Puppy Advice

5 ways to entertain your dog

Dogs really benefit from going out for regular walks every day. But did you know that there are lots of ways to entertain your dog at home? Animal welfare consultant Suzanne Rogers shares 5 ways to keep your dog busy without leaving the house.

5 ways to entertain your dog

The belief that dogs require multiple walks a day for their health and well-being is only partly true. Tiring your dog out is considered as a preventative measure for behaviour, such as bouncing off the walls and chewing things! However, for some dogs, walks are stressful experiences.  Other dogs may not be allowed off the lead, for example if they are recovering from an operation. And sometimes our lives change. We may not have as much time as we’d like to for walking the dog. The good news is that there’s lots of great ways to entertain your dog at home.

Chew time

Chewing is important for all dogs but especially for young dogs and puppies. Not only is it good for their teeth and for giving some of their muscles a work-out but chewing also releases endorphins to help dogs to be calm and feel happy. It is estimated that young dogs can chew for up to three hours a day. Your job is to make sure your dog has plenty of suitable things to chew rather than table legs and shoes! Try a mixture different textured natural chews such as goat hide, beef muscle, fake wood chews, and toys. 

Follow that trail!

Dogs love using their noses to follow trails. This is something you can create quite easily at home. It’s such a simple activity but it uses plenty of brain power that helps to tire dogs out. If you have children, this is a great activity for them to get involved with too. 

  1. Start off by shutting your dog out of a room. 
  2. Place a morsel of food or a treat at the start of the trail. Then drag a tasty treat across the floor before hiding it behind the sofa or slightly under a chair. 
  3. Let your dog back into the room. Once they have found the first treat, they should use their nose to follow the trail to find the next treat. 
  4. You can gradually build up the distance and complexity of the trail as your dog improves their nose-work skills. 

Find out more about scent-work and watch some great training videos from Scentwork UK

Treasure hunts/sensory garden

If you thought treasure hunts were just for humans, think again! Dogs love them too. You can set up your house or garden with different smells for your dog to investigate and treats to find. For example, in your garden place a morsel of food on an upturned flower pot, smear a tasty treat (squeezy cheese tubes can work well) on some outdoor objects that are safe for your dog to lick, hide small treats on a tree stump or log and so on. 

If you’re a keen gardener, there are also lots of plants that dogs enjoy sniffing and can benefit from. You can read more in this helpful guide from The Mayhew Animal Home on creating a stress-busting sensory garden for dogs

It doesn't just have to be food based, you can use smelly items such as shoes and safe shopping for them to investigate. Want to know more about the benefits of sensory exploration for dogs? Read more here about the magic of Free Work to help guide you and your dog though this fantastic exploratory experience.

Scatter feeding

Dogs love snuffling for bits of food. Even throwing a handful of dried food onto grass will keep them entertained while they hunt down every last bit of food. My daughter ‘draws’ flowers and hearts in trails on the floor with kibble and our dog follows the treats, eating them one at a time.  

Have you heard of snuffle mats? They are designed to bring out the snuffling instinct and will keep your dog happy and entertained while they sniff out the treats buried in the strips of fleece. You can buy them from the original makers Ruffle Snuffle or there’s a selection of other brands of snuffle mats available from Amazon* or why not try out our very own tutor The Dog House FTF's amazing truffle mats. Alternatively, if you’re feeling creative, you can make your own snuffle mat. Find out how from Dogs Trust.

Brain games

Once your dog has got the hang of following short trails to find treats you can teach them scent discrimination tasks. For example:

  • Take three napkins. Put scent on two of them (e.g. rub it on a willing family member or add a small drop of shampoo).
  • Keep one of the scented napkins and place the other two in a row.
  • Then ask your dog to ‘match’ the one in your hand with the one in the row.
  • You can then build up the number of napkins you use. 

Many owners find that after a session of using their noses dogs need a nap. Just like they do when they come back from a walk, but without the walk! 

What next?

If you’ve enjoyed Suzanne’s blog and would like more ideas for entertaining your dog at home, we recommend two books written by dog behaviourist, Claire Arrowsmith.

There are also Facebook groups you can join, such as the Canine Enrichment group, where enthusiasts swap and discuss ideas. 

Suzanne is an animal welfare consultant with a passion for the subject of animal behaviour. She enjoys putting her knowledge into practice – helping to make the lives of the animals in her care, and animals owned by the people she works with, as enriched as possible. She is also interested in human behaviour – recognising that insight about how and why people behave the way they do could provide solutions to challenging issues that affect animals. She is the co-Director of Human Behaviour Change for Animals, together with Jo White. Together with a team of experts, they work to help animal focussed organisations to understand human behaviour and apply the principles of behaviour change to their work.

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