Consider how your dog may spend much of his day – sleeping on the couch, waiting for dinner or interaction with you. Imagine how you can make your pup’s life just a little more interesting, without a lot of work.
Here are some small things you can do with your dog to spend time together. By spending time with your dog, you’ll enhance their behavioral wellness, too!
Teaching your dog tricks
Teaching your dog some basic commands opens the doors of communication between you, and gives you a foundation to build on to teach future commands.
Consider starting with Sit, Down, and Stay, then begin to build the “three D’s” – distance, duration, and distraction – so your dog can perform these behaviors in more environments and under more distractions.
From Sit, Down, and Stay, you can build to Leave It, Wait (for food bowl), Wait (for the door to open), and a host of other useful behaviors!
Imagine using Stay to keep your dog still as you attach his leash for a walk.
Training your dog to do fun tricks
There are also fun tricks, of course! You can build Sit into Sit Pretty (sit up on hind legs and “beg”), and use Target (touch your hand or a specific item) to move the dog around and teach behaviors like Back Up, Spin, and more.
At advanced levels you can:
- Try freestyle dancing with your dog.
- Do agility work (jumping, running through tunnels and chutes, weave poles).
- Teach your dog to identify his or her toys by name (“Bring me the hippo!”).
Enriching your dog’s environment with toys
Give your dog something to do besides stare at the wall every day!
Toys for solo play include:
- chewing toys like the Kong, pig hooves, animal bones, rope bones, and nylon chews.
- Food-dispensing toys like the Buster Cube or the Tug-A-Jug.
- Traditional squeaky toys are great too.
- You could also try rigging up a water sprinkler or a digging pit (an area set aside for dog digging) for some outdoor fun.
Don’t forget to interact with your dog as well! Interactive toys and games include:
- Tug toys
- Unique options like painting with nontoxic paints, hide and seek, or even books – did you know you can read to your dog?
- A car ride around the block can brighten your dog’s day (and give him valuable experience with car rides that don’t end at the vet’s office)
The ‘toys’ you use can be anything… even common household ‘trash’ like toilet paper rolls (we’ll talk more about how recycling and play can fit together soon!)
Don’t forget how important scent is in a dog’s world!
You can provide scent enrichment through scent games, aromatherapy, pheromone therapy, and providing novel smells (other animals’ bedding, other peoples’ clothes, novel foods, incense) to enjoy. Hide strongly scented treats and allow your dog to find them via smell.
Enhance your dog’s daily routine
Try serving your dog’s dinner in a new container, like a closed cardboard box which he must open to obtain the food, or scatter kibble on the floor so your dog can hunt for it.
You can teach your dog to take food from a spoon, or put dinner into a treat-dispensing toy and distribute it that way.
Practice hand-feeding your dog to encourage him to take food politely, maintain a soft mouth, reduce food guarding, and give yourself an opportunity to train new behaviors!
Everyday chores can also turn into games with your dog. Make brushing and bathing fun and nonthreatening by incorporating them into playtime (play with tug toy, brush for a minute, play with tug toy) and including food or other reinforcers.
Don’t forget to sneak “grooming moments” into your regular playtime too – if you routinely touch your dog’s ears, mouth, feet, and tail during play, for example, he will not mind so much when the veterinarian or the groomer must touch those same places.
Getting active with your dog
Do you like backpacking? Your dog probably does too! Try hiking, jogging, or walking with your dog. (Exercise is good for you, too!) Your dog can also run with you on a bicycle (buy a special attachment for this so your dog cannot get tangled under your bike).
If you’re not up to running, play fetch or frisbee, or you can hang a toy from the end of a “buggy whip” or other long line and have your dog chase it. Alternatively, hang a toy from a tree so the dog must jump a bit to reach it.
If you have a large area available, consider lure coursing (where the dog chases a lure which is drawn along a fixed course by a motor and line). Lure coursers are expensive but there may be a club in your area.
If you have access to a dog-friendly pool or pond, you can also teach your dog to swim. Swimming is great for dogs – it builds muscle and endurance, and it also builds confidence.
Why it’s so important to try new things with your dog
Exposing your dog (in a calm, safe manner) to new things will make him much more willing and able to encounter new things in the real world.
Consider exposing your dog to new sounds (try YouTube) like:
- Babies crying
- Dishes dropping
- The sound of a doorbell
- Running lawnmowers
- The vacuum cleaner
- Thunder and lightning
Is your dog scared of some sounds already? Playing them softly when the dog is in a good mood in a safe space can help the dog get used to them.
Get your dog used to people of all shapes and sizes. Visit a pet store or a park and, from a distance where your dog feels safe, allow them to view tall people, short people, women, men, men with beards, delivery men, children, people with hats or sunglasses, people on crutches or in wheelchairs, etc.
Is there something your dog is already afraid of? Recruit a friend to pretend to be the scary thing, and gradually get your dog used to it.
Expose your dog to new surfaces. Your dog has probably seen carpet and tile, but have they walked in sand? Mud? Potting soil? Look for surfaces made of brick, paving stones, gravel, vinyl, or grass. Walk on multi-level surfaces like stairs; on raised surfaces like on a jungle gym; or even just try climbing in and out of the car.
Has your dog walked through a puddle before? A kids’ swimming pool? A pond? Try having the dog climb on a chair or a table.
To make an uneven surface for your dog to experience, glue half a tennis ball to the underside of a piece of plywood, so it wobbles, and have the dog walk across the plywood. (And learn more about why practicing balance is SO good for your dog here!)
Try some novel treats. Dogs can eat fruit like apples, strawberries, blueberries, and bananas, both fresh and frozen. They can also eat deli meat, pepperoni, cat treats, cottage cheese, cream cheese, or string cheese. Try Cheerios, frozen bouillon, yogurt, plain popcorn, peanut butter, or pretty much anything humans can eat – in moderation.
Remember that dogs cannot have chocolate, onions and garlic, macadamia nuts, grapes or raisins, caffeine, alcohol, and should not eat raw eggs or cooked animal bones. (Too much salt or butter is just as bad for a dog’s diet as it is for yours!) If in doubt, ask your vet if your dog can have a certain food.
Calming your canine
At the end of a long and exciting day, reduce stress through massage, pheromones, aromatherapy, or playing soft music or reading to your dog. The soft pressure of a Thundershirt or wrap can also go a long way toward having a relaxed and happy pet.
Remember, though, what your dog wants most is to spend time with you! Even 5- or 10-minute play or cuddle sessions a few times a day can make all the difference.
What’s your favorite game or activity to play with your dog? Share it in the comments!