Speaking of Dogs: Entertainment for the Stay-at-Home Dog

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Dogs are social, curious animals that do not handle boredom and isolation well. When left to their own devices, unemployed, under-exercised dogs will find something to do. Guaranteed.  Sadly, a dog’s interpretations of fabulous options for entertainment are usually annoying or dangerous: excavation of the yard, the art of escape, recreational barking, and recreational chewing are typical pursuits of the bored pet dog.

It doesn’t have to be that way; with a little planning and creativity, you and your best friend will remain friends for a very long time.

  • The “Feed the Ducks” technique. Instead of plopping Sasha’s entire meal down in front of her all at once, take the bowl outside and scatter her kibble all over the backyard, as if you were feeding ducks. We do this with Betty, our high-drive pointer and it takes her 45 minutes per meal to “hunt” down every last piece of kibble. Betty has been bred to hunt and every fiber in her body is programmed to do just that. As a bonus, she loves to eat. Ta-da! Two primary motivators in one game. When she’s done ferreting out each morsel from the grass, Betty takes a nap, which of course, is very rewarding for us.
  • The “Work to Repast” technique.  There are several interactive toys on the market that can be stuffed with food. Toys like the Buster Cube and Kong Wobbler dispense a few pieces of kibble with each bat of a paw. Check out www.kongcompany.com  for an array of toys that can be easily stuffed with food.
  • The “Safari.” Stuff five or more interactive toys with Buddy’s meal and hide them around the yard. Think of the fun he’ll have searching for each toy, settling down to clean it out, then tracking down the next installment. Vary the hiding places each day to keep the game interesting. Kong toys are dishwasher safe – no need to worry if food particles are stuck inside.
  • Games. If your dog is motivated by play or attention, try livening things up with games. It doesn’t take much time to play Hide and Seek, Find Your Favorite Toy, or Fetch to exercise a dog’s brain and body. I suggest reserving one or two very special toys that Buddy only sees during these games. I once had a dog who would practically do handstands for an opportunity to play with his “training squeaky.”

Tricks.  Take a few moments each day to teach your dog tricks. Rollover, play possum, balance a biscuit on the nose, and crawl are just a few tricks that can be taught fairly quickly. I love teaching tricks because there’s no pressure to succeed. After all, we’re just having fun…everyone can relax and enjoy the process. Dogs love learning tricks because humans are so charmed by even marginal success. Imagine if we were as excited each time our dogs performed “sit” or “come” as we are when they “shake hands” or “high five.”

Note: This best-of article was originally published July 2, 2012

Carla Jackson
Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training. You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the Jackson Ranch website, or call (530)365-3800.
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2 Responses

  1. cheyenne says:

    Where I live putting food outside will attract all sorts of unwanted wild creatures, foxes, gophers, skunks, etc.  We keep our dog’s food in house.  Lexy, our German Shepard, has her own indoor couch where we always leave a window clear to see out when we are gone.  When we are home she has nine acres to roam.  The only problem we have had leaving her inside free to roam while we are gone is she will bury her bone in a bed.  So we shut bedroom doors.  Putting her in a dog carrier when we are gone is not an option.

  2. Karen Calanchini says:

    Oue sweet Havanese girl gets a long walk every morning during cool hours. She adores laying on the guest room bed on her own blanket and looking out the window. All day long she sees other dogs, cats, people and vehicles.

    Carla’s ideas are great, especially for dogs home alone in the backyard. We always have left our dogs inside when away from home. Safe in a bedroom with safe toys, food and water.

    Too many dogs escape yards when left alone, get into trouble or get hurt.

    It seems like every week our Next Door app is warning the neighbors  of escaped and lost dogs.

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