It’s March 2020, and most of us are self-isolating or on lock down while the scientists try to take control of the current pandemic that is raging across the world. Whilst I’m enjoying spending time with my family: talking, cooking, and playing board games together, my dog keeps sitting by the front door waiting for me to say the magic word “walkies”. Whereas I can still take him out each day for a short walk in the local area, it’s not the same as our usual routine of meeting with other dog walkers and heading off across the fields or down to the beach. Dogs need their daily walk and the stimulation that comes from all those wonderful smells they find, and the other dogs they meet on the way. The other day as I looked at his sad eyes, I knew I needed to find a way to top up the void that his daily walk once filled and that’s when I decided to think of games I could play with him indoors. So here is my selection of lock down games to play with your dog when you’re stuck indoors.
Playing tug-of-war is both physically and mentally tiring for your dog. It’s a great way to build his confidence, challenge him mentally, and build a strong bond between the two of you. Despite some warnings, there is no evidence to suggest that tug games create aggression in your dog, in fact you can use it as a distraction or treat to help you train other skills. It is important that you stay in control of the game: you should be the one to start the game; your dog must “drop it” or release the toy on command; and if he gets over excited and his teeth touch your skin or he growls too much, you initiate a time-out to calm the situation and prevent any accidental nips. And when playing, always pull the tug side to side–any up/down motion can risk injuring the dog’s neck or spine and a strong pull could damage teeth so be sensible and take care.
Hide & Seek
Dogs love to solve problems so hide-and-seek is a game that taps into their primeval instinct to find their pack leader. It requires a lot of mental activity and will both stimulate and tire your dog, but like children after the game is over, he’ll be coming back and asking to do it again and again. If your dog is young and still being trained, you can play this game by hiding a favorite toy or a treat somewhere in your house and prompt him to search it out–you may need to lead to the area until he gets a hang of the game. If your dog is older and has learned the commands STAY and COME, you can command him to stay in the kitchen then go to the lounge, hide behind the door or sofa and call him to COME–then let him find you. You don’t need to reward with a treat, playing the game is treat enough.
Chasing and retrieving are natural instincts in all dogs, and through the centuries this instinct has been nurtured in some breeds, such as, Labradors, retrievers, pointers, spaniels, beagles, etc., to make them hunting dogs. Even though not many of us take our dogs hunting for game, this instinct to chase, pick up and bring an object back to you is still strong in them. So, now is a good time to teach your dog to fetch. He’ll enjoy bringing your slippers or the newspaper, it will mentally stimulate him and help strengthen the bonding between you. I wrote another article on teaching the FETCH command earlier, which you can read here.
Help Around the House with Carrying Things
This is such a simple game to play and your dog will love being next to you and feeling like he is helping. The concentration he needs to perform these simple tasks and the exercise will tire him out and he will feel like he’s had his normal long walk. You will need to make sure he understands the GIVE or DROP IT command before you start otherwise he will never give you the object you asked him to carry for you.
Build an Agility Course & Race Your Dog
During this lock down it’s not only your dog that is loosing out on exercise, you are too. So why not build an agility course that both you and your dog can race around. Whether you live in a house with a garden or an apartment, you can create a course that will be fun for you dog, yourself and your family. For some agility course ideas check out my other article here.
There is nothing more annoying than going into the garden to find freshly planted flowers dug up by your dog, but digging is a natural behavior that dogs do to bury bones, to expose cooler earth or create a shelter. If you create a digging box for your dog you can not only satisfy his natural instinct but also train him to dig only in one spot in the future too. You can create an area in the garden by framing it with some weatherproof wood, and filling with sand or by using a child’s sandpit. Then hide some dog toys and treats in the sand. You may need to leave part of the toy in view at first until your dog has understood the game, but as he gets better at it you can bury the objects deeper. This is a messy game so be prepared to sweep up the sand from a large area surrounding the pit.
Make a Toy
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on buying toys for your dog, most enjoy simple things that squeak or rattle or bounce and you will have things in your house you can use to make a dog toy. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Wrap and old water bottle in a t-shirt. Your dog will love the crinkly sound.
- Thread some strong elastic through a tennis ball and tie it to a door handle or table leg. Your dog will tug it and when he lets go it will bounce and he will chase it.
- Fill a muffin tin with tennis balls and relax while your dog tries to get them all out.
- Make a tug toy by plaiting together strips of t-shirt material.
- Make a hole in an old tennis ball and fill it with dog treats.
- Tie a knot in a piece of thick rope and use it as a toss toy.
- Give him an empty plastic milk bottle. He’ll love carrying it around and the noise it makes when he chews it.
- Make a pompom ball out of old wool.
Use the Time to Advance His Training
While you are stuck at home with your dog, it’s a perfect opportunity to spend time teaching him new commands or perfecting the old ones. Learning something new will stop your dog from being bored, will stretch his imagination, and give him an opportunity to show you just how clever he is.