Indoor games and activities for your dog
Most dogs love being outdoors, walking, running, digging and chasing are physical activities which exercise your dog and tires them out. But how can you exercise your dog if you can’t go outside?
Sometimes dogs are unable to be walked under vet’s orders for rest and recovery after illness or injury. I recently hurt my leg and couldn’t walk Bosun the boxer as much as usual. The restrictions imposed by social distancing, lockdown and isolation as a result of Coronavirus (Covid-19) are currently limiting our ability to walk and exercise as much as usual. Bored dogs can be destructive, so how do you entertain and exercise a dog under these conditions?
The good news is that walking and playing fetch is not the only game dogs enjoy and there are lots of enrichment activities you can play to mentally stimulate and challenge your dog beyond the ball…
Sniffing & nose work
Dogs love to sniff and it’s a natural, stimulating behaviour. If you’re only able to manage a short walk around the street (as when I hurt my leg) allow your dog to stop and sniff every flower, tree and lampost along the way! If you can’t manage going outside at all, try introducing a snuffle mat or make a snuffle box. All you need is a large box and shredded or crumpled newspaper for your dog to snuffle through to find treats or toys hidden inside.
Snuffle mats provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your pet by encouraging their natural foraging behaviour. They can assist to combat boredom by engaging your dog’s sense of smell to sniff out food amongst the folds of fleece. These are perfect for energetic puppies and dogs on cage rest or restricted exercise recovering from injury or illness.
Start by sprinkling a handful your dogs favourite treats on top of the mat and allow your dog to find them. (If your dog starts to pull at the fleece or tries to dig, use a ‘stop’ command and point to the treats to encourage nose-work.) You can gradually increase the challenge by hiding the treats deeper into the folds. Your dog will find the act of sniffing out their food self-rewarding and satisfying.
Find it! This is a great game which also teaches self restraint as your dog will have to wait patiently for the command to ‘Find it!’ Show your dog that you have some tasty treats or a favourite toy and ask them to ‘wait’ whilst you go and hide the treats (or toy) around the house or garden. When you are ready tell your dog to ‘Find it!’ and let them go and sniff out the treats. You can follow and help by pointing if they need some direction.
Playing with a tuggy toy is fun and physical exercise which helps to strengthen your bond and increases your dogs confidence! With this game you can reinforce some basic obedience skills and impulse control whilst burning off some energy – perfect for wet and rainy days! This is a great game for teaching bite inhibition in young puppies and to redirect unwanted mouthing and chewing behaviours. Aggression and dominance in dogs caused by playing tug of war games is an old school myth, although there are some rules for safe play. Make sure the toy is long enough that teeth are always away from your hands, and if their teeth ever come into contact with your hand or fingers the game must stop. It’s also important to teach your dog a ‘drop it’ or ‘release’ command and to ensure that you are always in control of the game – it begins and ends when you say so!
Learning a new trick is mentally stimulating and rewarding! Most tricks can be taught and practiced indoors, and it never hurts to reinforce the basics. Sometimes I simply play ‘find me’ instead of ‘find it’ with my dog to practice his ‘sit, stay, and recall’ skills. If you have already mastered the basics of sit, stay, down, paw etc, here are a few ideas to advance your trick skills:
- Spin round
- Nose touch
- Roll over
- Take a bow
This is another easy feeding activity for dogs who enjoy dry food (kibble) for mealtime. Instead of filling your dogs bowl, pour the kibble into a clean, dry bottle and leave the lid off. You dog will need to work out how to get the kibble from the bottle and as the task gets more difficut as the bottle empties this can keep them occupied for a while. Bosun like to spin the bottle, whilst some dogs like to pick it up and shake it!
Chewing is a normal, natural behaviour and helps to alleviate boredom for dogs – however you need to direct them to chew on the right things and not your shoes or sofa! Our favourite chews are:
- Kong toys; Can be stuffed with a variety of fillings for interest and reusable.
- Antlers and horns; Long lasting and natural
- Pigs ears and pizzle sticks; Tasty treats dogs can get their teeth into!
Remember that rest is important and dogs don’t need to be ‘on the go’ all the time – overstimulated dogs can find it hard to relax and present as hyperactive – so don’t worry if you are unable to walk your dog for a day or two, or if your walks are shorter and/or restricted on lead instead of racing around after a ball. I hope these ideas will help keep your dog amused and that you enjoy these activities.
Until next time, stay safe everypawdy!
(Hero image credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)
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