Big or small, dogs have higher energy than their human companions. We all know the importance of exercising our pups with walks and trips to the dog park, but what about mental exercise? Most dogs wait out the daylight hours while we’re out running errands or working. What is Fido up to while he’s alone in the house? Dogs can get bored, too! Whether it’s destructive behavior or excessive napping, the reason may be the same: canine ennui.
We don’t always have the time or energy to walk our dogs sufficiently or take them to the exclusive dog park across town. Nevertheless, every dog needs stimulating interaction, no matter what the breed. With the rainy season about to begin, here’s a list of five “inside games” that are bound to offer something for any hound in your life:
1. Treat Treasure Hunt
This one is a favorite among our sitters because it’s both easy to do and learn. It’s also great fun to watch your puppy “get it”.
Break up a treat into pieces that are large enough for your dog to sniff out. Chopped up carrots work great too. To start, give a piece by hand, then drop another on the ground. Begin a treat trail for your dog to follow. Increase the distance between pieces until your dog can no longer see where you’ve dropped them. Eventually, he will realize that simply following you around is not a reliable way to find all the “hidden treasure” and begin sniffing around in earnest. Depending on the strength of your dog’s snout, you might have to point out a few pieces that have been overlooked.
To end the game, call your dog back to your side and reward him with a bonus treat piece.
2. Bubble Boop
There are plenty of non-toxic bubble solutions that are ideal for pets and children. This is a great game for both to play together. Your child will be delighted by your pup’s antics, and your dog will be thrilled at her amazing bubble vanquishing skills.
Grab your non-toxic bubble solution and watch your dog react to these airy intruders. Like with “treat treasure hunt”, you can leave a trail around the house, or take a seat and watch your dog bounce up and down, popping bubbles with her snout.
3. Round Rover Treats
This is another activity that involves the whole family. If your dog already knows how to stay and come when called, this is a great way to reinforce that behavior.
Supply each player (besides the dog) with a few treat pieces, then stand in a loose circle with your dog in the middle. Call to your dog and give him your treat. Another person calls, then another, and so on. Your dog will probably be tempted to simply run at everyone in a haphazard treat-seeking frenzy, but remain consistent. Only the person who calls him gives the treat. Ideally, your dog should wait at the last treat-giver’s side until he is summoned away again.
If he becomes an expert at this, level up by having players move into separate rooms. Call out to your dog until he finds you, give him his treat, and have him wait until a distant voice lures him away. You can end the game by meeting up in the living room and showering your dog with praise.
4. The Shell Swindle
When your dog becomes an advanced player of “treat treasure hunt”, use this activity to retain her interest and test her mental acumen. Use plastic cups that would be easy for your dog to knock over. If you have a dog that responds well to commands, you can train her to politely place her paw on the chosen cup.
To begin, use just one cup. Place your plastic cup upside down on the floor. Show your dog the treat and clearly place it underneath the cup. Give her a few moments to sniff around the cup and work out the problem. Once she’s got the idea, add two more cups. Make sure your dog remains intent on the treat as you place it underneath a cup – so far, so good! Except now you shuffle the cups in the classic “shell swindle” fashion.
You might be tempted to succumb to your dog’s pleading puppy eyes and her paw digging insistently at your arm. Don’t underestimate her! Some dogs might not get this the first time, or even the last time. But it’s a great trick to get those canine neurons firing!
5. Fetch that Toy!
My dog listens intently to everything we say to her, and most things we say to each other. This has resulted in her learning many useful words, including “bath”, “vet”, “fleas”, and the letters B A T H V E T. She also knows the meaning of a few questions and phrases. This complicates our ability to discuss anything regarding her without also including her in the conversation. If your dog is similarly inclined, this is a great game to capitalize on his linguistic skills!
The first level of this game is easy, but it requires at least two toys and your dog’s interest in them. If he is older and not used to playing with squeaky penguins or bouncy pumpkins, he will wonder why you suddenly are. So this game is ideal for young puppies and playful dogs.
Assign names to your dog’s toys. They don’t need to be creative, or anything beyond the name of the object. My dog has her “ball”, “beach ball” and “squirrel”. Teach your dog to associate the name with the toy. This takes repetition!
Once you’re confident that your dog knows the word for his squeaky, orange, rotund toy is “Orange”, stop fetching it for him. Teach whatever phrase you want; your dog will hear the word he knows amidst the jumble and extrapolate from there. Brilliantly, I ask my dog “Where’s the squirrel?” and she runs about trying to remember where she’s left Squirrel.
Because you aren’t so cruel that you’ll simply take his toy and run away, your dog will learn that bringing a toy to you means that you will throw it for him! Or play tug of war! This is beyond exciting.
The next level is more difficult, however, because playtime ends. Teach your dog to put his toy away. It helps to have a clear, designated place for toys, like a basket or a corner of the room. This you will have to demonstrate, then reinforce with treats and praise. Again, this takes repetition and patience!
When your dog has reached expert level at this, test his focus by having him retrieve and return one toy after the other. Then finally settle on one to play with.
If this is all child’s play to your dog, you can take it a step further by having him deliver toys to other friends or family members. For example, say “Give Jenny Squirrel!” This is a great way for your puppy to bond with everyone in the family.
We hope this list has given you some ideas to exercise your dog and engage her brain! If you have more ideas or your own variations of these games, let us know!