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Fun Brain Games to Play With Your Dog

Updated on April 21, 2017

The Shell Game

This is just like the game you hear about on the streets of New York in which tourists get hustled for money (don't worry, we aren't going to take your dog's money). You set up three opaque cups upside down and then put an object (in this case a treat) under one of them. You move them around and then have your dog try to pick the right one. If he gets it, he gets the treat!

Start slow and introduce your dog to the concept of finding a treat under a cup. Put the cup upside down on the floor and let him smell and touch it until he's satisfied. Once that's done, have him sit and stay, then show him a treat, lift up the cup and use it to cover the treat. Release him from his sit, and when he touches the cup with his nose or his paw, congratulate him, pick the cup up and give him the treat.

Once he's used to the idea that there's a treat under the cup, continue using one cup but start to move the cup around after you put the treat under it but before you release him. Once you've moved it around, release him from his sit and reward him with the treat when he touches it.

Now comes the hard part - add another cup! Leave a fair bit of space between them at first, then while he's sitting, show him the treat and put it under one of the cups. If he goes to the correct cup first and touches it, give him the treat. If he goes to the other cup, so "no" then lift up the other cup, show him the treat, but don't give it to him. Put him back in the sit and go again until he's able to find the treat on the first try.

Once he's mastered that, start mixing up the cups after you put the treat in. This should definitely make things tougher, and he'll likely pick the wrong cup a few times - that's okay! Keep at it, and only reward him when he gets the first cup the right time. The better he gets, the more you should mix up the cups. Once he's mastered two, make it three cups! This is where it really starts to get tough, but using his senses of sight and smell, he should be able to get the right cup most of the time.


Shell Game

52 Toy Pick Up

This game is both mentally stimulating for your dog and useful, because the end goal is to get him to clean up the house when he's done playing. Once he's mastered it, you'll be wishing your kids were this well trained!

The goal of the game is to give each of his toys a name and have him pick each one up as you say its name and put it away. You'll want a number of distinct toys, along with some kind of big toy bin in which they're kept.

Start by pulling out one toy - for this example, we'll just say it's a purple ball. Throw it somewhere and reward your dog for bringing it back and putting it away in the bin. Depending on whether your dog like fetch, this step may take more or less time. If he natural instinct is to bring it back, you'll just need to guide him to the bin with it. If he's less of a retriever, use your clicker and give him a treat when he investigates the toy, when he picks it up, then when he starts bringing it towards you until you've built the retrieval behavior.

Now take two toys out - the goal here is to start naming them. Let's say you've got a purple ball and a black bone. We're going to try to name them "purple" and "bone." Say purple, point towards the toys, and reward him if he goes to the ball. If he goes to the bone, so no, take it away and then say purple. Once he's rewarded for getting the right toy a few times, you should be able to say purple and have him bring the toy back and drop it in the box. At that point, start saying "bone" - he'll probably still go to the ball, since he's been getting treats for that, so when he does say no, show him the bone and then bring him back to his starting position. If he goes to the bone, give him a treat, then treat again when he gets it to the bin.

Once you've trained him on two toys, keep adding! Name all his toys and build on this trick over time. Soon you'll be able to dump out his whole bin of toys and have him return them one at a time!

52 Toy Pick Up

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are a great way to keep your dog stimulated while you're away, and they range in difficulty from very simple to very difficult. There are a lot of options out there, some of which will work for every dog. Here are a few examples.


If you're just getting started or your know your dog is more adorable than bright, the basic Kong is a great way to go. Fill it with peanut butter, cream cheese or spray cheese and reward your dog with it after he does a trick or two. It won't take long for him to figure out how to get the food out, but it'll occupy him for a while, especially if you use thick peanut butter.

Once he's mastered that, try putting some peanut butter in the bottom then packing the Kong right with his kibble the rest of the way. This way he has to work to dislodge and eat the kibble before he can get to the peanut butter, adding a little extra challenge.


Shuffle puzzles are a bit trickier but come in enough varieties that you should be able to find one that isn't too tough for your pup. The basically involve putting treats under small covers that slide back and forth, forcing your dog to slide the covers off to get the food. While this sounds simple, some of the more complex ones require him to coordinate several sliders at once, which is a big challenge even for smart pooches!

This is an example of a nice simple slider puzzle. Even if your dog is smart, it's best to start him off with something like this so he can get the hang of the concept before moving onto tougher toys. If you start him with hard ones, he may become frustrated and try to just chew through the toy instead.


This treat ball is a great puzzle toy for lots of dogs because it's adjustable. When put on its hardest setting, though, it will take your dog tons of time and mental energy, so he'll definitely be tired out!

The toy is a ball with an open compartment in the back for treats - you'll unscrew it, fill it with treats, then put it back together. There's an opening in the treat compartment than you can adjust the size of - make it big at first so it's easy to get treats out, but once your dog gets the hang of it you can tighten it up so treats barely fit through to make this one require a lot of persistence!

Treat Ball

Favorite Treats

Rewarding dogs is important - what's your dog's favorite treat?

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    • Kara Skinner profile image

      Kara Skinner 5 months ago from Maine

      I love the idea of the treat ball. That would definitely be good for keeping my dogs entertained when I'm gone. And the cups exercise will be fun. Thanks for all the great games.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 7 months ago from Arkansas, USA

      What great games! I need to try the 52 toy pickup with my Sissy girl. She is great with fetching and will go and go and go. Audrey will just watch, but Sissy would love this. Thanks for all the great ideas. And cheese is my dogs' fave! Sometimes I grate a little bit on their food to get them eating!

    • Magicality LM profile image

      Magicality LM 7 months ago

      I'll have to try the cups at one time ...