When you find yourself with a dog that is on limited exercise or can't really go far for a walk its easy to worry about how you're gonna tire them out, keep them happy and how can you stop them getting bored.
I know how you feel, just recently I was faced with both my dogs being on limited walks for different reasons. Ally came into season so could only go out for toilet breaks and when it was quiet out, then Erick at 5 years old got neautred (thankfully he's still speaking to me) and he was only allowed out for short walks.
Erick and Ally!
I also know from experience that a bored dog is a destructive dog, having excess energy from Ally wouldn't have been good for Erick who needed to rest and the last thing I wanted was to come home to deal with chaos, mayhem and mess... well more mess then is normal for my home!
So what did I do?
I provided mental exercise in the forms of different games and challenges that my dogs could play safely in the home. Did you know that mental exercise will tire your dog way faster than taking them for a brisk long walk? Yep getting your dog to work the grey matter between their ears will knock them out for a good while, keep them happy and out of mischief.
I use a lot of different food games, before you worry that you'll end up with your dog piling on the pounds due to lack of physical exercise I always used a good part of their normal daily food allowance.
So instead of giving them their full amount of dry food at breakfast and dinner time, I kept part of each meal back so I could use in the games. Or if you can't do this just make sure that you aren't over feeding them by providing smaller meals to balance out the food games.
I also always mixed in special treats such as cheese, chicken and different dog treats to make the games more interesting and motivate them to play.
My Top Games to work the dog brain!
1. The Snuffle Mat
My Ally has one from the brilliant RuffleSnuffle, these are rubber mats with holes and strips of fleece knotted through them. All the fleece strips provide folds, nooks and crannies to hide small treats in. You don't have to try too hard with this one, just throw you selection of treats over the mat or you could be like me and carefully hide each treat! This is where a good mix of treats comes in handy.
Then simply place the mat down for you dog and watch them tire themselves out sniffing out all the treats!
Top Tip - Sniffing is actually a calming exercise for your dog and it can help them relax if they are stressed or had a stressful event.
2. Box search
If like me you have a random selection of cardboard boxes laying around (Mine will find their way to recycling bins eventually) then you can turn these in to a search and sniff game. Quite simply arrange the boxes on the floor, make sure all the flaps are folded in so you're left with open box. Then scatter one or two treats in each box, then get your dog and encourage them to find the treats. You may need to help them out by showing them with your hands.
Once your dog has mastered the search you can make it harder by getting crumpled up paper and placing it the boxes, then hide the treats under the paper so you dog has to sniff under the paper - use as much or as little paper as you like. Keep an eye on you dog if they like to eat/shred paper. If you'd prefer not to use paper then try old clothing or fabric .
3. Tea Towel Swiss Roll
Grab yourself an old tea towel or old hand towel and lay it out flat. Along the shorter edge place a couple of treats along it, then roll the towel as though you are rolling a Swiss Roll just for one or two rolls then place a few more treats down.
Repeat until you have an inch or 2 of towel left at the end, then place a treat just under the last roll.
You could provide a further challenge by rolling the towel length ways instead of width ways then pop in a couple of loose knots.... be warned your dog will need to tear at the towel to get the treats! Don't do this if your dog is likely to eat the towel as well as the treats.
4. Toliet, Wrapping Paper & Kitchen Paper Rolls.
In a flash back to your Blue Peter days I want you to start saving your cardboard tubes up!
Very simply fold over, scrunch up the end of a tube, pop a few treats in and fold over the end.
You can give the tube(s) to your dog or you can hide them around the home. You could even hide them in the cardboard box search too!
Your dog is allowed to tear and rip their way through the tubes to get to the treats, So there will be mess to clear up once your dog is snoozing! As ever if your dog is likely to eat the cardboard then please supervise them, hopefully your dog will just chew and spit it out like my lovely dogs!
5. Paper cups
Grab yourself 3 paper cups and pop yourself on the floor with your dog. Place the cups in a row upside, then while your dog is watching put a treat under one of the cups. Let your dog show you where the treat is by pawing the cup, pushing at the cup with their nose, then lift the cup and let them get the treat.
Once your dog is good at finding the treat, pop a treat under the cup and then move all the cups around - like a magic trick - then ask your dog to find the treat now.
If your dog turns into a pro at this game then why not add an extra cup and more moves!
6. Muffin Balls.
Go and get that old muffin tray thats gathering dust in the back of your kitchen cupboard (give it a good clean), next get several tennis balls or tennis sized balls.
Place a treat in 3 to 4 muffin holes then place a ball on in every hole. Place the tray on the floor and show your dog.
You may need to help your dog to begin with by lifting a ball up just enough for your dog to get a whiff of the hidden treat. Then encourage them to move the balls themselves.
In no time at all balls will be rolling about all over the place while your dog hunts the treats.
7. Lick Mat
You can change up using hard treats by getting a lick mat for your dog. Smear them with any of the following options
- Peanut butter (Make sure that the peanut butter you use does not contain Xylitol as it is toxic to dogs).
- Sweet Potato Mash
- Cream Cheese, careful to not use too much. You can always combine it with the sweet potato mash.
- Banana mashed up, you can always add some natural yoghurt too.
For hot days you can freeze the covered lick mat for about an hour, it provides your dog with a nice cool treat!
If you don't have a lick mat you can always use a silicone baking mould tray.
8. Combination of everything
The ultimate game how about a combination of all the above of course with treats kept in moderation or even turn your dogs meal time in to this enrichment course!
Keep an eye out!
With any of the above games keep an eye on your dog so they are playing and eating safe. If your dog isn't interested in playing the game at that current time, then don't force them always go with what your dog wants to do.
Hopefully I have given you and your dog plenty to do together. Anything and everything you do with your dog is great at strenghting your bond and building your dogs confidence too.
Let me know if you develop more enrichment games for your dog too!
Chief Canine Happiness Officer
Practically Perfect Dog Training