Dog Walking Games: Mentally Stimulating Games to Play While Walking Your Dog
Dog walking games are a great way to entertain your dog and provide him with much-needed stimulation. I have been saying this for years…. We humans are BORING.
Even though going on a walk is probably one of your dog’s favorite activities, the reason that it can become so frustrating for you is that your dog tunes you out and pays attention to everything else in his environment!
Dogs pull when they see squirrels. He lunges at the neighbor’s dog behind the fence. He tries to nip the ankles of the kid skateboarding past. Does this mean your dog is aggressive? Not necessarily! Dogs get bored when we meander with them down the street.
Imagine for a Moment
Imagine for a moment how fast your dog moves, how fast he wants to walk down the street. Now, imagine how fast you walk, and how you probably dawdle down the street. Dogs that are bored look for other things to do. He is over-stimulated and over-experiencing his environment if you are not keeping his body and/or his mind busy.
When My Dogs Pull a Cart
When my dogs pull my trike or a cart, FAST (at their pace), they are too busy engaged physically to really notice anything else in their environment.
I once had a squirrel run out and in between my dogs’ paws and they barely even noticed because they were moving so quickly.
They were physically and mentally stimulated by what they were doing.
If they had been bored and noticed the squirrel coming, they certainly would have grabbed him!
I suppose that not everyone can provide this level of mental and physical stimulation.
Why Mental Stimulation Is Important
Mental stimulation is critical for having a happy, healthy dog. Mental stimulation is as important as physical fitness and a healthy diet for your dog. If you exercise your dog well but don’t provide him with mental enrichment you will end up with a physical fit but bored dog, which could lead to many behavioral problems.
Mental stimulation for dogs is more than just a catchy way to sell cute new dog toys – it’s a legitimate aspect of pet health backed by veterinarians, behaviorists, and canine researchers.
As a society, we long ago recognized that animals in captivity of any kind begin to behave differently than those in the wild. Whether it’s an elephant in a zoo, a sheep in a field, a hamster in a cage, or a dog in your home, domestic animals don’t always have access to the same routine or environment that their body was designed for, generally speaking.
This is true even if they were born into that environment and have never known anything else. It even applies if their species came into existence paralleled with domestication, like the modern dog.
Much of being a good pet parent and trainer to your dog has to do with recognizing whether or not your home environment and daily routine are meeting the biological needs that your dog has.
If you keep your dog mentally and physically fit, you are going to have a much happier, healthier and calmer companion. Imagine yourself locked in a room the whole day with nothing to do, what would you do?
There are many different options for keeping your dog mentally fit through games, training and food puzzles. It is much better if your dog spends 20-30 minutes per day to work for its food, for example, instead of gobbling it down in 5 minutes.
How to Tell if Your Dog Isn’t Getting Enough Mental Stimulation
There are a number of ways to tell if your pooch isn’t receiving the proper amount of mental stimulation. A lack of mental stimulation will lead to a wide array of unpleasant symptoms.
If you’re wondering about whether or not your dog is receiving enough mental stimulation, here are some signs to look for:
- He digs excessively in the backyard.
- Neighbors complain he barks while you’re gone.
- He chews on anything and everything in the house.
- He gets into the trash constantly.
- He’s gaining weight.
- He follows you around constantly when you are home.
Behaviors like these often crop up with a bored dog. You might think he just needs more space, but even zoo animals in huge outdoor enclosures develop problematic behaviors from boredom – called stereotypic behaviors.
So how do zookeepers and pet owners combat our furry friends’ boredom?
Enrichment and mental stimulation!
Mental Stimulation Games to Play While Walking Your Dog
The good news is that adequate mental stimulation is all you need in order to keep your dog’s attention on you! Here are some fun games that will help keep your dog stimulated while on the walk!
The Recall Game
Coming when called is probably THE MOST important skill that you will ever teach your dog.
But people rarely take the opportunity to work on this while they are on a walk with their dog on leash next to them! Why not condition the dog, often, that coming when called is a wonderful thing?
