If you've been looking at your dog and wondering just how smart he really is, you may want to try playing a few games with him. Some games will test your dog's strength and agility, others will test his sense of smell. Some games, however, will tell you just how smart your dog really is, and in the process of playing these games, make him even more intelligent.
Hide the Biscuit
One of the best games you can play with your dog while honing his sense of smell and detective skills is a hide and seek game, the kind you played as a kid when you told someone they were "hot" or "cold" while searching for an object. Show your dog a treat, put him in a "sit/stay" and go hide the treat. At first hide it in plain sight under an upturned bowl, so that he finds it relatively quickly, but still has to figure out how to actually get the treat. As your dog gets better at the game, place the treat in harder places to find to keep the game fresh and challenging.
Hide the Body
This is a game that can be played by just you and your dog, or you and your kids and your dog. Bring your dog into a room or area of the house where he won't see you as you move around the house. Put him in an "down/stay" to let him know this "stay" will be longer than the "sit/stay" because you need more time. Hide yourself, and have your kids hide themselves as well. Use a closet, behind an open bedroom door, under the bed, in the bathtub or anywhere else you can fully hide from view. Once you are completely hidden, call the dog to you: "Spot, come!" and see how long it takes him to sniff you out. If there are more players, have them each call Spot in succession as each player is found.
Tossing a ball or flying disk and having your dog chase after it, retrieve it and bring it back to you is the interactive game most dog's crave. Put a slight spin on it by teaching him to fetch and return other items too. Service dogs do it all the time. Their "charge" will drop something from the wheelchair, and the dog has to pick it up and hand it over. So begin by attaching something light to the ball or flying disk, such as a kerchief. When the dog brings the ball back, detach the item and make a fuss about it. Do that a few more times, each time tossing the ball closer to you. Once the ball is falling at your feet, begin to drop only the kerchief, and praise him when he gets the idea. You could move on to all kinds of items from there.
Commercial Intelligence Toys
Doggy games and toys that force your dog to use his intelligence to solve puzzles are available at most pet stores and online. With these games, a treat is hidden in a secret compartment. The idea is for you to manipulate the parts of the game to make it easy to find the treats. Once the dog can easily find all the treats, reassemble the toy again to make it harder. Most of these games have many levels of difficulty to achieve so your dog, and you, won't get bored too soon.
For you to enjoy any interactive games with your dog, you must first ensure he is fully trained in the basics: "sit," "stay," "come," "down" and "heel." Most games won't work unless your dog has some training. For more involved games with your dog, enter yourselves into agility classes, K9 Nose Work and other tangential skill-based classes. Check with your local dog obedience or agility club for more options on how to play interactive games and compete in tournaments with your dog.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.