14 Puppy Mental Stimulation Games

August 8, 2022

All dogs love to go for a long walk or have their ball thrown in the park. It's a great way to give your dog a workout and build your bond with your dog simultaneously.

But this is not the only type of exercise your dog needs.

I'm talking about mental stimulation. A dog's brain needs to be kept occupied, especially if you have a Spaniel, regarded as some of the most intelligent breeds!

Many dog owners don't quite realise the need for mental stimulation though and believe physical exercise is the only itch that needs to be scratched. In fact, ensuring your dog is mentally active is just as important as taking your dog out for a walk.

If you are stuck on ways to give your canine companion a few puzzles and mental challenges then you are in the right place.

I'll be covering my top 14 ways you can keep your dog's brain occupied. Many of these are fun activities that you can do together too. Great if you have a young dog you want to keep occupied.

So, what are we waiting for, let's get started!

Why is Mental Stimulation Important?

Ensuring your dog is mentally stimulated is just as important as taking them for a walk.

Most dogs who don't have sufficient mentally stimulation become bored which can lead to destructive behaviour. This is easily avoidable with a proactive approach to keeping your dogs mind active.

There are many brain games for dogs which can help alleviate this boredom and keep your dogs mind active.

Our Top 14 Mental Stimulation Games

Okay, so here are our top 14 brain games for dogs.

These are all brilliant options for developing problem solving skills, keeping your dog mentally stimulated, or even just teach your dog new skills.

#1 - Stuff a Toy with Treats

This one is relatively straight forward you will need to buy a toy that can be filled with treats. There are many to choose from with the most well-known option being the Kong.

Kong's are highly durable and can be filled with just about anything. If you are looking for a list of recipes to fill your Kong with Check out this article.

This will keep your dogs mind occupied by forcing them to think which angle will allow them to get that tasty treat out of the toy!

There are of course many other options instead of the Kong such as a Nylabone which is a very hard-wearing dog chew toy that will keep them occupied for hours.

#2 - Dog Puzzles

Next up are puzzle toys. Food is again the reward here where your dog will have to perform a task to retrieve a treat.

The most popular option here is the Nina Ottosson Interactive Brick Treat Puzzle. You may need to help your dog the first time though. Once they understand what is going on you can be sure they'll get it.

I also quite like the Nina Ottosson Dog Tornado Interactive Treat Puzzle. Dogs are so food motivated that you can be sure they'll be kept busy trying to source that tasty treat.

If you want something that's a bit more entry-level you can look at the ADOGO Dog Puzzle Feeder.

This style of toy can keep your dog busy and help ease their time along if you are nipping out. All brilliant mentally stimulation for a dog!

#3 - Treat Dispensing Toys

Sticking with the theme of your dog working for food we have treat dispensing toys.

This style of toy will have your furry friend pushing around a toy to get a treat. Having to work out the perfect angle again to get that treat will keep your dog thinking.

If you are interested in this type of toy I'd recommend taking a look at Zellar's Treat Dispensing Dog Toy. As it is shaped like an egg it's less likely to end up on the other side of your house leaving a trail of crumbs from treats eaten.

#4 - Scatter Feeding

Scatter feeding is when you spread out your dog's food around a larger area such as in your kitchen or even in your garden.

This provides mental stimulation by making your dog switch on to find their dinner. A great way to combine exercise and dinner.

There are a few advantages of this method such as mentally stimulating your dog and making those meal times last a bit longer. This is ideal for breeds with a high prey drive such as Springer and Cocker Spaniels who love a good hunt. You'll just see their big ears flapping next to their heads as they try to sniff out that food!

#5 - Hide and Seek with Toys

This is one that I play all the time with my English Cocker Spaniel. Possible my favourite on this list.

It's a simple game but your dog will get a lot of enjoyment out of it. You may not get out of this when you start for a good while unless you have a brilliant hiding place.

It goes like this:

  • Grab one of your dogs toys and get their attention
  • Tell them to sit and stay.
  • Hide the toy
  • Tell your dog to go find it
  • Repeat

They'll really enjoy it. Another one that is ideal for breeds with a prey drive like Spaniels but I'm pretty sure every dog would enjoy this game.

#6 - Which Hand Game

This is another simple dog brain game you can play. The only thing you will need is a few treats.

Here are the steps:

  • Grab a bag of treats and get your dog to sit.
  • Let your dog see you place a treat in one of your hands
  • Put your hands together and then apart closed in front of your dog and say 'which hand'?
  • If your dog touches the hand with the treat they are rewarded with the treat and you go again.

This one may take a minute for your dog to understand. Saying paw and putting the right hand there a couple of times to show that pawing the hand with the treat gets a reward.

Some dogs get a bit too carried away once they realised what's going on and you may need to chill your dog out a bit if they get too excited.

#7 - Snuffle Mat

A snuffle mat is another great way to engage your dog's mind.

