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Many dog owners think of their dog’s need for physical exercise as a top priority for canine wellbeing, but mental exercise and health is just as--if not more--important. Dogs need mental challenges to keep them engaged and interested as this promotes a healthier mind and body. It also lessens the chance of destructive behaviors borne out of your dog’s boredom and frustration.
Creating and playing memory games with your dog also increases his confidence and strengthens the bond between both of you. Working together as a team is a great way to keep your dog thinking and interested in the activity, especially if you are interested in it too! Exercising your dog’s brain as well as his body is one of the best ways to ensure your dog lives a happy life.
Memory games are an excellent and quick option should inclement weather prevent your dog from being able to play outside for extended periods of time. Stimulating your dog’s mind even if he can’t physically burn off energy is still an effective means by which to prevent your dog from getting bored and finding his own form of entertainment--which could be scratching the front door, chasing the cats around the house, or tearing apart that brand new pillow on the couch.
Creating these games can also help your dog if he is at home alone for parts of the day. Give him something to do or to search for that will keep his mind and body busy until you are back home to play with him. The training for the games below is easy to do and will keep your dog happily sniffing all day long!
The memory game training below involves various items, such as toys and buckets, but similar materials can be used for substitution if necessary. Make sure that you have time, patience, and treats to use during the training process.
Remember to be consistent and patient while training your dog. He may pick up on or enjoy some games more than others. Don’t be frustrated if it takes a day or two for your dog to get the hang of these new games, especially if he hasn’t had the opportunity to exercise like this previously. With a little time, patience, and fun, your dog will have a great time playing these games!
The Classic Memory Method
Give the 'sit-stay' command
Place your dog in a 'sit-stay' so that he stays put while you lay out the materials for the game.
Grab two buckets
Take two small buckets and place them a couple feet apart from each other.
Place a treat in one bucket
Put one of your dog's favorite treats in one of the buckets. Make sure your dog sees you complete this action.
Give the 'find it' command
Tell your dog to "find it." If he goes to the correct bucket with the treat, reward him with it. If he goes to check out the bucket without the treat, don't let him look into the one that does contain it. Start steps 1 - 4 over again until your dog chooses the right bucket.
Add a third bucket
Once your dog has mastered the memory game with two buckets, add a third one into the mix. Give your dog some time to adjust to the added bucket and have fun.
The Toy Pickup Method
Train to 'drop it'
For this game, your dog should know the command 'drop it'. If he doesn't know this command, take the time to teach it to him.
Start with one toy
When your dog picks up a toy, lead him over to the toy basket with a treat and tell him "drop it." This step may need to be done in stages, so treat your dog for each step he takes toward the toy basket until he understands that is the target for his toy.
Add some more toys
Over the next day of training, begin to add more toys to the game.
Reward in stages
At first, continue to reward your dog for putting one toy away in the basket. Then wait to reward him until he puts two toys away, then three, and so on.
Reward after all toys are cleaned up
Eventually, get your dog to the point where he has to put away all his toys in the basket in order to get the treats.
The Ring Stacking Method
Get a ring stacker
Find or build a ring stacker similar to the toy that toddlers play with. Make sure the ring stacker is made of wood and not dyed plastic. Also check that the rings are of an appropriate size for your dog's mouth.
Move your dog toward the stick
Using treats and/or a clicker, encourage your dog to pick up a ring and move it toward the ring stick.
Start to stack it
When your dog has a ring in his mouth, lead him to the stick then help him slide it onto the stick. This step will take some time and practice until your dog understands what you're asking him to do.
Reward and praise
Once your dog does stack the ring on the stick, reward him with a treat and praise him. He will quickly learn that this action is fun and involves treats when done correctly.
Add some challenges
When your dog masters the ring stacking game, make it more challenging by hiding the rings around the house. Your dog will have to find the rings, bring them to the stick, and stack them on it. Have fun!
By Erin Cain
Published: 02/02/2018, edited: 01/08/2021