Lately my dogs have been getting fewer walks due to unusually hot weather and smoke from forest fires. You can beat the heat by walking in the early morning or late evening, and sometimes there is better air quality just down the road. But there are times when there’s no choice but to limit walks. Then what do you do? These ideas will help you to entertain your dog.
Feed your dog creatively
Your dog’s food does not have to arrive in a bowl, and getting creative with feeding is a lot of fun. Food dispensing toys like Kongs, the Pickle Pocket, or the Nina Ottosson puzzle toys can keep a dog busy. I think everyone has their favourite way of stuffing a Kong (feel free to share yours in the comments).
The key with many of these toys is to get the difficulty level right for your dog so she doesn’t get frustrated or bored. Make it easy in the beginning, and only increase the difficulty gradually.
Feeding creatively doesn’t even require toys. If you have access to a garden, you can scatter your dog’s kibble on the lawn and let her hunt for it in the grass. Inside, scatter it on a rug or other surface.
Chew toys like the Nylabone, Goughnut, Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff balls, or antlers will also keep your dog occupied. Be careful not to give your dog anything that might splinter or hurt them.
Train your dog
Training engages your dog’s brain and can tire her out. This could be a good time to catch up on basic obedience training such as down or stay, or you could teach tricks such as play dead, wave, or say your prayers. If you want ideas for tricks, check out Kyra Sundance.
Don’t expect your dog to work for kibble – find something tasty she will want to work for. Small cubes of chicken work great! Reward your dog quickly when she gets things right. Training works best if you follow a plan so you can break the behaviour into stages, starting with something that is easy and slowly building up. If you find your dog is struggling to keep up, make it easier for her and go back to an earlier stage.
Keep training sessions short and let your dog take a break if she gets tired. Dogs like learning and one study even found that dogs prefer to work to earn a reward than just receive the reward (McGowan et al 2014).
Put your dog’s nose to work! I sometimes do basic nosework with the dogs at the shelter where I volunteer. It is loads of fun, and you can do this in your living room. It works best if you have a second person to hide the treats, but if not, just make sure your dog can’t see where you put them.
You need small pieces of really nice food such as chicken, cheese, or meatballs (without onion). You also need several cardboard boxes or egg boxes to spread out around the room. While you distract the dog, your friend hides a piece of food in one of the boxes. Then your dog is free to hunt for it. If she wanders away from the boxes just gently make a noise to attract her back. She will soon get the idea that she is meant to search for the food.
As she gets better at finding the food, you can make it more difficult by turning boxes on their side or using different containers. The same principle applies as for training – keep it easy enough for your dog to stay interested.
People get into dog sports such as nosework for a range of reasons, including personal satisfaction and the experience of working with your dog (Farrell et al 2015). If you get the nosework bug, you can find out more or locate a class at k9nosework.com.
Playing tug with your dog
Is tug the best game ever from your dog’s perspective? It’s a great way to burn off some energy!
In what must be one of the most enjoyable research studies ever, Nicola Rooney and John Bradshaw (2002) played tug with 14 Golden Retrievers. Each dog played 40 times; half of the time they were allowed to win and the other half they lost. The dogs were more involved in the game when allowed to win, so go on, let your dog win the game from time to time!
There are some rules to ensure safety. In Train Your Dog Your Dog Like a Pro, Jean Donaldson lists four rules:
1. The dog should only take the rope when you invite them to. This means no one will get jumped on by an over-enthusiastic dog if they pick up the tug toy by accident.
2. The dog should drop the rope when asked (some people prefer the cue “out” to “drop”). Let’s face it, “drop” is a really useful thing for your dog to know and this is a great opportunity to practise it often.
3. This is an important one: no teeth! If you feel your dog’s teeth on you or your clothes, stop play immediately. Your dog will learn that this is not allowed.
4. Stop and re-start the game from time to time to keep practising the rules.
The cup game
All you need is three paper or plastic cups and some tasty treats. Turn the cups upside down, hide a treat under one of them, shuffle if you wish, and then let your dog choose a cup. Lift the one she chose (unless she already knocked it over). If the treat is there, she’s allowed to eat it! If not she gets another choice.
Need more ideas?
Some of these ideas work if your dog can’t walk for veterinary reasons, but others don’t. Use common sense and consult your veterinarian. The book, No Walks? No Worries by Siân Ryan and Helen Zulch has lots of tips for dogs on restricted exercise.
How do you keep your dog entertained when walks aren’t possible?
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Donaldson, Jean (2010) Train Your Dog Like a Pro. Howell Book House.Farrell, J., Hope, A., Hulstein, R., & Spaulding, S. (2015). Dog-Sport Competitors: What Motivates People to Participate with Their Dogs in Sporting Events? Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 28 (1), 61-71 DOI: 10.2752/089279315X1412935072201 McGowan, R., Rehn, T., Norling, Y., & Keeling, L. (2013). Positive affect and learning: exploring the “Eureka Effect” in dogs Animal Cognition, 17 (3), 577-587 DOI: 10.1007/s10071-013-0688-x Rooney, N., & Bradshaw, J. (2002). An experimental study of the effects of play upon the dog–human relationship Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 75 (2), 161-176 DOI: 10.1016/S0168-1591(01)00192-7
Ryan, S., and Zulch, H. with photographs by Baumber, P. (2014) No Walks? No Worries! Maintaining Wellbeing in Dogs on Restricted Exercise Dorchester: Hubble & Hattie.
Photos: Mike Focus (top) & Dora Zett (Shutterstock.com)