We’ve all seen it happen — a dog is sniffing or playing or staring at the sky and their handler asks them to do something that have done a million times, a behavior they know… and they don’t do it.

And so the handler gets frustrated.

This is so common I like to play two games in my classes that help people understand why their dog isn’t “being stubborn” or “being stupid.”

The first is Simon Says.

How To Play Simon Says (And Teach Understanding Instead)

training a dog class "simon says"

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Wells

Most people know the rules for Simon Says, but just in case you don’t: the game is to do whatever “Simon” tells you to, but only when Simon refers to him or herself in the third person.

For example, when playing with just people, if Simon says, “Simon says pat your head,” you would pat your head. If Simon just says, “Pat your head” you don’t pat your head.

Usually, when someone does a behavior they weren’t supposed to or doesn’t do a behavior they were supposed to do, they’re “out” and you play until last man standing.

Since that can get boring for those not in the game, I usually just let everyone keep playing.

How To Play Simon Says In Dog Training Class

In dog training classes I choose whatever skills we were working on that day, plus maybe a few others they should know (some good, basic options are: sit, down, hand touch, look, loose leash walk in a circle to the right/left, take 3 steps forward, etc).

It’s pretty rare to play a full game of Simon Says without someone “messing up” at least once! I’ve usually found playing for 5-8 minutes is all it takes for everyone to be “out.” 

(Funny enough, if there are kids in the class, they tend to out-perform the adults, so this is a GREAT game to play if you have both kids and adult handlers!)

What Are We REALLY Learning?

Well, besides the “practice” for the dogs, I like to explain that messing up at Simon Says is just like when your dog is sniffing or starting at a bird or doing something else.

During the game, the handlers are focused on getting the dog to do the thing I’m asking them to do — they understand the game, but a few repetitions into it, they start to focus more on their dogs and less on me — it’s not that they don’t “know the behavior,” (after all, we cover the rules), they are just focused on something else and that makes it harder to do the thing I’ve asked them to do.

The same thing is true of their dog.

“Are You Smarter Than Your Dog?”

The other game I like to use to teach this is “Are You Smarter Than Your Dog?”

During puppy classes (where they may not have 4-5 behaviors to play Simon Says) I pick a word and a behavior and “train my students.”

How to Play “Are You Smarter Than…”

I tell the class that every time I say a word (usually I’ll choose a word like “puppy” or something fairly common) I want them to DO something — pat themselves on the head, give their dog a treat, etc.

I may even write the word and the behavior on the blackboard to help everyone remember. Then I sprinkle the word into my directions throughout the class and see who remembers their “cue.”

Since they’re people and not puppies this should be fairly easy, right? WRONG!

What Are We REALLY Learning?

Just as in Simon Says, as soon as they start to focus on other things (like training their dog!) they tend to forget their “cue.”

The first time this happens I usually point out that their dogs have the *same* issue; then I use the cue a few more times throughout the rest of class, to help make sure they get it!