Did you know the mental exercise involved in dog games will tire a dog out faster than pure physical exertion?
Chasing a ball in a wide open space is hard to beat. But when you’re stuck inside, through ill health or inclement weather (or lockdowns), there is no reason your dog has to be bored. Mental stimulation for dogs is so important.
Here are some dog games to play that will engage your dog’s mind, and keep him amused, even in cramped indoor spaces.
1. “Find it” dog game
Have your dog sit. Show him a toy and let him sniff it. Have him wait while you hide the toy. If he breaks from the position while you’re still planting the toy, return him to the spot. When you’re ready, tell him to ‘Find it!’ and watch him retrieve the toy. When he finds it, celebrate and have a little romp. Make it easy to find at first and increase difficulty to keep it interesting as he gets the idea.
Variation: you can turn this into dog nose work games by using scents or smelly objects instead of toys. Make the scents safe, no chemicals! Let him sniff the essential oil (just a tiny whiff) or the passionfruit or the smelly sock and then watch him use his nose to find it. Dogs’ sniffers are amazing.
2. Snuffle mats for dogs
Snuffle mats are golden enrichment toys for dogs. They’re one of my pup’s favorite dog games. You can make your own by tying strips of soft material through the holes in a rubber door mat, or buy them online. This is the one we started with. Hide pieces of dried liver or fruit like blueberries in the mat (you’ll want something non messy) and then let him sniff them out. Sniffing is soothing to dogs and the task of working to find food is much more rewarding than just getting dinner out of a bowl.
3. “In the basket” dog game
This is more in the category of dog tricks than a straight game, but it’s fun to teach. For this one you definitely need high value treats that your dog will work for.
Sit with your pup and have him watch and wait as you throw 4 or 5 different toys down the end of the hall. Once they’re all thrown, tell him to “Go get it!” When he brings the first toy back, say “In the basket!” and direct his attention to the toy basket or container where they’re usually stored.
Give encouragement whenever he nears the basket or pays attention to it. Move the basket if necessary so it’s under his mouth and give the “Give” or “Drop it” command, whichever you have, and when the toy drops into the basket, praise effusively and treat immediately. Then tell him to go get the next toy and repeat.
Once he sees the praise that results when the toy goes in the basket he’ll understand what you’re wanting him to do. Once he gets it, if he drops the toy near the basket but not in, or if it bounces off the rim and falls out, say, “Oops!” and if necessary repeat, “In the basket!”, directing his attention to the toy until he picks it up again and eventually gets it in the basket.
Side benefit: he can clean up his own toys once he knows this one.
Other easy dog tricks to teach in small spaces include the classic “Shake” and the related “Wave”, a pawing of the air which many dogs do naturally. “Go to your bed” and “Bring it” also deserve a place on any dog tricks list. You can also teach your pup to “Touch” your flat palm with his nose in order to win rewards.
4. Tug tug (one of the more physical dog games)
Tugging uses every muscle in a dog’s body. Tug a war toys for dogs make great exercise in a small space. They’re top of the list of fun games to play with your dog inside.
5. “Which cup?” dog game
You can use plastic cups or little unbreakable bowls, cardboard boxes for this. Put out three cups upside down, hiding a treat under one of them. Tell him to “Get it!” and watch him sniff out and work out how to flip over the cups to retrieve the reward.
6. “Where is it?” dog game
Spread out a towel. Hide a toy or other safe object under the towel and as him in a curious tone, “Where is it?” My dog finds this heaps of fun and when I lift up a towel like I’m about to hide an object under it, he snaps to attention. He digs and burrows around in the towel like a mad thing until he locates the object.
7. Puzzles as dog games
Nina Ottosson-designed dog puzzles are fantastic. You put treats under the bricks and your dog sniffs them out and flips the bricks to retrieve. You can place the bricks different ways for varying degrees of difficulty. The plastic plate and pieces are dishwasher-safe so you can even use raw meat. Of all the dog puzzle games, this is the one we started with.
8. Hide and seek dog game
This time YOU are what your dog has to find. Tell him to sit while you hide. Behind a door, under the bed, in a cupboard with the door slightly ajar. If he’s having trouble finding you, make a funny noise from your hidey hole. But I suspect he’ll be upon you lickety-split. Heaps of fun for both of you.
For dogs playing is like breathing. Don’t let your pup miss out just because you’re holed up inside.