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Mind games for German Shepherds are a way to have a blast with your dog while bumping up their mental power!
Brain training is essential for owners who want to engage their German Shepherd’s intelligence and discourage problem behaviors.
Lack of mental stimulation can cause a German Shepherd to misbehave and act out of boredom, leading to more stress for both of you.
But, here’s the solution…
Play these fun German Shepherd mind games which are so easy to sprinkle into your daily routine you’ll wonder why you didn’t try them sooner!
And, if that wasn’t enough…
You’ll look like a seasoned brain game professional by the time you finish reading this post.
What are mind games for German Shepherds?
German Shepherd mind games are activities that use your dog’s mental powers to learn a new skill, perform a behavior, or participate in a multistep process to achieve a goal. Mind games for German Shepherds help focus their intelligence and high drive energy into constructive work that’s fun and allows your dog to enjoy their natural abilities and talents. These brain games can take as little as just a few minutes and are simple enough to incorporate into your daily routine.
They’re great for all age groups – even puppies and senior dogs can participate and learn from playing mind games.
Simply put, mind games are any activity that involves your German Shepherd using their brain to figure out what to do next in a new skill. This type of stimulation is mentally stimulating for them. And, it’s a fun way to test your dog’s skills, watch them learn, and enjoy spending time together.
Generally, the reward for completing the brain game or task is a tasty treat.
You can also reward your dog with:
Many of the activities you do with your German Shepherd satisfy their physical needs, like walking, playing fetch, off-leash exercise, and tug. But apart from obedience training, which is considered a brain game in itself, there is less focus on ways to stimulate your German Shepherd’s mind.
And mind games for German Shepherds have many benefits you might not have thought of.
Let’s take a look at the powerhouse of benefits that brain training your GSD offers!
Benefits of Exercising Your German Shepherd’s Mind
There’s plenty of reasons to love playing brain games with your German Shepherd that also benefit you directly.
Tire your dog and spend up their energy
Playing mind games uses a lot of energy and helps to tire out your dog. While physical exercise is great, brain games are essential for tapping into your breed’s intelligence and honing in on their problem-solving skills.
Even after a long walk your German Shepherd still needs to reduce their boredom from having a more sedentary lifestyle. Brain training targets boredom and helps to keep a puppy stimulated.
Strengthens the bond between you and your German Shepherd
Spending more time playing stimulating games with your dog increases your bond with them. German Shepherds love to spend one-on-one time with their owners. Brain training gives you this essential bonding time while improving your dog’s obedience.
Want to know what else will give you a strong bond for life?
Playing novel games and performing new exercises during brain training increases your dog’s confidence. With each new technique, they perform successfully and they gain needed courage that transfers into their daily lives.
Helps older dogs remain active and reduces mental decline
Keeping your senior GSD active by using mind games helps to reduce mental decline. Older dogs still need and enjoy learning new skills and routines. You can adjust your brain training to suit their age-related needs.
Helps puppies in developing spatial awareness and body coordination
As your German Shepherd puppy works through more challenging brain training, their bodies process new ways of moving to wind the reward of the game. By encouraging your puppy to participate in mind games you help them develop stronger skills they’ll need throughout their life.
Reduces frustrating behavior problems
A German Shepherd engaged in fun mind games is typically one that isn’t getting himself into trouble. Mental and brain activities can teach a variety of skills that help him reach his full potential as one of the world’s most popular breeds.
So, how can you enhance your German Shepherd’s brain, improve his overall quality of life, and encourage his energy into productive means?
With daily mind games for German Shepherds that focus his intelligence, mental acuity, and stamina!
Bonding While Using Mind Games
One of the best benefits of German Shepherd mind games is that Interacting with your dog in a positive, stimulating way every day can strengthen your bond. German Shepherds enjoy social interactions with their favorite people. And research shows that attachment bonds with your dog are similar to those in a caregiver-infant relationship.
