Games To Play With Your Dog

Copyright 2003-2011 By Direct, Inc.

Part I:  How To Keep Your Dog Mentally Stimulated

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and I thought I would quickly send this out to you, before I leave for the weekend. 

We were discussing how to keep your dog’s mind stimulated.  

Remember: Bored dogs cause problems.  If you don’t keep your dog’s mind stimulated, chances are that he’ll find activities to stimulate his mind, himself.  And you won’t like those activities.  🙂 

A dog that is mentally stimulated on a daily basis is a happy dog.  And happy dogs don’t cause dog problems.

Here’s a quick list of how to keep your dog mentally stimulated:

1.    Exercise.  Lots of exercise.  If you can incorporate exercise with another activity such as playing, “Find the ball,” or doing some agility exercises, then that’s even better.


2.    Brain teaser toys.  There are a number of cool toys that actually challenge your dog’s mind.  For example, one of the more popular ones is the “Buster Cube,” a plastic cube that releases a pellet of food, every third or fourth time the Cube is rolled over. 


3.    Small rituals done at the same time of day, every day.  For example; feeding time, grooming, walks, “cookie” time, car trips around town, etc&


4.    Dogs like to work.  Teach your dog to bring in the newspaper, carry mail back from the mailbox or to walk out with you when you take the trash out.  (Whenever I go through the drive-thru window at McDonald’s, Forbes–my dog–gets to carry the trash bag to the trash receptacle when we’re finished.  Sound silly, right?  But the dog loves it!)


5.    Do obedience training with your dog.  Obedience training requires your dog to use his brain and think.  Knowing that he will be praised for making the right decision and corrected for making the wrong decision (and allowed the opportunity to make the right decision again) instills a sense of responsibility in your dog and demands that he use his noggin.  Remember: Dogs are bred to work.  They’ve been blessed with super-human instincts and drives and they need an outlet for those drives.

Click here to get your dog to listen to you,
anywhere you go…

Part II:  Easy & Fun Games To Play With Your Dog!

Every now and then, the “Regulars” at our discussion forum collectively reveal a gem of an idea that begs to be shared with my dog training students.    

One of our members asked, “It’s easy to start up a new game [with your dog] but many of them don’t encourage good behavior.  Know any easy and fun games?”  

Aussienot replied, “1) Agility-type exercises are fun for most dogs and the dog follows your instructions while performing. Not sure what type of dog or yard you have, but you can use make some obstacles with stuff you might have on hand: cardboard cartons for jumps, a sheet draped over a couple of split hula hoops for a tunnel, a wide board well supported by cement blocks for a raised walk. Simple jumps can be made with PCV pipes and elbow joints. Just make sure everything you use is stable and safe.

2) Teach the dog to Find a toy that you’ve hidden. Put the dog in a sit/stay, then hide the article. Return and send the dog away to find it. My simple-minded Lab can be entertained for half and hour or more with this game.

3) Teach the Go Get (named article).  Sailor knows rope, bone and kong. I put all three in the hallway, and repeatedly send her to bring back the one toy I’ve chosen.”  

SweetSunreyes added, “Teaching a dog to go get something is never ending. Its a great exercise we taught our lab (Brandy) we had for 8 years. She learned to “go get” anything and everything.

Once she learned what we were trying to get her to do and what we were trying to get her to “get” (by pointing to different objects) she then started learning the differences between what we were asking her to get without pointing. (Sometimes we would have to point in general directions to tell her what part of the house things were in and she would go get them.)

She knew how to get her own sweater, leash, harness, bones, toys (she knew the difference between ALL her toys. She even knew the difference between her food bowl and her water bowl which were different colors.) For us she would get our shoes, our purses…she would even bring us our coats if we asked her to. She fetched all kinds of things even if we told her “upstairs or downstairs” she knew exactly what to do.

