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5 Reasons Your Dog Needs Mental Stimulation (and Contest)

Board games for dogs

Do you remember the days of playing board games…long before video games came along? Your dog needs mental stimulation, too. As a child of the 70’s and a teenager of the 80’s, board games were a staple in our household.  I know my parents used to tell us to “stop fighting” and go play Monopoly, Trouble, CandyLand, or Battleship. Imagine if your dog could have the same fun on rainy or cold days.

Nina Ottosson felt that way. She is one of 45 people named by Dog Fancy magazine as having changed the pet world, and through bits and pieces, literally, Ottosson has done so. Ottosson is the inventor of dog toys that have improved the lives of canines for years. Perhaps you have seen these games and puzzles on pet websites, but for those who have used them, you know how brain inspiring they are for dogs. She is also one of the Fidose of Reality Pawer Women of 2015.

Nina Ottosson
Nina Ottosson

The line of Ottosson board games range in difficulty from Level 1 for beginners, all the way up to Level 4 for more advanced pooches and those who have mastered levels 1 through 3. Even cooler, these games stimulate your dog’s mind, which is very important for his or her overall health. Nina Ottosson’s philosophy is that the dog has four legs and one head and all five need activity in different ways – both physical and mental.

There are at least five reasons your dog needs mental stimulation, and if you read on, we’re giving away one of our dog, Dexter’s, favorite board games: The Dog Casino!!!

(5) Postoperative Mental Stimulation: After my dog had his surgery to repair a ruptured ACL (ligament) in his leg (twice), he was on restricted activity instructions from the surgeon. As such, I knew that if my dog was not allowed to walk, play, or otherwise in some way engage. In our post about how to entertain a dog after surgery, we discovered that Nina Ottosson board games helped him have fun, keep his doggie mind active, and not feel bored. You want to get a game that does not require a lot of moving around, jostling, or getting the dog “worked up.” View the entire board game collection from Nina Ottosson here. Personally, I would place the game with the treats hidden in front of my dog while he recovered from leg surgery. I would show him the treat, hide it, and then allow him to watch me spin the game board, for example, on the Dog Spinny game.

Dog playing a game
Dexter says, “Let’s play the treat game, Mama!”

(4) Rainy Day and Winter Day Indoor Fun: When it rains outside, there isn’t a lot you can do with your dog, right? Wrong!!! Over the years, we’ve discovered a bunch of fun indoor games to keep both you and your dog waiting for the showers to pass. One of these indoor dog games is called Dog Casino. The Dog Casino is a fun and challenging way to get a dog engaging in play and even help them slow down if they tend to eat their meal fast. Our dog loves removing the bones and opening the sliding compartments to reveal all the treats that are hidden inside.  For this game, the difficulty rating is considered hard. You can see how our dog mastered it. Remember, when you train your dog, this is all about positive reinforcement. Play the new game in short bursts until the dog understands what you want. Never scold a dog or yell at a dog for not doing what you want. Slowly work up to more advanced levels and game play as the dog gets better, more confident, and is enjoying the process. Here’s our Cocker Einstein. Keep reading because we are giving away a Dog Casino board game below.

(3) Strengthen the Bond Between Dog and Dog Parent: When I play these games with Dexter, he genuinely has fun. I love watching his face light up when he discovers the hidden treat treasures. In return, Dexter gains confidence, wants to engage with me, and as a dog mom, that makes me feel good. Who doesn’t want their dog to get the warm fuzzies because you are his or her parent? We all want that, right?! Here’s Dexter waiting for the “okay, go” command from me as he is ready to conquer the Nina Ottosson MixMax puzzles. Put together several games to form one BIG activity board game. Hide treats and let your dog figure out how to find them. You can also create your own puzzle game by combining several different games, and you decide how difficult it will be, from easy to very advance – there are endless possibilities! I highly recommend you supervise your dog with these pieces, as some of them are small. You do not want your dog to swallow anything. Just as you would watch a small child play with a game, please provide the same level of safety and supervision around your dog with these games. We store our games in the closet when not in use.

Side note: When my dog is yearning for a play session with the board games, he paws at the closet or sits in front of it and stares at me! Who trained whom?