Dogs have very a powerful sense of smell. humans have 5 million scent receptors in our noses while some dog breeds have as many as 300 million! This is one of the reasons that snuffle mats are popular brain games for dogs.

It's a mat which has hidden treats inside that your dog will need to sniff out. This keeps your dog focused as they investigate the mat.

There are many snuffle mats to choose from a few of my favourites are the YEAKOO Dog Snuffle Mat for how many places you can hide treats and this snuffle mat for being smaller making it great for puppies and easier to wash.

#8 - Make a Dog Agility Course

Dog agility is a great way to exercise your dog and develop their problem solving skills at the same time.

Dashing through an obstacle course and evaluating how to approach each new challenge while running is a great activity for any dog.

You may find local agility training groups in your area or you could also have your own set up at home. It's not that expensive. And there are many benefits of dog agility training.

It would also be possible create you own obstacle course at home if your particularly crafty and have some spare cardboard boxes.

#9 - Teach your Dog New Tricks

Learning new tricks is another great way to engage your dogs mind. If you have a puppy you may already be doing this with basic obedience training. There is actually quite a lot of training you can do with your dog beyond this.

For example, you may want to teach your dog roll over, stand, crawl, or even spin. There are far more you can try if your feeling up to the challenge.

#10 - Roll up a Towel with Treats

This one is quite similar to a snuffle mat but you will be able to do it with things you have at home.

All you need to do is roll up some treats in a towel and leave it on the floor for your dog to unravel it. This will keep your dog entertained for a while as they work out how to roll out the towel.

#11 - Tidy up Toys

Teaching your dog to put their toys back where they belong is a great way to keep your home tidy and stimulate your dog mentally at the same time.

It can take some time and patience to get this one right. To do it you will need your dog, a container, a few tasty treats, and dog toys.

Here is how to pull this one off:

  • Put a treat in your dogs toy box
  • Coax your dog to take the toy toward the box
  • Show your dog there is a treat in the box
  • As your dog drops the toy there and takes the treat praise and say "tidy up"

You may have to run over this sequence a few times until your dog clicks as to what's going on. The success rate will be higher if you start with something better than normal dog treats.

After you nail this one though you'll never have to tidy up your dogs toys again!

#12 - Shell Game

The shell game (or cup game) is a simple yet highly enjoyable game you can play with your dog.

The rules of this game for playing with dogs is exactly the same as with humans. You have three cups with a treat under one. Your dog has to guess where the treat is to be rewarded.

For those unfamiliar with this game, the dog version goes like this:

  • Show your dog a treat placed the ground
  • Place three cups down with one covering the treat
  • Shuffle the cups so your dog doesn't know where the treat is
  • Your dog paws the cup and you lift it
  • If the treat is there they get it, if not guess again

For this one to work you'll first have to have your dog connect treats and cups.

Use one of the cups placed the right way up so your dog can see the treat in it and have your dog knock it over to get a treat. Next face the cup upside down and have your dog tip it over. Once mastered line up your three cups and start playing!

#13 - Red Light Green Light

Red light green light is another pretty straight forward way keep your dog focused and paying attention.

The way this one works is your dog would be moving and you tell them to stop and go. Your dog will move and you will say 'stop' and then 'go' to signal that they can move again.

To train for this game you will need to teach your dog to stop and to go. This shouldn't take to much work and I've linked resources for both.

Another advantage of this form of dog brain games is that it can also keep your dog safe in dangerous situations.

#14 - Hot and Cold

I'll finish on a fun game, hot and cold.

This is a game to play with your dog to guide them to a hidden toy or treat. Hot will be used to signal that your dog is getting closer and cold if they move further away from it.

This keeps your dog's brain occupied as they are both searching for the reward while listening to you for cues.

The command is not the only important factor to consider here but also tone. Try to use a calmer tone if you are saying 'cold' and a more excited one if you say 'hot'.

It's a bit like a treasure hunt with some help.

Best Books for Dog Mental Stimulation

Still looking for more ways to mentally stimulate your dog?

There are also books packed with ways of mentally stimulating dogs. While the ideas in this article offer more than a dozen ideas on how to engage your dogs mind there is far more you can do.

If you are interested in learning even more brain games here are our favourite books:

  • Mental Exercise for Dogs by Sina Eschenweber
  • Interpret Brain Games for Dogs by Claire Arrowsmith


Being challenged mentally is an important part of any dogs life. It's definitely the best way to help bored dogs.

Now you will be well equipped with a long list fun brain games to engage your canine companion. From a stuffed Kong, teach your dog a new trick, or give your dog a food dispensing toy.

Try a few of these brain games and you will have so much fun playing with your furry friend.

Good luck!

Allan  Noble
Hi, my name is Allan! I am the owner of Spaniel Advisor and I've got over seven years experience of owning Spaniels.  
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