When she started learning this exercise and we used it Constantly. (Who wouldn’t!  It was great on lazy or sick days “bring me the remote” HA! and she loved doing it.)  She started to associate words with objects we were pointing to really fast. She never really seemed to forget. She was so smart. I’m working with my lab now little by little on it. The more you work on it the better they will get. My Kuma could be a lot better but I don’t work as diligently with her as we did with Brandy. I will probably be stepping it up a notch here soon. I have enough time to.

It takes quite a while to get to that level but its SO much fun to see something learn that much and see people’s astonished looks when they watched her do it. Its amazing.

The original poster replied, “We’ve been having great fun with these ideas, thanks.  She seems to have difficulty finding things unless she can HEAR me hide them (i.e. she can’t find it if the washer is going), or later in time if it’s somewhere SHE placed it.  She seems to be quite intelligent.  How to get over this?”

Amyjo adds, “I rub my hands all over the item – and make a big point of showing it to her and letting her smell it b4 I hide it.”

Michelle contributes, “Yes, Amy brings up an excellent point.  I always start teaching the puppy to search using a smelly food item.”  

“Once the dog learns the motions of looking, he will find what ever you let him get a sniff of.”

“This might not interest some of you folks, but you can train a rat to pick an item after only one sniff.  So I assume a dog’s sense is as keen or keener. The difficulty of the task for the dog is not smelling the item, its enforcing the concept to them that they will be rewarded when they find the item so they remained determined to get the reward- so that’s why its good to start with treats if you are training a puppy.”

“Once the dog matures and understands the exercise, I go to human articles and the reward is a ball or tug once they find the item.”

Nicki says, “I did exactly as you did Michele. I started with treats so he learned the game. With articles, I let the dog have a sniff and then at first I let him watch me hide it. After one or two times of watching, he gets the idea and then I focus on that one article until he understands the name attached to it. It is a lot of fun for the dog, and such pride when they find it. Give lots of praise for a job well done.”

Part III:  More Games To Play With Your Dog!

Play The Shell Game With Your Dog

Want to know how to stimulate your dog’s mind?
Play games with your dog.

I’ve written before about different games to play that will help keep your dog from getting bored and help to stimulate his mind.  Here’s another great game to play: 

The Shell Game.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  Three small, identical buckets approximately one gallon size.  Or, you can use empty coffee cans if you like.

  Kibble or doggie cookies.

  A leash and training collar.

  One hungry puppy.

Here’s what you do:

Place your dog in a down-stay, in the kitchen. 

— If you don’t know how to teach your dog to lay down and STAY DOWN until you tell him to get up, take a look at our dvd titled: “How To Teach Your Dog To Hold A Down-Stay”.

Next, walk into your living room and place the three buckets side-by-side, with the mouth on the ground (upside down).  Leave about one foot of space between each bucket. 

Put a doggie-cookie under one of the buckets. 

Now, return to your dog, give him your “release” command, and walk him over to the buckets.

Say, “Where’s the cookie?”

Encourage your dog to smell the buckets.  When he gets excited about the bucket with the cookie under it, praise him lavishly.  Then, kick the bucket over and let him get the cookie.

Repeat this process by switching the bucket the cookie is hidden under.

Once your dog starts to get the hang of the game, you can add more complexity by spacing the buckets further apart.  You may also add more buckets. 

I like to teach a dog to give an active indication when he finds the bucket with the cookie& such as scratching the side of the bucket, or barking.  You can also teach your dog to “Sit” next to the bucket with the cookie.

Initially you’ll find that your dog will likely go back to the previous bucket that hid the cookie.  Don’t lift the bucket up until he finds the one that actually contains the cookie. 



Once you’ve done the Shell Game for awhile, do this:

Attach a small piece of leather to your key chain.  Spend two minutes pinching the leather between your thumb and index finger.  This will transfer some of the oil in your skin to the leather and link your “scent” to it.

Next, repeat the “Shell Game” with your key chain, instead of the doggie cookie. 