Dog playing Nina Ottosson Mix Max game

(4) Train Your Dog: My dog was awarded Canine Good Citizen status by the American Kennel Club and it happened purely on a whim. He never took a class to train for it, we didn’t practice the specific elements of the test previously, and only on prompting of family and friends did we decide to try it. In retrospect, what we did do that contributed to his overall preparation by osmosis for the Canine Good Citizen title is playing games indoors. You can read all about how to pass the CGC test here.

Whenever I do these board games with Dexter, I have him do a sit-stay and then give the “okay” command. I cheer him on and encourage him throughout his sniff and find process of game play. I know he feels good about it, since the game play continues, he gets the treat reward, and his little tail goes a hundred miles an hour throughout. Remember, always do this in short bursts, cheer the dog on, end on a positive note, and never yell at, scold, or otherwise make a dog feel bad for his efforts.

Dexter playing a dog board game
Opening drawers in the Dog Casino game, Dexter loves this!

(5) Monitor Calorie Count: Have you ever taken the time to write down how many calories your dog consumes in one day? There are ways to safely help your overweight dog lose weight. he Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reveals that 57.9% of cats and 52.7% of dogs are overweight or obese.  One of the methods we use in treat distribution is measuring out what we put into the Nina Ottosson board games as a reward. Check the calorie content of the treats your dog consumes and be sure to know how much he or she should be eating in a given day. The folks at Slim Doggy have a wonderful calorie counting resource. You can also talk to your dog’s veterinarian.

If your dog is into veggies, use pieces but be sure he or she cannot choke on them. If the treat bag does not tell the amount of calories, contact the manufacturer for this information. Calories quickly add up when it comes to treats. Most importantly, the treats used in the game play should be high value ones. If your dog despises steamed green beans, don’t put them in the game board and expect Fido to perform.

Win Dice Representing Champion And Success

How to Win a Dog Casino from Nina Ottosson and Fidose of Reality

Now, onto the fun.  No fancy apps or special things to do: Just reply in the comments below and tell us one thing you do to keep your dog’s mind stimulated. You’ll automatically be entered into the random drawing to win the Dog Casino game, valued at $52.99. USA only, please, 18 and older. Complete rules here. 

Opens now and ends on 01/29/16. 

One entry per per person, please.

Contest is closed and the winner is:  Anita and Paco!!!

QUESTION:  What do you do to keep your dog’s mind stimulated???

Note: We were not compensated for this post, but Nina Ottosson herself did send Dexter send games to play. 

A dog lover of the highest order is how Gayle King introduced Carol Bryant, when she appeared with her Cocker Spaniel on Oprah Radio’s Gayle King show to dish dogs. Carol created and owns the trademark, My Heart Beats Dog® and lives that mantra. A 30-year veteran of the dog world, she is President of the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the 2020 DWAA winner for Best Dog Blog.


  1. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says

    My dog loves to play, but we mostly just play fetch, etc. I need to start playing more games with him.

    • Charlene says

      My girl is treat motivated and loves the large weighted kong toy that needs to be rolled around with her nose or paws to receive the treats. Shes too good at it though so the treats are gone quickly!

  2. Amy Knebel says

    We play lots of indoor games, the favorite being “find mommy.” We’d love some other ways to keep both of our minds busy!

  3. maria @closetohome says

    I saw dog games a long time ago on The Today Show and saw how much fun these dogs were having. I think my pup could use one.

  4. Shelly PoochParkWear says

    I play with her with her squeaky toys which she loves and she keeps herself busy by taking her bully sticks and hiding them all over the house – I would love to try the board games with her as I think that would be awesome especially as we live in a tiny studio.

  5. Debi Lampert-Rudman says

    These games are great – and your article is awesome – covers everything. We have two pink “Spinny” Ottosson games for my pups and even use it to give them their daily food once in awhile – they are strong, durable, and you can see the little wheels spinning when they play – I call out “spinny” and they come running!

  6. All Things Collie says

    We take out dogs for hikes in new locations, the change in scenery helps. When home we play games with them. One of us will hide, and the other “releases the hounds!” They actually love this game, and run as fast as they can to search out the human and win.

  7. Sharon Gilbert says

    I hide treats around the house before we leave to see if they can find the all the treats, I take 2 of the Petsmart dogs that they sell at Christmas that Schooner and Skipper have pulled out all the stuffing. I take the unstuffed dogs and stuff it full of balls, squeaker toys, treats, bully stick and anything I can find …it keeps them very busy. They love it. We play which hand has the treat, We play hide and go seek and tug of war with old socks tied together.