In fact, your presence even encourages your dog to move more freely to investigate novel objects (source). So, definitely include mind training games as part of a well-rounded, consistent training plan.
Mind games for German Shepherds are a great way to provide your athletic and smart dog the intense stimulation they crave without overexercising their bodies.
At what age can you play mind games with your German Shepherd puppy?
Even German Shepherd puppies as young as 8 weeks old can start playing simple mind games. A Kong food toy or brain exercises on their daily walk are great ways to burn up their puppy energy while keeping their minds engaged and stimulated. Mind games for German Shepherd puppies can give them a boost in their mental and physical development. Brain training allows the opportunity to challenge their minds while manipulating their bodies to play brain games.
When your German Shepherd puppy is settled into their new home with you, start including mind games and brain training in their daily routine to give them a mental boost.
Yet, even adult and senior German Shepherds benefit from playing mind games!
Don’t neglect including mentally stimulating exercises for your dog — no matter their age! You can adjust the mental games to suit your dog’s age easily to keep their brains sharp and avoid mental decline.
How to Engage Your German Shepherd’s Brain in Creative Ways
Mental exercise makes dogs feel more physically tired than physical effort alone. Use this bit of science to help stimulate your dog’s mind, while giving you what you want most later — a tired dog that’s well-behaved and ready for a nice long nap!
Use this list of the best mind games for a German Shepherd to stimulate their brains and give them the mental training they deserve.
Interactive Obedience Fetch
Don’t just play a dull game of fetch anymore because…
You could make it a super game of fetch by keeping the play more interactive between you and your German Shepherd!
Plus, it’s a perfect way to slip in some obedience training cues to make sure your dog doesn’t forget their commands. All while keeping their brain engaged and focused on you.
Don’t get caught in another rut of a boring game of fetch with your puppy.
Instead, play Interactive Obedience Fetch!
Start a game of fetch
Play as you normally would by throwing a ball or toy for your German Shepherd.
Change it up
But, when they bring the item back to you and give it to you, have them perform a command they already know.
Encourage them to participate, but don’t force them
Don’t play the game until they’ve performed the trick. So, only use commands you’re sure they know to avoid frustration and stress for both of you. This isn’t to teach new commands, this is to get their minds going while enjoying the play.
Take it up a notch
Once your puppy understands the game, begin making the exercise more interesting and mentally stimulating for them.
Stack if for ultimate superpowers
Ask them to perform multiple commands and cues before you throw their toy. Begin with 2 commands, then 3, and so on. But only if your German Shepherd still wants to play fetch and doesn’t get stressed by the lack of his favorite toy while he’s doing the cues.
This is an excellent way to use mind games for your German Shepherd that doesn’t rely on food rewards. Instead, the reward is the time they play fetch with you.
If your dog prefers tug-of-war instead of fetch, as my German Shepherd does, then practice your dog’s drop or release command. Don’t play tug with them until they respond to the obedience commands in between bouts of tug play.
Dogs especially find this game both mentally and physically exhausting. It’s a win-win for your German Shepherd’s mind and body!
Have a dirty house and need an assistant to help with cleaning up?
Then this is the perfect mind game for your German Shepherd to learn!
To get your dog to understand the toy pick-up game, begin like this:
First, make sure your German Shepherd has a “drop it” command they know
To teach them this command, give them their favorite toy to hold onto. When you want the toy back, simply show them a treat. They should drop the toy for you, but if they don’t offer them a higher-value treat. When your dog drops the toy a few times, begin adding in the cue “drop it”. Practice a few times until they know what “drop it” means and are reliable with it.
Start shaping your dog to drop their toys in a basket
You’ll want to go slowly here by having the basket nearby. When your German Shepherd has their toy in their mouth, ask them to “drop it” and move the basket under the toy to catch it for them. Even if your dog drops their toy near the basket, but not directly in it, still reward them for getting close. At this stage, you want to keep the rewards going strong for their effort of getting closer to them directing the toy in the basket.
