January is National Walk Your Dog Month, and it’s also International Brain Teaser Month! Luckily, when you take your dog for a walk, you can celebrate both at the same time.
There are few things more exciting than hearing the word “walk” for my dogs. A walk is a chance for pups to explore the world outside of the house and backyard and spend time with the humans they love.
But it can also be an opportunity to try some new things that will keep dogs’ minds active and sharp. It’s a chance not just for a physical workout, but a mental workout, too.
Here are some of my favorite brain teaser games to play while walking my dogs.
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This game will require some treats, but it's pretty simple to play.
As you walk, occasionally toss a treat on the ground in your immediate area while your dog is distracted and tell your dog to "find it." Your dog can then sniff around and find the treat as a reward.
This game has a lot of purposes. It helps keep your dog's focus on you, and it will allow you to lead your dog away from distractions like other dogs and people easily. Your dog will have to mentally stay on their toes for this treasure hunt.
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Walks are fun, but switch it up once in a while by creating your own challenges and obstacle courses. This can include taking a detour to walk up and down some stairs, weave through trees, climb on a park bench, or anything really.
It's a great physical workout, but varying the routine a bit will keep your dog thinking and relying on you for instructions. Your dog will have to think about the next challenge and how you'll proceed.
Again, this will help your dog practice keeping their focus on you in the face of distractions.
Red Light, Green Light
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You can use your own commands for this game, but it's a bit like the game Red Light, Green Light that you may have played as a kid.
All you have to do is use your "stop" command -- whether it's "stay," "red," or something else -- at various times throughout the walk, then use your "go" command to keep moving. If your dog successfully stops and goes as you command, give them lots of praise and rewards.
This game will keep your dog thinking. You'll help your dog learn a command that you can use to stop them before crossing streets, and you'll be able to practice some commands that may help if you need to avoid another dog or animal on your walk.
Follow The Leader
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This is a fun game for letting your dog know that you're in charge of the walk and will keep them thinking about where you're going, even if there are a lot of distractions.
Follow The Leader is easiest to play in a park or field where you can change directions easily. All you have to do to play is never head exactly where your dog is leading. If they walk in front of you, change your direction, even slightly, so that they have to keep their attention on where you're going instead.
Faster, Slower, Stop
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Faster, Slower, Stop is an advanced version of Red Light, Green Light where you add the challenge of varying your walk speed. Your dog will also start to 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 "faster" until you're at a light jog, but don't overdo it. Then try the command "slower" and decrease your speed until you can use your regular command for "stop."
Once your dog is used to keeping their attention on you for figuring out how fast to walk, you can vary the order of the commands using lots of praise and rewards for a job well done.
Again, this will help your dog think about what comes next and put you in charge of the walk.
What are your favorite ways to keep your dog mentally active on a walk? Do you play any games while you walk your dog? Let us know in the comments below!