You are stocked up on food and necessities, and you don’t want to go back out there for a while. Maybe your dog walker is not considered an essential service (your dog thinks otherwise!), and now you’ve got a cooped up pup on your hands. How do you keep your dog happy while you are staying at home? How do you tire them out or occupy them so you can get on that Zoom meeting? With wild Rochester winters, some of us have been practicing for this kind of indoor entertainment! Here are some ideas to keep your dog healthy and happy while staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak:

1. Find the treat game

One of our favorite ways to entertain dogs indoors is with nose work games. These games give your dog mental stimulation and get them moving physically. Nose work games rely on the sense of smell – something your dog is a natural at. Find the treat is one fun game where you hide treats indoors. To start, you may want to use high value treats – such as small pieces of meat, and as your dog learns the game, you can try other treats, such as carrots, popcorn, or small pieces of kibble or dog treats.

Start by having your dog in a stay position. You will be teaching them “find it” as the cue to go search for the treats you have placed or hidden. To begin, you want your dog to be able to see you place the treat across the room. You will have them stay, go place the treat across the room – yes, let them watch you the whole time. Say “find it” to release them and let them go get the treat. You will repeat this a few times until they get the idea! Once they understand, you can have them stay and place the treat out of their direct line of sight and use the cue “find it” to release them to go find it! You can work up to more interesting hiding places!

2. Obstacle course

How about some indoor agility for your dog? Again, this is a great way to get your dog moving physically and using their brain. Household objects can make perfect DIY agility props for your dog, just make sure the keep an eye towards safety with the equipment you use and your dog’s health. What about pole across some boxes as a jump? Start with low jumps that reach about half way up your dog’s legs. Use high value treats to lead your dog over the jump and give them praise and the treat when they go over. Once they get the hang of this, you can move on to hand held hoops or poles. How about teaching your dog to go through a tunnel by laying a blanket over some chairs? Again, start with very high value treats and praise!

3. Treat toys and puzzles

Mental exercise can be just as important to entertain and tire dogs as physical exercise. There are a number of great treat toys out there that provide excellent mental stimulation for your dog as they work out how to get the yummies out. A few highlights include: Puzzle Toys, Stuffed Kongs, and Feeder Toys. Puzzle toys are typically flat and plastic, and involve hiding pieces of kibble inside the toy. To get the kibble, your dog must press, push, or move areas of the toy to release. There are a number of great DIY puzzle toys you can make, too.

Kongs are an iconic dog toy, and people and dogs love them for good reason! Kongs are durable rubber toys that can be filled with peanut butter, yogurt, pumpkin, chicken and rice, or a combination of yummy things for your dog. The dog must use their tongue to lick the treat out, while using their paws to manipulate and maneuver the toy to the right angles. Again, Kongs are not just about the treat, they are also about your dog using and tiring their mind. Has your dog become a Kong expert? Try freezing a filled Kong to make the work a little more difficult!

Feeder toys are a great way to get your dog moving more – they’ve got to work for their dinner. There are Kong Wobblers, where the dog must push the toy over (have you ever seen a weeble-wobble?) to spill pieces of kibble. There are also round balls, where the dog must push the ball around to slowly release pieces of kibble out of a small hole. This can keep your dog entertained for a significant period of time, and can also help your dog take their meal more slowly for health digestion!

4. Stair climbing

Is your dog really missing the cardio? Stair climbing can be a great workout for a dog who is cooped up indoors. In addition to the cardio, it’s great for toning muscle and general fitness. This can also help dogs with weight loss, gaining a better sense of balance, mental stimulation, and can even be good for rehab from some injuries (consult with your vet first, of course!). You can send a dog up and down stairs by throwing a toy or treat, or by going with them (double workout!). Dogs with mobility issues, previous injuries, or other health issues may not be good candidates for stair climbing, and neither are dogs that belong to breeds that are prone to back injuries with short legs and long backs (think Corgi, Dachshund). Finally, a dog that is out of shape and wants to take the stairs very fast could get injured, so start slow and build up some strength! Happy stair climbing!

5. Learn the names of toys

Your dog probably already knows a lot of words. They may even know the word “toy.” But what if they knew the names of different toys? It’s not that hard to teach most dogs the names of their favorite toys. (Did you know, there is one Australian Shepherd who knows over 1000 words?!)

So to get started, when your dog looks at or interacts with a specific toy, begin using the name of that toy – let’s say it’s a stuffed frog—you would say “frog,” and give a treat. If you are familiar with clicker training, you would click the instant he looks at or touches the frog, then treat after. You can also substitute snapping your fingers for using a clicker. Once you have done this a few times, hold the frog in your hand. Say “frog” and when your dog touches the frog with their nose, click, treat, and praise. Practice this until your dog has it down. The final step is to say the word and have your dog go to the toy. Again, reward when the dog makes contact with the toy. Repeat this with each toy until your dog knows the names of their toys!

Hopefully this gets you started with some ways to entertain your dog and build your bond with your pup while staying home. Luckily in Rochester, we can still go outside and explore off the beaten path with our pups (distanced from others, of course), so don’t forget to get some fresh air for you and your doggo if you are able. We look forward to returning to our regular walking routine with your pups soon, and will be welcoming new clients when we reopen to help your pup get lots of mental and physical exercise! Contact us at speak@rochesterdogwalkers.com