  8. Harmony Stidham says

    We play, what I call, sit and seek. He gets to practice sitting and staying commands while I go off to hide. Once hidden, I yell out, “come find me” and he’s off like a hound, sniffing and running until he tracks me down. Still not sure who enjoys it more, me or him.

  9. Stephanie Thomas says

    We have several puzzles that my girl likes to use for treats, and sometimes her dinner! Her favorite indoor activity is chasing a laser light. If she hears the drawer open where we keep the laser, she is ready to go!

  10. Paige Junge says

    My pup Ramona loves to play soccer with her big bouncy ball in the backyard. I love to play with alliteration.
    I work a mental aspect into it by making her figure out which way I’m going to kick it. I also get it “stuck” so she has to free it. I’m building up to hiding it from her to work that budding sniffer.
    She has one puzzle toy and nailed it! I think she needs more.
    Happy pawzzling!

  11. Katherine says

    One of my guys will play fetch up and down the hall until he falls over if I’d let him. He’s not at all food motivated, so the ball is great incentive for training games. His brother loves puzzles. He’s highly food motivated, so hiding treats in boxes, toys stuffed with toys within remnants of stuffies wrapped in blankets gets him going. He also loves to wrestle (which ends up being all about the belly rubs) and tug. Both enjoy working for their dinner with kibble in the Wobbler or a plastic botle. One does all the work, and the other follows him around snarfing the food. I’m making a snuffle mat for them now.

  12. Kelly Seals says

    We enjoying throwing our Waffos toys’ in the air & he enjoys catching them . We also enjoy seeing him put his play toys in his basket & carry them around .

  13. Pamela says

    Honey finds training very fun and stimulating. When we recently had to wait while our boat was put back into he water, I practiced spins, high fives, and shutting doors with Honey. It kept her from getting bored.

    And it did the same for me.

  14. Tamara says

    I so agree with this. Life has been so busy lately with house guests and holidays and school and work. I have been neglecting my best friend! She’s seemed so sad.
    So yesterday and today, we went for a vigorous walk together. It was nice to see her confidence come back.
    Now to keep it regular for both of us!

  15. Kyndal Alley says

    All 3 of my dogs are well versed in mental exercise! I take treats and hide them around the house. We use the command “go find” until they find the treat! They love it! I did buy a “star spinner” mental you from outward hound. It’s a good toy, but they figure it out very quickly. We try to do 10-15 minute sessions of training, multiple times throughout the day!

  16. Pam Hoerauf says

    I try to change up Oskar & Olive’s routine every day. Especially in the winter months. We play with different toys every day and involve them in whatever we are doing.

  17. Nancy Height says

    I do agility with Patches, he loves to do tricks and play fetch. Max likes to play fetch with his tennis ball. He will only play with them in the house. The brain games would be fun to play with all 3 of my dogs. They would be great for Maggie, who is blind.

  18. Jill H says

    I never seen these games before, my poor doggies have been missing out! I have one dog that is what I would call a busy dog, who I think would love these games. I have never did any game except tossing a ball.

  19. Denise Steele says

    I have some baors game type of things but Ruby solves them too quickly and I need to find harder ones to challenge her. She loves playing with a laser.

  20. Sandy says

    I have been thinking of agility lessons but that means more time away from home. I love the thought of these board games. I have a different one now but it’s not stimulating enough for him. He’s had it too long.

  21. Rose says

    Your dog certainly has a lot of mentally stimulating toys! My dog Bear loves to play hide and seek with my husband and I. Its so much fun to watch him thinking and problem solving to figure out where we are hidden!

  22. Bryn Nowell says

    We practice scent work by hiding treats and having the pups work on finding the treats! We’ve also been working on solving problems with an activity mat!

  23. Rosey says

    Yep, it does sound like a fun way to strengthen the bond between a pet and his owner. Quality time is always a good thing to share. 🙂

  24. Sarah Stanek says

    We do lots of indoor games to keep the pups minds stimulated from puzzle games to clicker training and we enjoy easter egg hunts around the house. I fill those plastic Easter eggs with treats and hide them around the house and the pups have to look for them. They absolutely love that game!

  25. Linda Szymoniak says

    I wish my dogs were better at learning commands, but I still try working with them. Just making them sit, shake, etc. now and again all day seems to help. For my senior girl, who has gotten really senile, the vet has suggested just spending time every day petting and cuddling her to help stimulate her brain.

