10 Brain Games to Challenge and Entertain Your PetCarleen Coulter
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It is important for your pet to keep active both physically and mentally. Brain games and puzzles challenge your pet in new ways, helping to entertain them and to calm them. Mental activity can effectively release built up energy in a positive manner. My corgis love their puzzles and games, and nothing seems to do better at relaxing them than a few rounds of thinking games.
There are a number of brain games and puzzle toys on the market. Many are marketed to dogs, but in reality cats like a lot of these games as well. With some games, you can make your dog work for his or her dinner. Others bring out a sense of fun or excitement as your dog discovers hidden treats.
Prices range from nearly free DIY options to rather pricey Nina Ottosson wood puzzles. In between are many quite affordable options.
Below are 10 brain games that I personally use with my dogs. Each is demonstrated by my own corgis, Ty and Eve. Each also includes a difficulty rating of easy, medium, or hard, along with a price rating of affordable, upper end, and expensive.
1. Treat Balls
Treat balls, such as the Tricky Treat Ball, are one of my dogs’ favorite brain games. Treat balls are hollow, allowing them to be filled with kibble, and have an opening that allows the food to fall out when the ball is rolled. Your pet learns to roll the ball in order to get the food. You can make your dog work for his or her dinner with a treat ball in a way that he or she will love. It also is a good solution for dogs that eat too fast. I find that one ball easily holds enough food to make a meal for one of my 20-25 pound Corgis.
Price: Affordable ($4.99 on Amazon)
2. DIY Muffin Tin Dog Brain Game
One of the simplest and most affordable brain games is the DIY muffin tin game. Simply put small training treats or pieces of kibble in a muffin tin and place tennis balls or other balls of similar size on top. Your pet then must figure out how to remove the balls to get the treats. The difficulty level is also fairly easy, making it a good beginner game.
3. Dog Finder
Nina Ottosson puzzles are some of the best in dog brain games. Dog Finder is one of our favorites. Treats are hidden under plastic bones. The dog must learn to pick up the bones to reveal the treat and slide bones into a position where they can be removed. Start with bones that do not need to slide for an easier puzzle and include sliding bones to make it more difficult.
Price: Upper End ($26.32 on Amazon)
4. Cagey Cube
In Cagey Cube, a ball is placed inside of a flexible cage, and the dog must try to extract it. I switched out the ball in mine with one that has a hole for treats. That extra motivation keeps my dogs working on the puzzle longer.
Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Price: Affordable ($17.11 on Gear for Pets)
5. Paw Hide
Paw Hide is a bit harder than it appears. Treats are hidden under cups that your pet must remove to reveal the treats. Each cup is fairly deep seated, making removal more difficult. I prefer the more expensive Nina Ottosson Dog Finder to this one because it is more durable and has more flexibility in setting the difficulty, but Paw Hide has the benefit of being very affordable.
Price: Affordable ($8.13 on Amazon)
Tug-a-Jug is my corgi Ty’s favorite toy. A plastic jug is filled with kibble. Your pet must then push a plunger into the jug and pull it out again to extract food. I thought this game would really challenge Ty, but he learned it rather quickly. However, my other corgi, Eve, has not yet figured it out. I also had an elderly black lab who would pick the jug up and shake it upside down. That also worked, although I am quite sure that was not what the designer intended!
Price: Affordable ($12.99 on Amazon)
7. Turbo Dog
Turbo Dog is a very challenging and rather pricey wood puzzle from Nina Ottosson. The dogs must figure out how to move sliders in order to push treats out of holes in the sides of the puzzle. My dogs have yet to fully master this one.
Price: Expensive ($48.32 on Amazon)
8. DIY Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is a great game you can do yourself, and it also can serve as beginning training for Canine Noseworks (see my previous article on 8 Canine Sports to Try with Your Dog for more). The steps are simple. Grab some boxes, spread them around a room, and hide treats in a few of them. Tell your dog to “search” or “find it,” and let your dog find the treats. Dogs quickly learn what is expected of them, and most dogs outright love this game. You can increase the difficulty by loosely closing the boxes, requiring your dog to figure out how to get inside. Make it it even more difficult by removing the boxes and hiding the treats randomly among standard items in the room.
Difficulty: Adjustable from Easy to Hard
9. Kibble Drop
In Kibble Drop, a chamber is filled with kibble or treats. Flaps at the end of each arm lift up to expose the food. I like to use this one with just a few treats inside, otherwise the dog tends to just roll it around until the treats come out of the top. I have seen some reviews note that, because the toy can be moved so easily, it is best for smaller dogs. I suspect that cats would really like this one as well.
Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Price: Affordable ($14.96 on Amazon)
The Kong is the classic treat toy for dogs. Wedge biscuits into the hole in this rubber toy to make your dog work for the reward. Or, do as I prefer, and fill it up with plain Greek yogurt and freeze it. Your dog then has a nice frozen treat that takes a while to consume.
Price: Affordable ($9.41 on Amazon)