When your dog finds the bucket that hides your keys, lift the bucket to reveal your keys.  At this point, you really need to lay it on thick (the praise, that is) and make a big deal about your dog finding the keys.  You may also want to throw your dog a cookie as a reward. 

Finally, you can start hiding your key in other places around the room (away from the buckets).  Start out easy.  Place them on the floor, next to the couch, where your dog can almost stumble upon them quite easily. 

After a few days, you should be able to hide your keys in some really difficult places and your dog will be able to find them for you.

Imagine how handy this trick will become when you really lose your keys!  

Part IV:    How To Cure Doggie-Boredom!  (Or: The Recipe For The “Almost Perfect” Dog)

Kong toys are some of the best on the market.  Especially if you’ve got a dog that likes to chew.  You can find them at practically any pet store. 

I found the following article on the Kong Company’s web site.  I meant to send it out in last week’s issue, but their site was down for several days.



It is reassuring to know that the ingredients for an “almost perfect” dog are available to any responsible dog owner. You can enjoy the wonderful benefits of an “almost perfect” dog. The ingredients are:

1. One clean bill of health. You can help ensure this vital ingredient with current vaccinations and regular veterinary check ups.

2. One proper I.D. Make sure your dog has a license and/or I.D. (dog tags, tattoo, canine microchip).

3. One well-nourished, well-exercised dog. Feed your dog as recommended by your veterinarian, professional trainer or breeder. Exercise your dog as often as possible.

4. One safe, secure, comfortable environment free from abuse and neglect. If your dog spends much time outdoors, a well-insulated dog house in a fenced area should be provided. Inside, a crate (dog den) is recommended by most trainers. Start crate training early – ask your veterinarian!

5. A full measure of time. Time spent with your dog should include training flavored with reward, correction/positive reinforcement, petting, grooming and exercise such as walking, playing, fetching, and just being with you and your family.

Missing ingredients result in behavior problems. Over 60% of dogs in shelters are there as a result of behavior problems or lack of identification.




Don’t despair! Make sure your dog has a clean bill of health, then contact your professional trainer and/or animal behaviorist for help.

Prevention is always the best cure for behavior problems! Lack of training and physical and mental under stimulation (boredom) are primary causes of misbehavior. They can be easily prevented by enrolling in basic training classes (contact your veterinarian for a referral) and using Kong Dog Toys for healthy physical and mental stimulation.

Kong Dog Toys are widely used and recommended for therapy and prevention of under-stimulation, boredom, separation anxiety and other behavior problems. Following are some simple ways Kongs can be utilized to promote good behavior in your dog.

It is important for dogs to succeed at their “work”. Make it easy to remove the kong stuffing at first. AS THEY BECOME MORE EXPERIENCED, YOU MAY WANT TO MAKE THEIR JOB MORE CHALLENGING – HERE’S HOW:

1. Pack stuffing tighter.

2. Wedge biscuits inside the cavity using the inside rim of the opening to secure them.

3. FREEZE IT! Very Popular! Try various combinations of canned food, gravy, noodles, rice and mashed potatoes mixed with food nuggets and freeze. KONGSICLES are a favorite with many hot dogs! Put a dab of peanut butter in the small end of the Kong to plug it. Turn it upside down in a cup. Fill it full of water, chicken broth or fruit juice and freeze. Cool doggies! Kongsicles are recommended for outdoor use.

4. CHEESE IT! Mix cheese pieces or cheese spread with food nuggets and microwave until cheese melts. Let it cool to a safe temperature. NOTE – Use a cup to contain the Kong when freezing or microwaving.


As you create recipes, be sensitive to your dog’s tummy as you experiment. Following are recipes created by veterinarians, dog trainers and dog lovers worldwide.

  BANANA RAMA: 1 fresh banana · 2 tbs wheat germ · 1 tbs plain yogurt (can use your pet’s favorite flavor as well) · Kong Toy that best fits your pet’s chewing temperament In a bowl, mash up banana. Then, add wheat germ and yogurt. Mash all ingredients together and use spoon to add to Kong. Freeze for 4 hours. Makes 1 serving for Medium Kong. Double for every Kong Size that is bigger.