3. Add in a new command
As your dog learns to get closer to the basket and is more comfortable with the game, name the behavior. I like to call this one “clean up”. Adding in a new command helps your dog to understand the difference between “drop it” and “clean up”. Eventually, your German Shepherd will understand that “clean up” means to pick up a toy and drop it in the basket.
4. Practice makes perfect
Practice the brain game with your dog frequently in short bursts. First, just have them clean up one toy. Move the basket around to ensure they know the basket might not always be in the same spot. Keep rewarding them every time they put their toys away.
5. Increase how much cleaning they need to do
Over time, slowly reduce the number of rewards by only rewarding your dog when they drop in 2 toys in a row, then gradually increase to 3 toys in a row and so on until all their toys are put away. After lots of patience and practice, you’ll have a German Shepherd who loves to help you clean their toys!
Keep in mind, it can take time and encouragement with positive training to build up their cleaning skills. Have patience, especially with a puppy, since this is a more advanced mind game for a German Shepherd puppy to learn.
Encouragement, when your dog seems confused or frustrated, goes a long way in brain games. Even if your dog takes longer than you like to learn this behavior, it’s all positive mental stimulation for them.
Every step helps to build their confidence and keeps their minds busy.
Need more ideas to put your German Shepherd to work?
When was the last time you enjoyed a fun game of hunting treasures with your puppy?
Hiding treats for your German Shepherd is a great way to mentally stimulate them. You can start brain training them with a simple game of hunting hidden treasures.
Here’s how to play the puppy Treasure Hunt game:
Make sure your puppy doesn’t see you
Have your dog sit and stay in a different area where they can’t see you hide treats.
Hide the treats
In another area, place a few highly-fragrant treats in easy, obvious places for your puppy to find. Start out by laying the treat right out in the open to help them enjoy the new game and learn how to play.
Begin the treasure hunt
Call your dog to find the treat treasures. Use the command, “find it” to begin the search. Help them out if you see them struggling.
Add in your treasure hunting cue word
Offer them praise when they find the treat. Say “find it” again and help them search for the next treasure until they’re all done.
Increase the challenge
As they get more experienced, make the game more challenging for their minds. Hide the treasure in harder places around the room, in different rooms, and even in the backyard. Get creative, but stay safe, by using empty boxes, sturdy containers, or other pet-safe objects to build an obstacle course to the treats.
Finding hidden treasures is more challenging and fun for your puppy when you gradually make the treasure hunt harder and different. It’s not only going to stimulate their brain, but it’s going to stimulate their senses, too!
Make sure you’re not making the treasure hunt too hard too quickly. This can make your puppy frustrated and not want to play.
Once your German Shepherd knows how to play, they’re going to love this fun scent game! It’s a great mental exercise that entertains you both!
Hide And Seek
Want a quick way to bond with a new German Shepherd puppy?
Then, you’re going to enjoy playing Hide and Seek with your dog!
While this brain game is best played with two people, if your German Shepherd is trained to a “sit and wait” cue then you can teach them to play it with just you.
If you have a puppy that’s not house trained quite yet, then consider not leaving them to wander through your house alone to search for you. They could get sidetracked and find a spot to potty, instead. So, supervise them at all times!
The Hide and Seek Game
Recruit a friend or family member to help
Have someone give your dog the “sit and wait” cue, while you go and hide. If your dog is well-trained, then give them the wait command yourself and go find a place to hide.
Make the hiding obvious in the beginning
When you hide for the first few times, make it easy for them to find you. This way, the game is easier for them to learn more quickly.
Make it more stimulating
As your dog becomes more adept at playing, make the game harder and harder for them. This helps keep their minds entertained while learning to use their sense of smell and hearing more to focus on seeking your hiding place out.
Pour on the praise!
When your dog finds you, give them lots of praise and attention for their success!