So, while I am walking with my dog in heel position or even at the end of the leash (I don’t allow any pulling) I begin to run backward while calling my dog to “come.”
I make it fun! I prance, I praise and I reward handsomely if he responds quickly and in an animated fashion. If I want to add more (and I always do!) I get him to sit directly in front of me and then find heel again!
Ah, push-ups are one of my favorite exercises to entertain my dog’s mind and exhaust his body! These don’t have to be done just at home in between my four walls! I love adding push-ups to a walk.
First, let me explain: when I say push-ups I am talking about having my dog “sit,” and then “down,” and then “sit” in rapid succession.
For a great video series on how to teach these basic commands, click here.
To sharpen my dog’s listening skills and obedience, while I am walking with my leashed dog, I command my dog to “down” (hopefully while we are still in motion) and then I ask for multiple “sits” and “downs” before finally rewarding him with a tasty treat or his favorite toy.
Change Things Up
This is a good way to get your dog more attentive to your movements and will help with leash pulling. This can involve changing the speed you are walking. Start to walk quicker or jog and give your dog a command such as “faster”. Then slow down giving a similar command such as “slowly”. Or you can stop and start much like a game of Red light, Greenlight. Your dog will quickly recognize the commands and will be more attentive to you.
Use your imagination and use different changes such as changing the side they are walking on or walk in a zig-zag or completely change direction.
Mix the changes up and make the length of each burst unpredictable meaning your dog will need to be aware of what you are going to do next. It will be amazing for your dog’s manners while on leash, and will also keep your dog attentive to you while you’re walking him.
Hide & Seek
Hide and seek is another great game to play on a walk or at the park, but you need two people! One person should dart away and find a good hiding spot, while the other person distracts the dog (or lets him watch in the beginning). Then the hiding person calls the dog to “COME” all while praising him as he tries to find his owner.
“Fury, COME!!!! Good girl, Good girl, Good girl, COME!”
You can’t call once and then hope that he or she is motivated to find you. You must praise and motivate him until he finds you! This is also a fun way to solidify that recall or come command that we talked about earlier! “COME” should be FUN!
If you consistently work both of the recall games you will see your dog’s recall vastly improve! Your dog doesn’t have to be a scholar to play games while walking. Even the youngest dogs and puppies can benefit from simply changing your pace from moderate to fast or too slow. Changing pace keeps your dog stimulated and his focus on you!
Circles are also fun! Throw in a circle to the left to keep your dog looking up at you and to teach him to get out of your way. Throw in a circle to the right to motivate him to keep up with a faster pace.
Scenting and Tracking Games
There are many simple nose games that you can incorporate into your walk.
This can be something simple like playing Find it. Toss a treat or toy into some long grass or brushes and have them find it.
Or you can try some on-leash tracking games.
An example of this would be to lay a trail of small treats with a larger bonus treat at the end as a reward. Show your dog where the trail starts.
At first, lay small trails until your dog gets the idea of the game. As they become more proficient, increase the length of the trail or leave a bigger gap between treats.
This is the classic kids game. Tag your dog and say “you’re it” and run away and encourage your dog to chase you. This will burn up energy for your dog and give you a bit of exercise at the same time.
You will need three or more people for this one. Have each person grab a handful of treats and spread out. Then each person calls the dog and gives them a treat and lots of praise. As they get better at the game you can spread out more to make it more challenging and burn off some energy. This is a great game to perfect your dogs recall.
Urban agility is where you use the normal surroundings to provide obstacles for your dog to run around, jump over or on to or crawl under.
You can even use the playground or skateboard park as a source of obstacles.
Using your imagination you can turn the park into an obstacle course. Just be sure to ensure the activity is safe and within your dog’s ability.
If you have a dog that is very athletic you can try them with more advanced dog parkour type techniques. This can include walking along a narrow surface or even climbing a tree.
