How can I keep my dog entertained at home?

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Are you looking for fun ways to keep you and your dog entertained at home? Here's some creative ideas to keep your dog happy and fulfilled without leaving the house.

With so many restrictions on what we can do with our dogs, it’s time to get creative. Animal behaviourist Toni Shelbourne suggests ways to keep your dog happy and fulfilled without leaving home.

There are always going to be a few occasions in your dog’s life when he’s cooped up at home with limited opportunities to exercise.

But it needn’t be a daunting prospect, even if you have a high-energy, busy dog who likes to be out and about doing things. Whether it’s just for a few days, weeks, or extends to months, there’s plenty you can do to keep him occupied — and you may find it just as entertaining devising new activities and challenges for him to solve.

DID YOU KNOW?

Twenty minutes of scent work can be just as tiring as throwing a ball for your dog to chase for the same amount of time. There’s also another benefit in that it won’t raise adrenalin levels, which will over-arouse him, but will help to settle him, and produce a state of contentment.

TOP TIP

Chewing and licking can be self-calming, so provide things that offer opportunities for this, such as treat mats, toys that can be stuff ed with food or frozen fillings, and safe, long-lasting edibles.

The cup game

1. Find some suitable containers, such as shatterproof picnic beakers or clean, empty plastic flower pots or yoghurt cartons; place them upside down with a tasty treat hidden under each one.

2. Ask your dog to seek the treats out; initially you may need to show or help him work out how to knock the containers over in order to reach the treats.

3. As he gets more adept, increase the difficulty by stacking the cups with treats in each layer.

4. Try placing them further apart so he has to physically move, too; this is great for dogs who are very busy. Keep refilling the pots and cups; you will see him slowing down as he tires. After 10 to 20 minutes of this activity, many dogs are exhausted!

TOP TIP

If the cups are hard to knock over because they slide on the smooth floor, try placing them on a towel, blanket, rug, or taking the game outdoors to play on the lawn. Always ensure you supervise your dog’s boredom-busting activities!

Hide-and-seek

1. Leave your dog in one room while you go to another one. Place his favourite toy in there and go back to him.

2. Ask him to go find the toy; make it easy for him at first, by leaving it in plain view. Go with him, so you’re seeking it out together, and heap on the praise and fun when he discovers it. When he does, have a game of tug or just get really excited about how clever he is, so it keeps enthusiasm levels high. As he starts to understand the game, make it more challenging by giving him less help and making the toy harder to find.

3. If he’s more of a people person than a toy addict, try asking a family member to go and hide and then send him to find them. This can even turn into a useful skill when you want to call people for dinner!

TOP TIP

If your dog’s a bit of a foodie who thinks dinner time is the best part of the day, add extra highlights by adding extra meals. This doesn’t mean more grub, but simply dividing his daily ration into three, four, or even five smaller meals spread out through the day.

DID YOU KNOW?

You can also make your dog’s dining experience last longer by using a slow feeder, Kong, or a toy that dispenses treats.

Boomerang game

This fun two-in-one game combines foraging/ scenting with beefing up your recall, which never does any harm. It also improves focus and concentration and can provide a bit of rapid exercise without needing a lot of space or creating over-excitement.

1. Let your dog see you have a handful of really tasty, small treats. Toss one on the ground a short distance away telling him to ‘Find it!’

2. Wait until he’s found and eaten it, then encourage him to return to you, rewarding him with another treat and praise.

3. Repeat this until he is beginning to come back to you fairly quickly. At this point, dispense with giving a treat every time he returns to you; coming back becomes the reward instead, because each time he does, the game starts over again with you throwing another treat to chase after and search out.

4. Keep the game moving briskly, and as he gets better at it, throw the treats different distances, both shorter and longer, as well as in different directions all around you.

All wrapped up!

This game couldn’t be simpler – place a tasty treat on one end of a towel, and roll it up like a swiss roll. To begin with you may need to help your dog learn how to unroll it using his paws or nose — adding a treat or two within each of the rolls will encourage him while he’s learning.

TOP TIP

Channel your dog’s natural instincts — scenting and foraging are immensely satisfying activities for dogs, which can also be calming.

Follow the leader

Scattering food over an area of lawn may be fun for your dog, but often produces the opposite effect to the one you want, encouraging him to rush around, and boosting, rather than calming, activity levels. Try this alternative, which is equally good indoors as outside in the garden.

1. Take a handful of small treats or a mix of kibble and softer food; walk around, hiding each bit in different places. At first your dog will be right behind you, eating them immediately, but gradually you will start to get ahead, especially if you can get to a room before him and hide a few before he comes in.

2. Try to use a big area and place treats at different levels. By doing this slowly, your dog will be more mindful and measured in his actions than if you simply scatter feed. The game still appeals to his natural seeking and foraging instincts, but without the boost of adrenaline.

Treasure box

A treasure box is a terrific cheap, easy, and long-lasting enrichment game that most dogs adore.

1. Save empty tissue boxes, egg cartons, cereal and other food boxes, and the inner cardboard tubes from toilet and kitchen towel rolls. You might also save plain packing paper or, as an alternative, use towels instead.

2. Gather together lots of treats, toys, and chews, both big and small, with varying levels of yumminess. Hide the food (which can be part or all of your dog’s dinner) in the boxes, and wrapped loosely inside pieces of paper or towels. Place these goodies into another box big enough to hold them all, and of an appropriate size for your dog; add in a chew or two and some favourite toys.

3. Put the box somewhere you can see and supervise, but basically let your dog work it out. It will take a good length of time to find all the ‘treasure’ and consume or play with it all. If he finishes it too quickly, you evidently have a genius on your hands, so try making the puzzles harder!

TOP TIP

Vary the things you put inside so some are easy to forage for and eat quickly, and others take longer, like chews and a stuffed Kong.