Find new treasure zones
Play the game not only in your house, but in your secured backyard, and even on a long line outdoors to keep them focused on where you’re at.
What’s great about this game is that you don’t have to give your dog treats as a reward for finding you. When they arrive at you, your praise and attention are the rewards!
Hide and Seek is a great alternative if you’re looking for an alternative to treat-based games.
Mentally Stimulating Puzzles
Have you heard of puzzles for dogs to give your dog’s brain a real workout?
Using puzzles you can challenge your German Shepherd to find a solution to earn their reward — a tasty treat!
Introducing puzzle games for German Shepherds
Show them how to play the puzzle game
Place a few treats inside the compartments of the puzzle game and set the puzzle on the floor. Encourage your dog to investigate the puzzle by pulling the pegs up, or moving drawers, depending on the puzzle you chose. Make the game as easy as possible the first few turns by leaving out pegs and keeping drawers all the way open.
Encourage interaction with the puzzle
As they sniff or paw at the puzzle, praise them for interaction with the toy. Some dogs catch on more easily than others, so let your German Shepherd go at their own pace for this new mind game.
Make the puzzle more challenging
As your dog learns to play the puzzle, make the game more challenging by closing all the drawers or inserting all the pegs. This way your dog has to move the objects more to get to their reward.
Try new puzzles together
As your dog gets better and better at the puzzle games, get them harder puzzle toys to try. German Shepherds love a challenge!
String the puzzles together
I like to have a few puzzles in a row set up for my German Shepherd to play her mind game. As she finishes one game, I place the next puzzle in front of her and move aside the completed game. For even more mental stimulation, I hide a few puzzles in the backyard and tell her to go ‘find’ them to keep her busy.
Puzzles for Mind Training a German Shepherd
This is one of my German Shepherd’s favorite mind games! She could play these puzzles all day if only I had the time.
There are so many puzzle toys on the market to test your dog’s intelligence and problem-solving skills it’s hard to choose which one to start with.
Puppies and Beginners
Start with a beginner puzzle toy, such as this mentally stimulating dog puzzle game. You can make the puzzle easier by leaving some of the pegs off, or harder by placing all of the pegs in their compartments and using fewer treats.
Advanced Mind Game Puzzles
On the other hand, you might already know your dog needs more of a puzzle game challenge.
How about teaching them to shake hands with your visitors and guests as a polite greeting trick?
How to teach a proper greeting, the Shake (Give Paw)
1. Place a treat in one of your closed hands, and hold it out front of you
While your dog is sitting in front of you, hold a small treat firmly in your closed hand so they can smell it, but not see it. Move your closed hand near their nose slightly so they are interested in the smell. Encourage your dog to try to get the treat – most dogs will try to open your hand with their nose first but don’t open your hand yet. Only when they have touched your hand with their paw can you open your hand.
2. Open your hand and let them eat the treat when they paw it
As soon as their paw touches your hand, open your hand. Let them have the treat, praising as you give it, and repeat this several times.
3. Practice with each hand and different paws
Alternate which hand you present your dog, from one side to the other. This ensures your dog learns to use the correct paw each time a different hand is presented. Repeat several times with both paws and change up which hand you present.
4. Name the command
After multiple repetitions and once your dog is giving their paw easily, begin adding a verbal command before you give the reward. Try using the cue “shake” or say “give paw.” When your dog touches your hand with their paw, give them the treat while praising them.
5. Invite your friends and keep practicing!
If your dog’s comfortable, invite your friends or family over to practice their new greeting skills. Have them say “shake” and offer their open hand to accept your dog’s paw. Keep practicing and make sure your dog is always comfortable so it’s enjoyable for him.
If your dog has mastered this trick, why not invest in teaching them even more exciting tricks for mind training?
The Muffin Tin game encourages young puppies and adults to involve their natural exploratory behavior. It’s an easy brain exercise that allows your dog to explore different textures and ways of hunting for their food.
