There isn't much that is more exciting to your pup than the word "walk" (except maybe the word "treat"). Walks are an excellent source of exercise and stimulation for your dog. They get to explore the world beyond their home and yard and spend time with their favorite person - you! Walks can also be an opportunity to try new things that keep your dog's mind active and sharp. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation, so the next time you take a walk, try these brain games with your pup.
This game requires treats, but the idea is very simple. As you walk, occasionally toss a treat on the ground in your immediate area whilst your dog is distracted. Then tell them to "find it"; they get a food reward and stimulation all in one. This game helps keep your dog's focus on you, and it will allow you to lead them away from potential distractions such as other dogs, animals, and people.
You can switch up your usual walking route by creating challenges and obstacle courses. Take a detour, climb park benches, walk up and down some stairs, or weave through trees. Not only is this a great physical workout, but the changing routine will keep your dog guessing and allow them to rely on you for instruction. Again, this keeps their focus on you and allows them to consider the next challenge and how to proceed.
Red Light, Green Light
Much like the game you might have played as a kid, this is simply a "stop and go" game. Use your own commands - be it "stay", "red", "stop" - at different times during your walk and/or at a crosswalk, then use your "go" command. If your pooch successfully follows your commands, be sure to shower them with praise and rewards. This game keeps your dog on his/her mental toes. It helps them learn a command to use before crossing streets or encountering other pets, potentially saving their lives.
Follow the Leader
This fun game lets your pup know that you're in charge. It keeps them thinking about which way you're going next. This game is best played in a park or field, wherever you can easily change direction and have your dog follow. The trick is never head in the direction where your dog is leading; change your direction even slightly, so they never know which direction you're going.
Faster, Slower, Stop
This is an advanced version of Red Light, Green Light where you add the challenge of varying speeds during your walk. Again, your dog must rely on you for instruction, and they'll learn commands that let them know to pick up the pace or slow down. To play, simply tell your dog "faster" and start walking faster. You can keep saying this until you reach a light jog, but don't overdo it. Then use "slower" as you decrease your speed and can use your regular command for "stop". Once your dog is used to the varying paces and commands, you can change the order of commands and give them plenty of praise and rewards in between.
We don't mean actual push ups - no one likes to do those. During this game, the goal is to have your dog go from "sit" to "down" back to "sit" in a rapid succession. Do this while resting from your walk or in motion for an added challenge.
Hide & Seek
This is great game to practice in your home, yard, or dog park, and the more the merrier. With two people, one person distracts the dog while the other goes to hide. Once hidden, use the "come" command, repeating often until they find you. Be sure to use plenty of motivation and praise once they do find you. If you don't have others that can play with you, simply use the "stay" command for your dog while you go and hide. Then use motivation and the "come" command until they find your hiding spot. This is a fun and encouraging way to work on your dog's recall and discovery abilities.
Remember to provide plenty of exploration breaks to keep your pup stimulated. Also, some knowledge of commands is helpful; otherwise, they can become confused or ignore you. Provide treats and extra praise for a job well done. Finding a balance between control and fun will strengthen the bond between you and your pet whilst teaching them new tricks.