Getting outside with your dog is both fun and healthy, but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate. Between heatwaves, smoke and fire seasons, rainstorms, and snow, there are some days where taking your dog for a walk is a stressful endeavor. But even if you can’t get outside for more than a few minutes, your dog doesn’t have to be bored.
Mental exercise and enrichment is just as important as physical exercise for dogs, and enriching activity and exercise doesn’t have to mean throwing a ball until your arm is sore. Moreover, increasing the amount of mental enrichment your dog gets can help to decrease disruptive behaviors you might be struggling with, like excessive barking. There are lots of things you can do at home to create enriching activities for your dog inside your house or apartment. Here are six enriching activities to keep your dog busy on days when you just can’t get outside for longer than a bathroom break.
Give your dog something to chew.
One of the best sources of enrichment you can give your dog or puppy is the opportunity to chew on safe objects. Although destructive chewing is a common problem for dog owners — raise your hand if your pup has ever mangled a pair of your shoes — chewing is an extremely natural and highly rewarding behavior for dogs of all ages. This goes double for puppies, who get their first teeth starting at three weeks and whose adult teeth come in at around 12-13 weeks of age. If you have a young puppy at home, it’s essential to give them chew toys to help with teething and occupy their time. Even adult dogs should have outlets and opportunities to chew, given that it helps them release stress and anxiety, and the action also releases endorphins, a feel-good hormone that leaves dogs feeling happy, content, and often very sleepy. Especially on days when the weather is bad and you can’t get outside, a good chew session can help tire your dog out.
Play hide-and-seek with your dog.
Channel your inner child and play this timeless game with your dog! Playing hide-and-seek with your dog functions much the same as the people-only version of the game: leave your dog in one room or area of your home and go to another. Call your dog’s name in an excited, upbeat voice from your hiding spot, and give lots of praise, a treat, or engage your dog with a toy when they find you. Repeat as needed. After a few repetitions, most dogs will figure out the game and realize the goal is to find you. The better your dog gets, the more you can hide in challenging places such as behind a partially closed door or a shower curtain, or ducking down behind a piece of furniture before calling your dog.
Give your dog puzzles to solve.
There are a variety of great canine puzzles that can give your pup some mental stimulation while you are inside, ranging from starter puzzles to more complex and challenging designs. Some dog puzzle designs allow you to hide treats in hidden compartments so your dog can figure out how to release them by using their paws to move different components of the puzzle. Others challenge your dog to pull ropes to release treats or food hidden inside.
Not sure what your dog will think of puzzles? You can start by making a DIY puzzle at home using just a muffin pan and some tennis balls. Put a few treats in some of the muffin cups, and place tennis balls on top of all of the pan’s indentations. Present the tin to your dog and see how long it takes for your pup to find the hidden treats. Be sure to supervise your dog anytime they are playing with a puzzle; the last thing you want is for them to get frustrated, or to chew and try to ingest any of the pieces.
Support your dog’s desire to forage.
Dogs love to smell and explore the world with their nose. If you can’t get your dog out on a walk, you can stimulate that foraging instinct in your home by providing your pup with a snuffle mat . These simple activity centers are usually made of fleece and are designed for you to scatter foods and treats into. Your dog can then occupy themself with finding all the bits of food and treats hidden within the mat. If you’re feeling crafty, you can even create your own snuffle mat with strips of fleece tied together. Just like with puzzles, be sure to supervise your dog while they are snuffling to make sure they don’t start to chew up the fabric.
Create a doggy treasure hunt.
It’s easy to reuse cardboard delivery boxes as a DIY dog game by emptying them out and scattering them around an area of your home. Place a toy, treat or part of your dog’s meal in or under some of the boxes and allow your dog to search through them to find their treats or toys. If you don’t have boxes around, you can also hide treats and toys around your house to create mini searches for your dog. It’s important to keep your dog from getting frustrated, so start by hiding treats or toys on the ground in places that aren’t too difficult. The better your dog gets at finding hidden treats and toys, the more challenging you can make your hiding spots.
Teach your dog the names of their toys.
It can be fun and enriching to teach your dog to find different toys by name. (Considered one of the smartest dogs in the world, Chaser the border collie knew the name of over 1,000 different toys!) The best way to help your dog naturally develop these skills is to name all your dog’s toys and use the different names each time you and your dog play with a given toy. Your dog will make the association between the name and the toy and soon you’ll be able to ask your dog to retrieve specific toys or find specific ones from their toy basket.
Sassafras Lowrey is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor (CTDI) and award winning author of fiction and nonfiction books about LGBTQ people and/or dogs living in Portland, Oregon. You can keep up with Sassafras on Twitter/Instagram @SassafrasLowrey and www.SassafrasLowrey.com