The best part of urban agility is that it doesn’t even need to happen off-leash! You can come up with plenty of fun obstacles that can be handled while you’re holding the standard six foot leash.
Soccer is a great game to teach your dog. It’s relatively simple, allowing dogs to complete it, and there are so many things that you can do with a ball! Ideally, you would just be dribbling the ball with your dog while on a walk, but you could also actually play a game of soccer with your dog in your yard or at the park!
I highly recommend integrating clicker training into your soccer game, as that makes it much easier to train your pup.
Teach your dog how to dribble a soccer ball. Remember that biting and puncturing the ball is a penalty. An alternative is to get your dog a Jolly Ball. This is a hard plastic ball that your dog can’t puncture or pick up. These are particularly popular with herding breeds and breeds like Pitbulls and Staffies.
The two likeliest ways for the dog to "kick" the ball are by using his paws or by using his nose (across the top of the nasal bone is best). While some dogs are particularly skilled at using their paws to propel a ball with accuracy, the easiest way to train most dogs is to teach them to use their noses. Many dogs will already know how to nose target, and that's a very good start.
If you want to teach your dog how to score a goal, then you should hold the ball in place carefully right outside whatever you are using as the “goal.” Encourage the dog to target the ball with its nose. When your dog is touching the lower half of the ball reliably while you hold the ball in place, move the ball to a position immediately in front of the "goal" (this could be an actual goal or even just chair legs). Hold the ball in place and click a few more accurate nose targets on the lower half of the ball.
Next, move your hand away just as your dog goes to target the ball. Click and treat when the ball enters the goal (which should be almost immediately after your dog targets the ball, as the ball is just outside the goal).
Congratulations—your dog just scored his first goal!
A flirt pole sort of looks like a fishing rod. It’s a long pole with a lure hanging from one end on a line. Do you know what the best part is? Dogs love to chase the lure at the end of a flirt pole! You can bring one with you on walks, and you can use it to direct the dog around as it tries to chase down and catch the lure!
Let Your Dog Explore
Dog training is lots of work, and sometimes some time to explore can really help your dog to decompress in a productive way.
Getting to go for a walk is one of the most exciting parts of your dog’s day.
You can give them some more mental stimulation by letting them stop and sniff around some more.
It’s true that walking is great for physical exercise, but for dogs it’s also about exploration.
Sure, you may have walked down your road a million times now, but that certainly doesn’t mean there’s not new and exciting smells for your dog to check out every day.
And if you’re not comfortable with letting your dog lead you around on walks you can designate certain areas or times for free sniffing. Just teach your dog a cue such as “go sniff” and let them explore for a while. You’d be surprised at how much more tired dogs are after a walk that includes exploration and sensory enrichment (sniffing) rather than just walking a straight line.
Letting your dog take breaks to explore a bit will help a ton with ensuring that it’s stimulated. Make sure that you have designated commands to start or end these breaks, otherwise the dog may simply try to explore the entire time that you’re walking. Remember, you are the one with the leash. Finding a balance between control and fun will work wonders for your relationship with your pup!
Stimulate Your Dog
Most people barely work on obedience while they have their dogs out for a walk. Their intention is only to go from point A to point B and back while they think they are giving their dog exercise.
However, simply walking is not the best way to exercise your dog.
And, ironically, this is one of the reasons dogs don’t listen to their owners while they are out of the house! In order for your dog to listen to you while walking, you must work on training him while you are walking.
Forget just getting from point A to point B – work on leash training and games!
Looking for some ways to help tire out your dog and keep them busy? If so try adding more mental stimulation into their routine.
Instead of just adding more physical exercise to your dog’s routine add in a few brain games.
Mental stimulation enriches our dogs’ lives by giving them something meaningful to do.
And because these activities alleviate boredom, they decrease the likelihood of our dogs developing behavioral issues, such as excessive chewing or barking.
What about you? Do you have any other games that your dog loves? Drop us a comment and tell us about them!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.