6 ways to make your dog smarter

6 ways to make your dog smarter

Just like humans, a dog’s intelligence can be increased through education and training. Well-trained dogs are smarter, better behaved and more fun. In reality, seeming ‘smart’ often simply reflects ‘training’ so you’ll need to invest time in training and communicating with your dog. Veterinarian Dr Katrina Warren shares her expert tips to help make your dog a clever canine.

1. Early training
The earlier you start training your puppy, the more likely you are to achieve results. A little bit of training, several times a day, will make a big difference. Don’t forget to keep it informal and fun. Contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks, so if you have an older dog it’s still worth investing the time.

2. Associate words with rewards
It’s possible for dogs to understand a range of vocabulary similar to that of a two-year-old child. You can teach your dog to associate words with behaviours, activities and items by using positive reinforcement and rewards. It’s not surprising that most dogs clearly understand words like ‘treat’, ‘toy’ and ‘walk’, because whenever they hear those words they are rewarded with food, a game or an outing. Your dog will constantly pick up on words and signals, so use this to your advantage and increase the effect with suitable rewards.

3. Use hand signals
Dogs by nature enjoy responding to visual cues, and seem to have adapted to comprehend human visual communication. Pointing is a great example, as you can point to a toy and your dog will pick it up. Dogs are one of the few animals that understand that gesture. Back up your voice commands with hand signals and you will find your dog responds quickly and enthusiastically.

4. Regular training
Short bursts of regular training throughout your dog’s life will give great results. Training can be brief and spontaneous, as what’s important is that it’s regular. Run through a few simple commands with your dog before you give them their dinner. It’s a time when they’ll be really keen to respond.

5. Make your dog work for their food
Dogs love to eat, so get them to work for their food by using a portion of your dog’s daily diet for fun games. You can make treasure hunts with kibble, use food-dispensing toys or play hide and seek with treats. All these activities will keep them stimulated, entertained and their brains active.

6. Trick training
Dogs that learn to perform cool tricks always look smart. Apart from being entertaining, trick training will help take your relationship with your dog to a new level. Start with simple tricks such as ‘speak on command’ and ‘roll over’ and gradually increase the repertoire. There’s no doubt trick training is fun and rewarding for both dogs and owners.

Interactive brain games
A game of fetch is fun, but there’s not much thinking involved. Interactive brain games tire your dog out, decrease boredom and strengthen the bond between you. Try these:

  • Hide and seek – We all played this game as a child but you can also play it with your dog. Get someone to hold your dog while you hide somewhere. Get your helper to call ‘go find’ and encourage your dog to find you. Your dog should be able to find you by scent. If you need to you can also call your dog to give extra help.
  • Treasure Hunt – Stimulate your dog by getting him to use his nose to find hidden treasure. Begin by putting your dog in a sit-stay position, then hide a treat or favourite toy where it is obvious. You can even let him watch you hide it. Then give him the release cue to go find the toy. Reward your dog when he finds the hidden treasure. Once your dog understands the game, ramp up the difficulty by hiding the treasure in another room or have someone in your household hide it.
  • Cup Game – Have your dog watch while you place a treat under one of two opaque cups. Give your dog the cue to turn over the cup to get the treat. When he understands the game, make it more challenging by alternating the cup under which you place the treat. 
Written by Dr Katrina Warren and Diane Godley. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.