By Micaela Frank, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP
A lot has changed in the past weeks, and many people are at home trying to juggle kids, dogs, working from home, and a sky-high stress level to boot. When the going gets tough, I like to dial it back and focus on the little things. Remember, activities for your dog don’t have to be complicated or take lots of time or money. I’ve compiled some ideas here to make this time at home easier on you – by making it fun for your dog.
#1. Take a break from working on your computer or whatever you’re doing and grab a clicker and ten treats. Ask your dog to do any simple behavior they know, click when they do, and treat. When ten treats are gone, get back to work.
#2. Don’t forget about the magic of the Kong treat dispensing toy – A lot of people have a lonely Kong toy laying out in the backyard covered in mud. Let’s use that simple rubber toy to your advantage. Throw it in the dishwasher to clean it up, then stuff it with your dog’s meal. Dry stuff at the bottom, wet stuff on top. Cream cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, pumpkin – whatever you have laying around. Stick it in the freezer. The next time the phone is ringing and the kids are bored and the dog is barking, grab the Kong and let your dog go to town. With him occupied, he’s out of the way while you deal with the rest.
#3. Working from home? Spend time with your dog without focusing on them. Put a leash on your dog and put the loop around the desk or chair leg. Grab their meal and set the bowl near your workspace. Toss a kibble on the floor and start working. Whenever you think of it, like when your dog is quiet and still, toss a kibble down. Don’t take your focus off work. Your dog gets fed and gets to spend time with you, and you don’t have to feel guilty that you are working all day. (Do I need this safety disclaimer? Don’t ever leave your dog unattended when tethered. There, I said it).
#4. Teach your dog a new trick inside the house. Use an object in your house to teach something simple. They can close a cupboard with their nose, learn to put two feet up on a footstool, or walk around a houseplant. If you are someone who knows how to shape behaviors with your dog, you can use this method. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry. Just grab a few tasty treats, put them to your dog’s nose, and then use those treats to lure your dog up, around, or over. Remember, you’re not entering a competition. You’re having fun. This is supposed to be fun, people!
#5. Raid the recycling- The recycling box is full of toys if you just take a look. Grab your packing boxes, egg cartons, cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, plastic water bottles – these are like gold to your dog. Fill each cardboard vessel with small treats and kibble and let your dog tear into them to find their treasure. Water bottles can be filled with treats too, but many dogs actually find them fun to bat around and play with even without treats in them. For an extra challenge, show your dog their treasure box you’ve made for them and have them wait while you go hide it somewhere in the house. Release them to search it out and tear it open. Note: Don’t worry about your dog tearing things up as a result of this game, unless you plan to start leaving your recycling on the floor regularly. Your dog can learn to only tear stuff up when you say it’s o.k.
#6. Need a breath of fresh air but don’t have much time? Take your dog for a jog around the house. Literally. Jog around your house. Inside or out. Got a puller? Practice a little leash walking inside and consider not even using a leash. Just work with your dog to stay by your side as you walk around the coffee table. Your dog absolutely can’t pull you if there’s no leash.
#7. Check out this opportunity to earn a Quarantine parkour title!: https://www.dogparkour.org/quarantine-title
#8. Do you usually work away from home 8+ hours a day? Dogs who are used to being alone may be overstimulated if you’re now home a lot. Consider giving your dog a break from you! This may be in their crate if they’re crate trained, or just in another room from you for a bit. You can play some soothing classical music or hook up a sound machine so they can listen to the sounds of the ocean or birds chirping. Then go take a rest yourself. Yes, it’s true. Your dog CAN get sick of you.
#9. Gotta go out and brave the grocery store? If the weather is cool enough outside, consider taking your dog with you on the car ride. It’s a simple change of pace to break up the monotony.
#10. When you’re out on a walk, jazz it up a bit. Take a different route in your neighborhood. Go left when you usually go right. Or, let your dog choose. If they have a path they want to take, explore it. Consider going on a “sniff.” Walk leisurely with no goal in mind and let them sniff everything to their heart’s content. The news will still be there when you get back.
#11. Play Hide and seek inside- Ask your dog to wait or have someone hold their collar. Duck behind a door, the couch, or the coffee table. Then call them and let them find you. When they do, have a party! Praise, dance around, give treats, be excited. Make it harder by hiding in the bathtub or under the bed. There’s a darn good chance you’ll be laughing if your dog finds you in the bathtub.
#12. Speaking of bathtubs, does your dog like water? Not all dogs do, but if your dog is missing out on their regular trips to take a swim, try running a little water in the bathtub and see what they think. You can even float some of their toys in it to make it enticing. Some dogs will take a hard pass, but for others, this will really float their boat.
#13. Five Minute Flings – Take a break from working and spend five minutes with your dog. Slap their leash on, run around the house with them, ask for five sits or five downs. Or if your dog is older and a bit more mellow, set the timer for five minutes and give them a petting massage. Then get back to work.
#14 Last but not least -Never underestimate the power of the simple things. You know your dog best. Have you done something in the past that they’ve found fun or engaging or that helped keep them safely occupied? Then do it again! Share your ideas with others, too. We’ll have a community of healthy, happy dogs at home.