Do you worry about your dog when you’re at work? Or feel guilty that you’re too busy to interact with them all day? It happens. A happy dog can become a bored dog very easily, especially if they are inside by themselves most of the day. And with these cold winter months, it’s hard to get your dog some much needed exercise outside. Not to worry. Inside play can be just as stimulating, invigorating and confidence-building as outdoor games. And, in the end, you’ll have a tired but happy dog, ready for a nap, and not missing the dog park at all.

Maggie & Rossi

Maggie & Rossi

We recommend play that encourages mental stimulation for your dog, which tires them out quicker than pure physical exercise. Many of the hyperactivity and destruction problems pet owners struggle with can be resolved by adding mental exercise to your dog’s daily diet. Click here to read our blog on the importance of mental stimulation. Here are some of our top picks to get your dog thinking. My dogs, Maggie and Rossi, do many of these activities throughout the week, even when the weather is nice.

Training

We heard that sigh, but training can (and should be) fun for both you and your dog. Keep it short and sweet. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes, and put your phone down. Give your dog your undivided attention — these next few minutes will be great bonding time with your pup. We recommend the basics: sit, down, stay, leave it, drop it, come and go to bed. If you’ve conquered those, try teaching your dog a new trick. You will be amazed at how much your dog can learn in just a few minutes every day, and you’ll be a (very) proud parent.

Bark Buster’s Game Changer toy

My dogs Maggie and Rossi love this toy, and they each play with it in a totally different way. That’s what’s so great about it – you can make it easier or more difficult for your dog as they flip, roll, throw and dig to free treats from its holes. Pro tip: be sure to use treats or kibble small enough to fit through the holes or you will have a very frustrated pup. I break up their food into pieces and it works great for extending feeding time!

Puzzle Games

No Bored Dogs - Games

These aren’t bored dogs.

I absolutely adore the Nina Ottosen puzzle line by Outward Hound. We use the Dog Brick and the Dog Pyramid the most. With the Dog Brick’s progressive challenges, you can start off with an easier configuration and then increase the difficulty as your dog gains experience. It’s fascinating to watch how your dog figures out how to slide, pull and dig to find the hidden treats. Maggie likes the process of solving the puzzles; Rossi is more focused on getting all the treats as fast as possible.

Frozen Kong

I admit we have a ridiculous number of Kongs in our house, but they are so useful for keeping the dogs stimulated and busy. I often stuff them with peanut butter or yogurt then shake it up with some of their kibble or treats. To make it last longer, I freeze them overnight. Try it – it works! Maggie and Rossi get so excited at the sight of a stuffed Kong. I’m sure your dogs will too.

iFetch

Of course, Maggie and Rossi also love the iFetch automatic tennis ball launcher, and we use it indoors when the weather is yucky. Our puppy, Rossi, has high ball drive so he loves chasing the ball when it’s launched from the iFetch. To mix things up, I’m also training him to use the Frenzy fetch toy. I love watching him anticipate which hole at the bottom of the toy will produce the ball.

Hide-and-seek

If you have another person home to help you, this can be a fun game, especially for the kids. Have one person stay with your pup while the other one goes and hides. When you are set in your hiding place, call your dog’s name. See if they can find you, call again a few moments later and repeat as needed until you’re found. Of course give lots of love (and a treat) when your pup finds you.

Find-it game

The last game requires no special toys and no additional people, just some treats or food, or, if your dog is toy-obsessed, you can use a favorite toy too.

  1. Have your pet stay (or tether them with a leash if they haven’t mastered “stay”).
  2. With your pet watching you, place a few treats in sight.
  3. Return to them and say ‘Find it’ while releasing them to get the food.
  4. Practice this a few times and your pup should be eager to gobble up the food on your cue.
  5. Slowly increase the distance to a few feet further away, then around the corner of a couch, then across the room, down the hall and so on. When you say ‘Find it’, they’ll sniff around and search for the treats.

You don’t want to overfeed them, so keep this game to under 10 minutes at a time. Maggie and Rossi both LOVE this game and I’m sure your dog will enjoy sniffing around and searching as much you will enjoy watching them work. If you find it’s something you both really like, look into signing up for scent work classes with a dog trainer near you. Tip: If you have a dog who ALWAYS wants to search, even when you aren’t playing, consider putting on a different collar like a martingale or a harness when you play this game, so they learn that wearing that equipment means it’s time to search.

 

We hope you and your pups enjoy these mentally stimulating games. As we say around here, “A tired pup is a happy pup.” That’s a lot better than a bored dog! Just a few minutes a day can make a real difference. We recommend making it a priority as soon as you get home from work. Then, you’ll get into the habit of giving your dog the gift of mental stimulation, and they’ll look forward to you coming home EVEN MORE (if that’s possible). Enjoy!

Nicole Ellis

About Nicole Ellis

Nicole Ellis is a celebrity dog trainer, American Kennel Club CGC evaluator and APDT trainer, based in Los Angeles. Nicole has trained everything from bears to tigers, as well as household dogs and cats. Her dog, Maggie, was adopted from a city shelter and now appears in films and commercials, knows over 100 commands, and has her own fan club.

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