The Shell Game

YouTube Video - The Shell Game
YouTube Video – The Shell Game

A positive push that has happened for me this year was to see how I could stimulate both dogs and owners during Stay at Home Orders due to COVID.  I’ve done this by having fun getting out of my routine and implementing brain games into my behavior repertoire.

I have often told owners that mental exercise such as training, allowing your dogs to smell, and brain games can tire dogs out.  I have seen and gotten reports back from students how this is true. Students who have joined me in my Games class reported that they were spending more time with their dogs and their dogs took a nice long nap after class due to the fun mentally stimulating activities.

In this post I want to share a simple, fun, interactive game for both you, your dog, and family,  The Shell Game.  Let me know if by adding The Shell Game you added another fun activity to your behavior repertoire with your dog and if you found that your dog was a bit tired after the exercise.

The Shell Game can be a great party trick.  Who can find the hidden treat first, your dog or your friend?  This is fun to play with kids too!  The list goes on.  Point is, have fun.  Brain games can help you ‘exercise’ your dog during COVID stay at home orders, inclement weather, or if you just didn’t have the time to physically exercise your dog.  Challenge your dog while training something new and having fun!

Let me know how it goes. 


The Shell Game

What you will need:

  • Treats
  • 3 plastic cups
  • A smooth surface such as your wooden/ tiled/ cement floor, flattened card board box, or news paper


  1. Use one treat and one cup.  Place the treat sticking out from under the cup so your dog can see the treat (make it very easy for them to see a treat sticking out from under the cup.)
  2. Wait for your dog to paw or nose the cup.  The moment they do say ‘which one’ and lift up the cup.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 several times until your dog is eagerly pawing or nosing the cup.
  4. When your dog is eagerly pawing the cup place the entire treat under the cup so your dog cannot see the treat.
  5. Repeat step 3.
  6. Once you receive an eager response to the hidden treat under 1 cup bring out your second cup.  Repeat steps 1 – 5 only putting a treat under 1 cup.  
  7. If your dog paws the wrong cup you can lift it up and say ‘try again’.
  8. Once your dog is eagerly pawing or nosing the treat cup you can switch around the cups by sliding them around the floor. See if your dog guesses the correct cup.
  9. Once your dog is having fun and eager with 2 cups add a 3rd cup and repeat above steps.


If at anytime your dog becomes frustrated or uninterested, playfully show them the treat under the cup, quickly cover the treat back up, and let them engage again.  You can also go back to 1 or 2 cups to keep it simple.

If your dog keeps lunging for the treat or cup while you’re trying to place the treat, you can ask your dog to ‘leave it’ and/ or ‘stay’ while you are preparing the cup.  This is great training for impulse control, which is an added benefit while playing the Shell Game.

If your dog is not interested in treats put a small ball or small squeaky toy under the cup instead.  You could also try a smellier treat such as cheese or hot dogs.  Just remember to wash your floor afterwards.  

Have fun!

YouTube Video- The Shell Game