  CHEESY DENTAL KONG DELIGHT: 3 slices of your pet’s favorite cheese · Dental Kong Toy A very simple and creative way to make any pet drool in delight. Just place the 3 slices of cheese directly onto the grooves of your pet’s Dental Kong (if model has rope – make sure cheese does not get onto it). Melt in microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. Give to pet after it cools.

  PHILLY STEAK: steak scraps · 1 ounce cream cheese · appropriate Kong Toy Place small scraps of the steak inside Kong toy. Spread cream cheese in large hole to hold scraps.

  FRUIT SALAD: apple and carrot chunks · 1/4th of a banana · appropriate Kong Toy Place apples and carrots in Kong Toy. Mush the banana in large hole to hold fruit in place. You can include other fruits and veggies: orange slices · peach and/or nectarine chunks · celery sticks · broccoli and/or cauliflower · tomato and black olive mixture.

  VEGGIE KONG OMELET: 1 egg · your choice of shredded cheese · any vegetables that your pet may like · appropriate Kong Toy Scramble egg and fold in vegetables. Put into Kong toy. Sprinkle some cheese over the top and microwave for about 20 seconds. Cool thoroughly before giving to dog.

  MAC ‘N CHEESE: Leftover macaroni and cheese · small cube of Velveeta · appropriate Kong Toy Melt Velveeta in microwave until gooey. Add mac ‘n cheese to Kong Toy. Pour heated Velveeta into Kong. Make sure it has cooled before giving to your pet.




  AUNT JEANNIE’S ARCHEOLOGY KONG (for advanced dogs) LAYER ONE (deepest): roasted, unsalted cashews · freeze dried liver bits LAYER TWO: dog kibble, cookies or liver biscotti · Cheerios · sugar-free, salt-free peanut butter · dried banana chips, apples and apricots LAYER THREE: carrot sticks · turkey or leftover ravioli or tortellini · Kong Toy (the larger the better!) Pack as tightly as possible. The last item inserted should be an apricot or piece of ravioli, presenting a smooth “finish” under the main opening. LIGHT VERSION: substitute crumbled rice cakes for cashews, Caesar croutons for freeze-dried liver, fat free cream cheese for peanut butter. – by Jean Donaldson

  KONG ON A ROPE: Dry dog kibble · appropriate Kong Toy · Rope Take the rope, pull it through the Kong Toy and knot it. Hang this upside down from a tree, deck or post. The small hole should be facing the ground. Take the kibble and fill the Kong Toy. Make the toy hang just low enough that it is out of your dog’s reach. The dog will spend hours trying to retrieve the kibble from the Kong Toy. At the end of the day, take the remaining kibble and give to your pet as a reward. This is advanced work for your dog. – by Ian Dunbar

  FROZEN JERKY POPS: Peanut butter · bouillon · Jerky Strips · Water · appropriate Kong Toy · muffin tin Smear a small amount of peanut butter over small hole in your Kong Toy. Fill the cool water and add a pinch of bouillon. Place a Jerky Stick inside Kong Toy and freeze. This can also be put (once frozen) in a children’s size swimming pool for a fun day of fishing for your pet. – by Terry Ryan

  SIMPLE, TRIED AND TRUE: Peanut butter · appropriate Kong Toy Smear peanut butter inside the cavity of your Kong Toy. It’s that easy! – by trainers and vets worldwide

  TRIXIE’S FAVORITE: Trixie, a 50 pound Aussie/Springer mix, loves turkey, chicken or marrow bites mixed with slightly moistened food nuggets frozen inside her Kong. She is very clean about unstuffing – some dogs are not! – by Joe Markham

Every dog has a favorite recipe – finding your dog’s will be fun! REMEMBER: Some foods are not healthy for dogs.  Consult with your veterinarian first.

Read more about my Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer.   Click here



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