Dogs need mental stimulation. With many dog owners staying home due to the Shelter-in-Place order, that lack of stimulation may cause dogs to exhibit unwanted behaviors. When our dogs can’t physically exercise the way we prefer, it’s important that they are using their brains- which can be just as exhausting! Here are a few stay-at-home boredom busters for dogs that dog owners can easily do at home to keep their dogs mentally stimulated!
For Food-Motivated Dogs
1. Stuffed KONG Toys
Stuffed KONG toys are a great way for dogs to entertain themselves. These toys come in a variety of different sizes, shapes, and colors. They can be stuffed with cheese, peanut butter, yogurt, fruit, or veggies (more ideas in the video below). When prepping KONG toys, prepare a few of them at once and then stick them all in the freezer. This way, it will take your dog a bit longer to go through them! You can also do this with Lickimats!
There are a lot of great puzzles out there for dogs such as Outward Hound puzzles. They have different levels of difficulty like the “Dog Smart” which is really simple. You place your dog’s food or treats in the tray and cover the food with the plastic bone pieces. Your dog has to pull out the bones to get to the food. Other puzzles can be really difficult where the dog has to unlock and slide pieces.
My dog’s favorite puzzle is the “Dog Brick” puzzle, it’s an in-between level. For this one, place the kibble in the little cupboards and underneath the bones. Your dog has to open the cupboards or lift out the bones to get to the food. To make it more challenging, you can also make your dog slide the red cupboards to get food underneath.
Take your time with the puzzles. You may have to teach your dog how to use these the first few times. Start out by making it a bit easier for them such as leaving a few doors open and some closed. Work your way around. With patience and time, your dog will really start to figure these out!
3. KONG Wobbler
There are similar treat-dispensing toys like this, but I prefer the KONG Wobbler. For this one, you just separate the two pieces to place your dog’s food inside. Screw the top back on and your dog can roll the wobbler around to get pieces of food as they go. Be prepared though- some dogs figure out that if they grab it and throw it across the room, food comes out!
4. Towel Rollup
Everyone has a towel at home! Place a towel on the ground, measure out your dog’s usual meal kibble, spread the kibble out on the towel, and then roll up the towel. Your dog will now have to unroll the towel to get the food. To increase the level of difficulty, tie the towel in a knot so your dog has to untie the towel and unroll it to get the food out. Cat owners, you can also try out this game with your cats! Use a hand towel, place your cat’s kibble on the towel, and roll it up!
5. T-shirt Toy
Do you have cotton t-shirts lying around that you don’t want or use? Turn them into dog toys! Cut strips of the t-shirt, tie the strips together at the end, and then braid it. Stuff pieces of your dog’s kibble into the braid. You can also change up the toy by making the braid bigger, longer, different shaped, or whatever you’d like to do!
Safety Tips about Food Games:
- When using human food as treats, fruits, and veggies can be great but avoid any toxic foods such as raisins and grapes. Also, peanut butter is typically safe but you need to check the ingredients. Some types of peanut butter contain xylitol which is extremely toxic to dogs.
- Be aware of which new foods and treats you are introducing to your dogs. Some dogs have an iron stomach while others are more sensitive. Slowly introduce new foods and new treats to make sure your dog can tolerate those things well. If you have any questions about introducing a certain food or treat to your dog’s diet, talk to your family veterinarian.
- Do not overfeed your pets! We do not want to have all these new games with food lead to obesity in our pets. The best way to do these games is by using the amount of food your dog would normally eat and split that kibble into these brain games. This way, they are still getting the same amount of nutrition but you are using toys and puzzles to deliver the food instead of a bowl. Even if your dog is on a prescription diet, you can still use that kibble for these games. Talk to your family veterinarian if you have any other type of concerns such as a specific diet for your pet.
1. Hol-ee Roller and Fleece
If your dog loves to destroy things, this is the game for them! Use a Hol-ee Roller toy and cut up strips of fleece fabric. Stuff the strips into the Hol-ee Roller and give it to your dog to pull out pieces of fleece (of course- monitor them to make sure they don’t eat anything they shouldn’t). This allows them to be destructive but in a controlled way. If your dog isn’t interested at first or doesn’t understand right away, you can put pieces of food in the fleece and toy so your dog will have to dig out the food.
2. Sniff Walks
Take your dog for a walk on a leash around your yard. Don’t focus on walking to a specific location or having the best leash manners- just let your dog sniff! Let them smell everything they encounter and just enjoy watching them use their nose and use their brain! Sniff walks are awesome because your dog gets to use their nose and exhaust themselves.
3. Obstacle Course
Create an obstacle course in the living room or backyard! Find different things your dog has to walk over, walk around, climb, etc…whatever will force them to slowly maneuver their way through!
4. Basic Obedience Training
Use this time to work on basic obedience with your dog. Do puppy push-ups (“sit”, “down”, “stand”). Work on their “stay”. Teach them a new trick, whether it’s “shake”, “lie down,” or “rollover.” I like to say that my dogs know the coolest dance moves because they like to “twist and shout”- they turn clockwise and counterclockwise.
During these enrichment activities, it’s important for pet owners to always stay aware of what the pet is doing. Never leave pets unsupervised. We need to keep our pets safe and prevent them from eating anything that they shouldn’t. Pet owners should also pay attention to a pet’s likes or dislikes about a process, toy, or treat. If a pet needs assistance getting through a puzzle or obstacle, help them work through it! We hope these dog boredom busters encourage you to discover new and fun ways to spend time with your dog while also providing mentally stimulating activities!
Here’s a video highlighting some of these enrichment activity puzzles and toys here:
Olivia with Optimal Canine (who also just happens to be one of our triage technicians) shares her favorite stay at home boredom busters for pets!
Posted by Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota on Tuesday, March 31, 2020