on that all-important aspect of training first!

We’re all about setting our canine companions up for success, and the best way to do that for this game is to get a big, soft keyring that your dog can easily recognise. You can also add a little bit of your perfume to it to help them detect it – not much though, Fido has a powerful sense of smell, so a little goes a long way. You also don’t want the keyring to leave a strong smell wherever you first hide it, or your canine companion might get confused during the game.

Start with your pupper either held back by a helper, or behind a stairgate. Wave the keyring at them so they get excited to play with it, then go and hide the toy somewhere they can see, such as poking out from under a cushion. Don’t go out of sight or get in between your doggo’s vision and the toy!

Let your puppy free, and *hopefully* she runs straight over to where the keyring is hidden. As she approaches the keyring, give the command you want to use for this such as “Where are my keys?” and as soon as she grabs them, give her lots of praise. If she’s already nailed retrieving, she should bring them over, where you can do a swap from some dog treats

If your doggo is a bit stubborn when it comes to letting go of the keys, don’t give any treatos until they do! And then take a look at how to get a reliable ‘drop it’ command going before coming back to this game. 

The final stage is to start increasing the difficulty level. Hide the keyring further away, then slightly block your pupper’s field of vision while hiding it so they only know roughly where it’s hidden. Eventually, you should be able to tell your faithful friend to ‘Find my keys’ even when they’re in a different room – for example, when you have actually lost them! 

Doggos are super smart, so brain games really help them burn off extra energy even when they’re stuck inside. Next time your fluffy best friend gets a ‘mad five minutes’ at 10pm, grab some dog treats and stimulate his brain with a little dog training – you’ll be surprised how quickly it tires him out! And don’t forget to share your pictures and videos with us using the #GoodBoyUGCYes, not only will you be entered into our monthly giveaway your pooch will feature on our Top Dog Wall of Fame! 

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