For this brain game, you’ll only need:
A muffin tin to hold treats or their daily kibble
Enough tennis balls, dog balls, or toys to fill each hold in the tin
To begin playing this puppy sensory play is easy!
Playing the Muffin Tin Game
Setup the Muffin Tin game
Place a few treats or their kibble into the holes of the muffin tin. Now, to make the game easy, leave some tin holes uncovered. For a harder game, cover the tin holes with the balls or toys.
Encourage your dog to search
Let your dog explore the tin and move the toy and ball covers with their paws or nose. Instead of gulping down their food, they must first move the toy, then eat smaller amounts that fit into the tin, and finally move on. Encourage them to search for their treats if they seem to not understand by moving the balls or toys on top and showing them the treats.
Wondering how to make this mind game even more fun?
Up the mental stimulation
Try using a small smear of peanut butter, pieces of soft treats, shredded cheese, or cooked chicken in the tin holes. Your dog will look forward to their mind-training meal instead of barely taking a breath or choking on their food when they eat too quickly.
The Name Game
Did you know that the average well-trained dog knows around 160 different words?
How many words does your dog know?
For many German Shepherds, the words they know will only be a handful. And, it’s usually the ones that are practiced most commonly, such as “sit”, “stay”, “down”, and other overly repeated cues.
But, teaching him new words is a fantastic form of mental stimulation, and it’s such a simple way to keep their brains engaged. Use the Name Game to work on their vocabulary and increase their mental engagement.
Playing the Name Game
1. Use your dog’s usual toys
Begin with your dog’s usual play toys. Make sure they are visually different enough for your dog so they can more easily distinguish between them.
While German Shepherds have a different color vision than you and I, feel free to include the color of the toy as long as it has a distinguishing shape from their others toys.
My GSD has 2 toys I call “red toy” and “purple toy.” She doesn’t know the color difference, but they are each shaped differently and have unique squeaks when I squeeze them.
2. Begin with one toy
Start with one toy and give it a name, such as “brown fox”. Then, encourage your dog to play with you and that toy. Repeat the name of the toy frequently as you play with the toy and your dog. The repetition is important because it helps to rehearse the name of the toy with something positive — your play with them, and helps them make a connection to the toy’s name.
3. Repeat the name and practice
Once you have repeated the name about 30 times, set the toy next to another one. Next, ask your dog to go and get the named toy (i.e. “brown fox”). Give your German Shepherd lots of praise and a treat if he picks it out immediately.
What happens if your dog picks the incorrect toy?
It’s okay if your dog chooses the wrong toy a few times. All you do is calmly say “Uh, oh. Try again.” And just place the wrong toy back next to the toy you’ve named.
Repeat your command and try again.
When he chooses the right toy, shower him with praise! This helps to connect the toy’s name to his brain more easily in the future.
What next for a more challenging game?
Once your dog knows the name of one of his toys, you can move on to the next toy to start the name game again. Don’t rush things.
Take it slowly to work on gradually building up your dog’s vocabulary.
This is such a useful form of mental training for your German Shepherd since it keeps your dog’s mind stimulated and working to process new information.
The Weave Game
Your German Shepherd is athletic and loves a challenge. And, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to find ‘obstacles’ for him during your walks.
On your next outdoor walking adventure look for nature’s wave poles — trees, spaced out shrubs, a row of light poles, or any objects that your puppy can easily move around and weave in and out. These can all become your puppy’s natural agility course!
Begin your agility training by doing the following:
Introduce the weave game
Keep your dog on their leash at first and use plenty of treats and encouragement to steer him towards some well-spaced trees. Lead him in and out of the trees in a weave. Give constant praise to keep it fun. Offer tiny pieces of a treat as he makes it through each obstacle.
