5 Activity Ideas for Dogs at Home
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate

Whether you're sticking close to home during COVID, bad weather, or any reason, if you're laying low like me and wondering what the heck to do with yourself, I have some ideas to help keep you AND your dog busy and entertained!

101 Things

Training is a good way to exercise your dog's brain and burn off excess energy. An easy game to start out with is 101 Things To Do With A Box (or with whatever other object you have lying around - like an empty yogurt container, for example!) The idea is to reinforce creativity and the fun thing about the game is that every answer is a right answer, so it's a great confidence booster, too.

Get a handful or treat pouch full of small, pea sized treats ready, along with your clicker and your box or object. Be ready to click and treat as soon as you set the object down because most dogs will show some interest in what you are putting down and you want to capture the first instance of the dog looking at, moving towards, or sniffing the box with a click and a treat to help them understand that the game is about interacting with that object. After each click, toss the treat past the box away from you — this will "reset" your dog for another chance at earning a treat, and increase the probability of the dog touching or noticing the box on her way back towards you.

It can take a little while for a dog to figure out what the game is all about, so be generous and click even subtle things like looking towards it or accidentally touching it. Once the game picks up, you can start clicking for more deliberate actions. Here is a video of Lola playing 101 Things for the first time with an empty container so you can get an idea of what it looks like.

You tell at first she isn't sure what I want from her and I have to move a little bit to un-stick her, but at 1:30 she has her "aha" moment, and starts getting much more intentional. At the end of the video, she picks up a stick, which let's me know she is done with the game — it's a good idea to keep your sessions short to keep dogs engaged.

Practice Leash Manners

It may sound silly to "walk" your dog in the house, but at home is the perfect place to work on loose leash walking! Which is an especially good starting point if you're experiencing a bunch of rainy weather like I am! A real walk out and about presents your dog with so many distractions that it can be hard for them to contain their excitement and keep the leash slack. Starting indoors gives you an opportunity to reinforce the behavior of walking beside you without pulling. If the leash itself creates too much excitement for your dog to walk calmly, be generous with the reinforcement, clicking and treating with each step you take. Once your pooch starts to figure it out, you can spread the treats out over a longer period of time. Practice maneuvering with left and right turns, or start teaching your dog to sit beside you when you stop moving.

If your dog has it down, you can start adding distractions in by placing favorite toys on the ground and reinforcing your dog for ignoring them and sticking close by. You can also have other family members enter the room, walk around, or make noise. If you want to make things really challenging, try placing food items on the ground and walking around those!

For more guidance on leash skills, check out my recent series on leash manners, starting here.

It's Yer Choice

Another super simple game you can play with your dog is called It's Yer Choice, and it's also a great way to teach manners around food. The idea is patience pays off, but snatching does not. Start with a handful of moderately tasty treats in small bite sized pieces. Close your fist around the treats so that none peek out, and bring your hand to your dog's snout so they can tell there's something good in your hand. Then — wait.

At first, your pup will most likely lick or nibble at your hand in an attempt to get the goods. Ignore all mouthy behaviors until your dog makes any move away from the treat - even for a split second! As soon as he moves his mouth away from the handful of treats, click (or verbally mark) and remove one treat from the handful to give your dog. Once he is consistently refraining from mouthing your hand, you can slowly open your hand a bit. If the dog goes back towards the treats, clench your fist and wait for him to move away again. Repeat this until you are able to open your hand. Click your dog for not snatching the easily accessible treats, and remove one to feed him. You can continue to make it more challenging by expanding the amount of time you ask your pup to hold out, or by asking your dog to look away from the treats and make eye contact with you instead.

Here is a video of Vinny trying It's Yer Choice.

Note: this game can become frustrating if the dog is not succeeding, so be careful not to increase the difficulty too fast, and be sure to keep your sessions short, too.

Hide & Seek

You can play hide and seek both indoors and out, and it's a great way to teach your dog to come when called! Recall should always feel like a game anyway. To play, just get a handful of your dog's favorite treats, and either have someone else in your family distract them, or hide while your dog is in another room. Once you've decided on a hiding spot (keep it simple at first - another room with the door open will do), call your dog in your fun, happy voice. When they come find you, make it a puppy party and celebrate with treats and pets and love!

Snuffling Games

Your dog has to eat, right? Why not make it a little more fun? If you have food puzzles or an actual snuffle mat, then great. If not, one game we really enjoy is sprinkling kibble or treats in the toy bin - (see the video at the top of this post). The dogs have to stick their heads in the bin and pull out a bunch of toys to get to the goodies. This game often inspires some toy play, too! Another version would be to crumple up some packing paper or even shredded paper in boxes and add sprinkled treats. If you have nice weather, you can also sprinkle goodies outside in the grass for the dogs to hunt.

What have you been doing with your pup to stay sane? Tag me in your posts if you have some fun games or activities to share!

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Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Tressa because she sees training as a journey to better canine communication.

Tressa guides you

Anxiety - Kids & Dogs - Manners - Bite Prevention - Reactivity - Walking

Tressa is certified

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner - & Family Paws Parent Educator