Sometimes it’s too wet- or snowy – or windy- or just plain too cold outside for a walk. Or maybe you’re injured, or tired, or have other household stuff going on that means your dog needs to spend a little time inside. Here are 3 great ideas to keep your dog busy and out of mischief on walkless days!
Food Hunting – No, you’re not going to teach your dog to look find his own food in the forest (or in the kitchen), but you can use creative snack placements to engage his nose and primitive hunting instincts in a few different safe (and surprisingly tiring) ways. Here are a few variations:
A: SNUFFLE MAT – A snuffle mat is a fleece contraption that you can build yourself, or purchase already made, like this one on amazon. Flip the snuffle mat over and poke some dry treats or kibbles through the mat. Present it fluffy side up to your dog who will have to spend some good time sniffing about to located and collect food treats. The bigger the snuffle mat, the more food you can hide and the longer your dog will have to work at it.
B: KIBBLE SCATTER – In a clean grassy part of your backyard, scatter a portion of your dog’s dinner or a handful of treats. A reasonably hungry dog can work quite a long time at collecting all of the tiny morsels and using their nose to do so is very good brain work- and tiring!
C: STUFFED TOYS– If you’ve got some treats that are suitable for stuffing, like Kongs, Westpaw or Starmark toys, gather them up. Place a half a teaspoon of natural (xylitol-free) peanut butter in each toy. Stick a couple of dry treats or kibbles into the peanut butter. Hide these stuffed toys in various safe places around your house. At first, you may need to make these hiding spots pretty obvious -try the corner of an open room, or just under the edge of your dog’s bed- and as your dog figures out the game, can increase the difficulty. Be sure that wherever you hide the stuffed toys, your dog can actually access and retrieve it without wrecking something!
Shape A New Skill – If you’ve never tried clicker training, now is a good time to start! Shaping is a specific type of clicker training where the trainer rewards tiny increments towards the goal behavior. Basically, you reward small steps towards the training goal so that the dog is having a good tiem and learns to keep trying. One fun aspect of this type of training is that you can work towards either really unimportant goals -just for fun, as a way to enhance the bond between you and your dog, to improve your training skills, and to mentally tire your dog! You can also use shaping to train super practical skills.
Here is a video by Donna Hill that shows a shaping session with some extra explanations on what and how she is rewarding her dog.
Chewing – Did you know that chewing is excellent exercise? If you choose the right chew for your dog, it can also help clean their teeth, relieve boredom, and tire them out. Chewing also causes saliva production which may help improve digestion and it even burns calories! Here are some good chewing options which you may want to offer at different times depending on the day and time (in place of breakfast?!)
A) ANTLERS – Natural, unbleached antlers make great chews for light to moderate chewers. These are best sourced from farms or hunter friends to avoid bleaching, which is a standard process that pet-store antlers undergo, and can make the antler brittle. A nice big brown (fresh) antler is naturally appealing to most dogs but you can also soak an end in chicken broth for ten minutes to encourage a reluctant chewer. Be sure to choose an antler that is quite large compared to your dog, so that they cannot swallow it or crunch it with their molars. Note: Antlers that have been processed (bleached and/or cut into small pieces) can be a hazard for vigorous chewers. It’s always best to supervise to ensure your dog is chewing appropriately.
B) RAW KNUCKLE BONE – Everyone knows that you can’t feed your dog cooked bones, right? But a big, raw (not smoked) knuckle bone which you can get from your local butcher is a great choice for even big dogs. I always suggest that raw bones are eaten outside, in a crate, or on a hard surface that can be easily sanitized afterwards. Knuckle bones are very appealing to most dogs as they are what a dog would naturally gnaw on after hunting or scavenging dinner. If your bone of choice is particularly meaty, consider that when feeding the dog’s next meal so that they don’t start to get chubby! Knuckle bones can be given for a set amount of time (30 minutes provides a great workout) and then refrozen to be enjoyed again another time- you can even offer them frozen on a warm day!
C) BULLY STICKS– aka “Pizzle”- You may not know exactly what this is but let’s just call it dehydrated beef and leave it at that. A bully stick is an all natural, healthy, teeth-safe chew. For a big powerful chewer, they may only last about 10 minutes of solid chewing, but for a more moderate chewer, small dog or puppy, you can get a quite a lot of chewing from a large diameter stick (up to several weeks if it’s removed between chew sessions). Some people use a bully-stick holder to prevent their dog from being able to swallow the end bit- a kong biscuit ball works great for this as does a Busy Buddy ball as shown below. You can purchase bully sticks from your local petstore or online. There can be a significant difference in the thickness and quality (which translates to how long they last) so that is something to consider as you shop.
There you go! Add these tips to your ‘rainy day’ toolbox to keep your dog entertained and happy even on days when an outdoor adventure is not on the agenda.