Increase the speed
As your dog learns the motion of the weave and gains confidence, walk a bit faster and speed up. Don’t rush your puppy or an aging or senior dog. Try different objects to weave through over the next few days and weeks. Keep giving him tasty treats to maintain motivation.
Now that your dogs know the weave, keep practicing on not only increasing the speed but also looking for longer sections to weave around. Eventually, when your dog has a better recall, you can try to let them go on their own. But, you should keep them on a long line until you’re 100% sure they won’t run away, especially with new dogs or puppies.
What if you don’t have access to an open area with trees?
If you don’t have easy access to open areas or safe obstacles, don’t worry. You can play this game in your own living room using chairs or stools. Even empty cardboard boxes are great for an indoor game for your dog.
Want to turn it up a notch and have your own agility set in your backyard?
Start building your own professional-style agility course with a beginner’s agility dog weave pole set. Plus, the poles are for indoor OR outdoor use!
Talk about a great solution for keeping a German Shepherd busy indoors on a rainy day!
Paws-up is a great game for confidence and for your training skills as your dog learns to ‘strike a pose’!
Once they’ve learned this skill, you can play everywhere you go, as long as you check the item you’re using is safe, sturdy, and won’t slip or fall underneath your dog.
Some ideas for the paw-ups training are sturdy plastic boxes and large upturned flower pots. Even sturdy fallen trees can become a training tool to liven up your daily exercise and walking routine.
A strong box or another stable object with a flat surface
Their favorite treats
Lure and reward
Use a bit of treat to guide and lure your dog to place a paw (or both) onto the box. Mark with a “yes” or your positive marker word and give them the treat. Practice the lure and reward technique a few times until your dog immediately places both their feet onto the box without hesitation. If they only have one paw on the box, keep luring them until they have both paws by using a smellier (a bit of cooked chicken usually works) treat.
Introduce the hand signal
Now, without a treat in your hand, make the same motion over the box you did before. Reward your dog while saying the marker word “yes” with the treat when they have both paws on the box. Repeat using the hand signal to make sure they understand the concept.
Add in a cue
Add in your cue word, but only if they are performing the behavior using the hand signal with ease. I like to call this skill “up”. Say the cue while you are giving the hand signal. When they place both their paws on the box, give them the treat, praise, and the reward marker word (“yes”).
Vary up the box
Next, try a different box to make sure they understand the command “up”. Go through the steps again, starting at step 1 to show this skill on the new box to your dog. You’ll want to stay inside your home while you’re making sure your dog understands the command.
Play the game outdoors
Move to your secure backyard and practice on different objects now. As you keep challenging your dog and training them to new objects, be sure they’re safe and comfortable with the training. Finally, test out their new command on your next walk or exercise outdoors!
It’s never too late to play brain games.
Just by spending 5 to 15 minutes a day using mind games for your German Shepherd, you’ll be surprised what your dog will learn! You’ll also be amazed by how much you learn about your dog through training, games, and play.
All while increasing your lifelong bond.
Even if you’ve never played brain games with your GSD before, it’s not too late to start!
All ages of dogs benefit from keeping their minds and bodies engaged through new learning experiences and problem-solving. From puppies to seniors, there’s a German Shepherd mind game for any brain or body!
Brain Games for Training a Superdog
Physical exercise and mental stimulation are different, but both are essential to your dog’s daily routine. A balanced routine should have an increase in good behaviors you want to see and a decrease in destructive behaviors (like barking, chewing, or nipping).
Don’t push your German Shepherd too far or too soon. Break up their brain games into smaller segments throughout the day, rather than one long session.
There’s a huge range of mind games and puzzles you can explore with your dog.
Want to give your intelligent breed a head start using a brain game training program?
Then this online dog training program that focuses on your dog’s natural abilities is exactly what you’ve been looking for — Brain Training for Dogs 🐶
Always stay positive, praise, reward, and, most of all, have fun with these mind games for German Shepherds!
And the bonus is your dog might actually be tired at the end of the day. 💤
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
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