Brain Games™ for Dogs

Our innovative training class enhances your dog’s intelligence and helps them make good choices

Did you know that dogs can be taught to read, choose colors and learn the names of their toys? With Brain Games™, you can learn how to teach your dog mind-blowing skills and smart behaviors while gaining deeper insights into how your dog thinks. This 6-week class, for graduates of our Intermediate Training class (or dogs who can demonstrate comparable skills), is both fun and practical, covering behaviors that will enhance your partnership, create stronger communication and build trust.

Brain Games is based on dog cognition, the process of acquiring, processing and choosing how to use information. Choice is essential for the behavioral health of both humans and dogs. The foundation and goal of Brain Games is to give your dog choices and build a deeper understanding of their minds and personalities that will enhance the usefulness of the cues taught in previous courses. Choice is mentally, physically and emotionally fulfilling for your dog and, when we use choice in training, we can develop cues for practical application in everyday life. And the behaviors you can learn to teach your dog will become more reliable because your dog chooses to do them.

How does my dog make choices?

In the PetSmart Puppy/Beginner and Intermediate classes, we build a foundation by learning highly useful behaviors like Loose-Leash Walking, Sit, Place and Settle. In Brain Games, our goal is to coach our pet parents to incorporate choice into their training, continuing to build reliability and partnership. This can lead pet parents to success in Advanced, Therapy Dog training, Trick training, canine sports and more.

Dogs can learn to choose when they are given options. They have the capability to grasp complex ideas and can make deliberate choices, though we may have to teach them how. Many dogs have lived such structured lives that they may not know how to make choices.

Just like in humans, the power to control your own outcomes has a direct effect on behavioral health. Taking away choices could possibly take away a dog’s ability to fulfill their own needs, or even prevent them from avoiding or relieving stress.

In Brain Games, you can help your dog learn to make choices with these games and exercises:

  • You Choose – This exercise focuses your dog even when they are excited by letting them choose between two different treats; one held in your right hand, the other in your left. (One bonus for you is that you will also learn which treat your dog prefers!)
  • The Bucket Game – This activity helps you manage the behavior of your dog without physical restraint and will give your dog the ability to communicate that they choose to participate in things like nail trims, brushing, ear cleaning, etc. The goal is to give your dog a place to focus their attention—in this case, a bucket. Your dog’s continued focus on the bucket will indicate their willingness to participate in an activity. By looking at the bucket, they are saying “I’m ready, you can continue.” This game gives pet parents the opportunity to observe their dog’s body language. It can also help reduce fear and increases confidence in your dog, allowing them to cooperate in at-home care.
  • All Done – The Bucket Game can teach dogs to communicate when they want to stop an activity. All Done is a way to communicate to your dog that your interaction with them—whether you are brushing them or playing a game—is finished. This cue can help reduce attention-seeking behavior from your dog.

How smart is my dog?

The answer may surprise you. According to some canine intelligence researchers, dogs have mental abilities that are close to those of a two-year-old human. (And if that doesn’t seem impressive, think about what toddlers get up to.) Dogs can exhibit problem-solving abilities, such as, learning where you stashed their favorite treats and the fastest route to getting them, figuring out how to open latches and doors and understanding the meaning of over 100 words and physical signals.

While most pet parents recognize that dogs need exercise, that does not just mean physical activity like a hike or a run around the park. It’s important to give your dog mental exercise too, stimulation that gives them a chance to use their brain and learn new skills. In addition to highly rewarding puzzle toys and treat dispensers, there are many fun exercises that give dogs an excellent mental workout. As an added bonus, the behaviors they can learn in Brain Games are amazing to show off to friends and family!

  • Dog Reading – Dogs can learn to associate a word written on a card as a cue to perform a desired behavior including Sit, Down and Spin without you speaking a word or using a hand signal. A real crowd pleaser, this game enhances communication helps you diversify methods of cueing.
  • Object Recognition – Dogs can learn to indicate the correct object, like a toy, when cued. This helps build communication between you and your dog and incorporates fun into training.
  • Tap It! – Dogs can learn to touch a novel object with their paw. This helps promote body awareness for your dog and gives you a way to introduce your dog to new objects, which helps create a fun way for your dog to interact with the world.
  • Color Recognition – Dogs can learn to make physical contact with the named color item, either blue or yellow. This exercise relieves boredom, increases mental stimulation and builds communication to enhance your relationship.
  • The Shell Game – Put a treat under one of three cups, move them around and dogs can learn to indicate which cup it is under by calmly sniffing, staring at or touching it gently with their paw. This provides mental enrichment, encourages a dog’s natural instinct to sniff, increases impulse control and showcases your dog’s talent.
  • Find It! – Your dog will find a treat that you have hidden or tossed. This game provides mental and physical stimulation and allows your pup to practice natural scavenging behavior. It can also be used to redirect your dog’s attention away from a distraction.

How can I teach my dog good manners?

Imagine a world in which your dog doesn’t dash to the door when the doorbell rings or jump up on a stranger to say hello. Part of the Brain Games curriculum is based in what our trainers call Environmental Cueing, which helps your dog learn to offer behaviors automatically depending on the cues in the environment.

Dogs are all about forming patterns; they are very cause-and-effect. The idea behind Environmental Cueing is to create patterns that help you in your everyday lives. What if we could teach your dog that if I do this, you do that? For example, when you sit at the dinner table, your dog Settles by your feet. So, when you sit at the table, you are cueing the Settle.

In Brain Games, you can learn to transfer known cues from verbal direction to an Environmental Cue. Using positive reinforcement, Environmental Cueing lets you spend less time managing your dog’s behavior by teaching them to make good choices for many situations including:

  • Sitting next to you when strangers and/or new people approach
  • Sitting whenever you touch a door handle
  • Waiting whenever you open a door
  • Going to their “Place” when there’s a knock on the door
  • Backing up out of your way when you have your hands full
  • Automatically going into a Settle position whenever you take a seat

Why are brain games good for my dog?

Dogs are devoted companions, true people pleasers who thrive when they have a close and loving bond with their humans. Training helps build their relationship with you—and vice versa—by engaging and enhancing their physical and mental capabilities. Enrolling your dog in Brain Games is like offering a growing child music or art classes—giving them the opportunity to use their intelligence in a fun and creative way. In addition to introducing your dog to fun games and useful cues for everyday situations, this class can provide physical exercise and mental enrichment activities that can help keep your dog calm and get them ready for naptime.

Here’s what you and your dog need to enjoy Brain Games:

  • Completion of Intermediate level Training at PetSmart (or demonstration of comparable skills)
  • Current copy of vaccination records
  • Multiple types of bite-sized, soft, easy-to-swallow treats (in separate containers)
  • Four to six-foot leash (leather or nylon)
    • No retractable leashes
  • A regular collar, head halter (Gentle Leader) or body harness
    • No prong collars
    • No choke collars
    • No electronic collars

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