  26. FiveSibesMom says

    My Huskies love to play! When it’s raining out and they are inside for long periods of time, I close all the doors to the bedrooms, bathroom, and office and let them have indoor “zoomies” time. They also like to play Fetch! and Tug with their stuffies with me or each other, and they do love puzzles! Gibson always figured them out super fast! I know those treats hidden inside is what really captured their attention, but watching them figure out how to move the pieces for their reward also very entertaining for me!

  27. Jessica Harlow says

    Our dog looks to each of us for different learning and playing time. With me it’s more physical games and exercise, but with my husband they play more brain games like hide and seek, find the treat, that kind of thing. lol

  28. Emma says

    Mental and physical workouts are important. We do our nose work and tracking which both really work out minds. Sometimes, Bailie does puzzles, but I don’t like them. We also have a treat ball Bailie likes. Katie liked puzzles a lot too, but these days she has given up on them.

  29. Anita and Paco Maas says

    Annie defiantly needs it.. she is in Europe with out me because I had to come back for hip replacement.. she has torn up a lot of things out of bordom as hubby is at work.. I have been looking at different levels.. think 3 would be more her.. she has poodle smarts and chow stubburnness… would love to win one of these… either way I will be seeing her with one in may 🙂 cant wait ..

  30. Caren Gittleman says

    I know this sounds hokey but it isn’t meant to…I have the Nina Ottosson bone game and Dakota loves it. I put it away and bring it back out after a period of time to keep it fresh. I also will hide treats under cups and scramble them like a magician….Dakota always picks the right one! I try to work on some of his commands, and I need to teach him new things more…I am bad about that 🙁

  31. Susan Bewley says

    We keep Reya and Ivi stimulated with puzzle toys and making various games out of the toys they have. Malamutes though are notorious for being destructive if they aren’t stimulated so we are constantly searching for new toys!

  32. Christine Aiello says

    We have one Nina Ottosson game and one other puzzle game that we got at Petco once that we play with. I think they are great games. Coco sez Dexter you better share your games with me next weekend!

  33. Amber Watts says

    We do a lot of training and tricks to always keep him thinking. We like to switch up where we train and do things in different orders. We would love to try out some of these games though!

  34. Dawn says

    We used stimulating games similar to these to help keep Pia Pia’s mind intrigue and thinking. For the most part she loves them but she (like all of us) has her days. We do talk to hear and search for other unique games so not to bore her. It is always neat for her and us when we find new toys.

  35. Shari says

    My dogs seems to enjoy practicing the tricks they have learned. So we do tricks, play games like fetch and play outside where I hide behind a tree and they have to find me..

  36. Kimberly Meckes says

    I take my boys on lots of walks and adventures where they’re exposed to a lot of different stimuli. Playing ball going up and down the levee, visiting at Hillside to see the animals and kids, lots of doggy play dates. I’ve never ventured into the indoor game puzzles but would love to win and try it!

  37. Lisa Davis says

    My dog does not play. The only way I can get him to play is if it is food related. I found some toys that I can put food in.

  38. stellachico says

    Chico is 14 and doesn’t get as much physical activity as he used to, so to engage him, I play little games with him in the house, asking him to bring me a particular toy or his food bowl. This combines both a bit of indoor physical activity and mental stimulation. If he brings me the right toy ,he gets a treat. If not, he tries again.

  39. Sandy Weinstein says

    i have 3 gals, the oldest has a little dementia now, at 14.5 so i try to play some games with her, play ball like we used to play, the 2 younger girls we play games, i hide treats in the house, under toys, and when i leave the house. i also try to teach them new tricks or do some training.

  40. Bonnie Day says

    My dogs like do obstacle courses I’ve seen them on TV so made some on our property they seem to like it and of course they always want to play fetch

  41. Shafali Grewal says

    I put her ball under the coffee table and my puppy has to work on pushing it with her nose from different angles until she gets it out.

  42. Emily Endrizzi says

    We talk to our dogs every day, play games with them and take them out for exploring and walks. These things all help keep their minds stimulated.

  43. Nikki Byer says

    My dog and I are alone during the day while other are at work or school. I talk to Banner as if he were another person. Rather than talk in one or two words, I use complete sentences and tell him what we are doing. For example, “Banner, I need to go upstairs to make beds. Do you want to come?” Or on evening walks we talk about the stars in the sky or the weather. He always looks attentively and seems to understand. If I go out and others are at home, I’ll say, I have to go to the store, but you can stay here with Gabe. Surprisingly he takes off on the direction of that person. I think all of this has strengthened the bond between us and I know it helps him cognitively.

