When many of us are self-isolated at home, you may find that your dog is getting into more mischief than usual. The change in routine is certainly a factor, but it’s likely that your dog has some extra energy to burn from not being able to get out-and-about as much as usual.
It can be a challenge to keep your dog active, especially while staying indoors!
You probably already know the importance of getting out for walks, which are probably just as beneficial for you as they are for your dog while so many people are working from home.
However, physical activity is not enough stimulation for your dog. In fact, mental exertion can be even more exhausting for your dog than physical.
“I’ve learned that many of the hyperactivity and destruction problems my clients struggle with can be resolved by adding mental exercise to their dog’s daily activity diet. Excessive barking, destroying the house, destroying toys, eating socks—all of those things have gone away after the owner starts to give the dog mentally-stimulating activities.
Think of a kid returning to school after summer break—all that thinking is exhausting, no matter how much physical exercise they got all summer long.”
How much mental stimulation does my dog need?
Nicole adds that the amount of mental stimulation depends on your dog. A young, active puppy will likely need more stimulation than a senior dog who sleeps and lounges for most of the day.
Like people, the amount of stimulation needed also depends on your dog’s personality. Some dogs can keep themselves occupied for a while with a single toy or are content just watching what’s going on out the window. Others have short attention spans and like to be moving or engaging with you more often.
When you may suddenly be working from home, your dog may need even more mental stimulation in order to distract her from wanting to play with you now that you’re home all the time.
How do I provide mental stimulation for my dog when we can’t get out as much?
The three main areas you can focus on to keep your dog active while you work from home are training, games and toys.
Although you might be more busy than usual if you’re working from home, Nicole Ellis assures us that, when it comes to training, “it doesn’t take long to make a difference.”
“Some great things to practice,” she adds, “are eye contact, ‘leave it,’ ‘stay’ (make this one harder with distractions) and tricks.” If your kids are home from school with you, be sure to get them in on the training as well.
This time of self-isolation is a great opportunity for teaching your dog some new tricks, since many people have some extra time to practice consistently.
If your dog could use some work on crate training, consider practicing this as well. Even though your dog might not need to be in the crate much right now, you will want to make sure your dog isn’t overly stressed when you start leaving home again or have to go back to work. A little bit of crate time each day can go a long way.
Some other helpful skills to train or practice include:
- Calming down or laying down after play time
- Cleaning up his own toys or helping with certain chores
- Clicker training
Not only are games a great way for your dog to burn some energy while bonding with you, but they can also be a great way to keep your kids occupied while you’re isolated at home!
Here are some fun indoor games that Nicole suggests trying when you’re stuck inside:
- Scent Games: “Start by hiding a treat right in front of your dog and asking him to find it. Slowly add distance between you and your dog while you hide the treat, so your pup will be searching the house for where you hid it, using lots of mental and physical stimulation.”
- Hide-and-Seek: This game is a great way to practice the “stay” command.
- Agility Course: Use household objects like brooms/mops, buckets and chairs to create an obstacle course to guide your dog through.
- Dance Party: Get the family together for a dance party, using tricks like spin and high 5 to get your dog in on the moves!
Some other ideas include…
- Tug of War: If your dog is small, be sure to let her win every once in a while to keep things fun!
- Shell Game: Put three cups or small bowls on the floor in front of your dog. Then, hide a treat under one of the three, mix them up and see if your dog can find the treat!
It’s always a good idea to have a variety of appropriate toys available for your dog. It's especially important now! You will definitely want to have fun dog toys available when the kids are home from school and might have more toys out around the house than usual. Allowing your dog to get into the kids’ toys instead of her own is dangerous and can be a difficult habit to train your dog out of.
Experts like Nicole Ellis recommend having a toy rotation so toys feel fresh. Rotating toys is as simple as having a few small batches of toys and only bringing one set out at a time. You could even rotate a single toy so that there is always something that feels new and different.
Some of Nicole’s favorite toys include:
- Wobble Ball from Pet Play
- Stuffable fetch balls, like the Kong Classic-- You can also freeze the treats inside (like peanut butter) to make it last longer.
- iFetch and iDig-- No treats needed!
- Puzzle games, like this one from Nina Ottosson
- Homemade snuffle mat-- Check out this helpful tutorial.
You can even make your own dog toy by doing something as simple as braiding strips of old t-shirts into a tugging rope.
What should I avoid when I’m spending more time at home with my dog?
When you’re working from home or stuck inside, make sure not to bend the rules that you have already set up for your dog. For example, if your dog is usually not allowed on your couch, now is not the time to allow her up just because you might be spending more time there.
When you go back to work or are away from home more again, it will be especially challenging to train your dog out of bad habits that you bent the rules on while you were stuck at home.
Being isolated at home and stuck inside can feel like a disappointment, but it provides a lot of opportunities, including increased bonding with your dog!
- Bil-Jac. (2020). 8 Indoor Games to Keep Your Dog Active Indoors. Retrieved from https://www.bil-jac.com/the-dog-blog/posts/8-ways-to-keep-your-dog-active-indoors/
- Grissom, S. (2019). How Do You Make Dog Toys Out of T-Shirts? Retrieved from https://barkpost.com/answers/how-to-make-a-t-shirt-dog-toy/
- Puppy Leaks. (2019). 33 Simple Ways to Keep Your Dog Busy Indoors. Retrieved from https://www.puppyleaks.com/easy-ways-to-keep-your-dog-busy-indoors/
- Puppy Leaks. (2019). How to Get Started with Clicker Training Your Dog. Retrieved from https://www.puppyleaks.com/clicker-training-dog-basics/