  44. Suzanne Dean says

    Mary is very treat oriented and we have a couple of puzzle games, one of them is more than one puzzle. We also walk everyday and I try to take different routes so she gets her sniffs in. That is also a treat for her, she just loves to sniff everything. This is her way of knowing who has been in her neighborhood. Sometimes just a fun game of “find it” is fun too. I’ll have my husband go outside and I’ll tell her to find daddy and she’ll sniff his steps to ind him. She loves this game, it can be done inside too on days the weather is not cooperating.

    Great post, I love these games, very interactive. Thanks for sharing.

  45. Rachel and Dobby says

    We do lots of things to keep our dogs’ minds stimulated- treat puzzle balls, slow feed bowls, clicker trick training, hide-and-seek games and so many more!

  46. Chelsea says

    While my furry baby, Penney, is in the kitchen, I will hide a treat or favorite tiny toy under 1 of 3 handkerchiefs on the living room floor. I then call her and she finds it. She seems to enjoy the applause and me saying, “Yay! Good girl!” as much as the game itself. We then hug and roll around. She never tires of it. She will even go get a hanky when she wants to play. Your furry baby makes these games seem like so much fun!

  47. KateV says

    I train, train, train. Tricks, agility, basic obedience. We play a lot, and incorporate even more training into that. And then they get puzzle toys. I have highly active dogs who I’ll never be able to wear out physically, so the mental stimulation is extremely important.

  48. Tiffany's Diamond Dogs says

    Agility, Frisbee, and Fetch are a few things we do! We do treat toy puzzles too although we don’t have any of the Nina Ottosson ones yet. The interactive ones are the best and Bella, Terra, and Kronos have mastered all the puzzles we currently have. They could definitely use more challenging puzzles or a different one!. We also do shaping for general trick training in addition to conditioning exercises where the pups have to use their minds and their bodies. Scenting games are a blast too-either searching for scattered kibble or searching for hidden treat spots around the house or yard.

  49. Lisa F. says

    I have used a Buster Cube with a few of my dogs for mental stimulation. There are other treat-dispensing toys I’ve tried as well and have varied in liking them. I would love to win this for my Springer Spaniel, Calin! Thanks! 🙂

  50. cynthia says

    I have 3 pekingese and play hide n seek with them to help improve their problem-solving skills and keep their sense of smell keen. The boy dog, Augie is a pro at problem solving. I hide pieces of his cookie around the house and by the end of the day he has figured out how to get every crumb. My sweet little girl peke has a keen sense of smell. She can sniff out the slightest bit of chicken treat. And my genius girl, Xia, can guess what hand I have her treat in every time. She’s the smartest of the three. I would love to see how they react to one of the games…looks like a very cool idea!

  51. Rose says

    Thanks for the contest! My dog loves puzzle toys although he figures them out pretty quickly! Always looking for new ways to keep him stimulated and challenged.

  52. Kathleen says

    Thanks for the review. My dog enjoys learning new tricks, hide and seek, and playing with puzzle toys for mental stimulation.

  53. Tessa says

    Interesting post! My dog catches on to puzzle toys pretty quickly so we have several around for mental stimulation.

  54. Toni says

    I leave toys around the house for my dog, Lucky. We also take long walks together. I’m hoping he will get along a bit better with other dogs (he tends to bark at random dogs during our walks) because I would like him to be a therapy dog one day.

  55. Amy says

    My dog loves doing puzzle toys and we have some treat dispensing ones to keep my dog stimulated. We haven’t tried one by Nina Ottosan yet!

  56. Daniel Scott says

    To keep my dog’s mind simulated we work on exercise such as lure coursing, agility and we also go on adventures.

  57. Sandra T. says

    So much good advice here! I bookmarked Nina Ottosson’s website. I need to order some stuff for the girls!

  58. Sylvie Savage says

    I love the bond that develops when I play with my dogs. Something we do outside is ‘treat search’, we scatter small treats in the grass in an area of about 10×10′ and then we let our dogs find them all. It can take them up to 10 minutes to accomplish this and they get to use their nose and brain to achieve this. They are always calmer after this activity.

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