Walks, runs, hikes, fetch in the park, trips to the dog park – the great outdoors offers so many ways to entertain, and tire out, your dog. But sometimes you can’t get outside. Maybe the weather is nasty or the air quality is dangerous (hello, fire season!). Or what if you’re not feeling well or you’ve injured yourself? Your dog could also be the one suffering from an injury and not able to go out like normal.
Some people and their dogs will rely on indoor exercise and enrichment all of the time. If your mobility is limited or you have other reasons to avoid going out, there is fun to be had at home. Or if your dog struggles behaviorally when on a walk, such as lunging and barking when they see other dogs, you might need to increase exercise at home while working on a behavior modification plan.
What is Enrichment?
What isn’t enrichment?! In the dog world, “enrichment” refers to all the factors of meeting a dog’s needs. Here we’ll be focusing on physical and mental exercise, opportunities to engage the senses, and outlets for natural behaviors. All of these things can lead to a happier, healthier, and better-behaved dog. These activities can burn energy, lower stress, and reinforce appropriate behavior while discouraging unwanted behaviors.
Everything described here is focused on things you can do at home, either indoors or in a yard.
Before you begin, a few notes on safety:
- Supervise your dog with all toys and activities to ensure they aren’t consume non-food items or otherwise getting into an unsafe situation
- Choose chews and toys that appropriately sized for your dog and the right level of durability
- Separate dogs who may have conflict over activities and especially food
- Play any active/jumping/running games on a non-slip surface
- Check with your vet about new physical exercise, such as jumping, to ensure it is safe for your particular dog
Ditch the Food Bowl
Easiest way to burn energy and engage your dog’s brain at home? Make use of their daily calories!
- Feed your dog with food puzzles
- Provide daily chewing time
- Encourage sniffing and searching by hiding treats (or toys)
Share a game together.
- Tugging is a fun game that uses lots of muscles and energy. It’s a great way to work on impulse control, too, if your dog could use more of that.
- Fetching indoors is possible with some dogs and home setups. Use fetch as a reward for working on training skills for added mental exercise when the distance is shorter.
- Playing “flirt pole” also uses physical and mental energy in a small space. This is like a giant cat toy for your dog to chase around you!
Learning is Fun
Take advantage of your indoor time to work on training games. Using their brain can wear a dog out just like using their body, sometimes more! Here’s a page about how to teach a new behavior. Stick to positive reinforcement to get maximum benefits from your enrichment.
Here are some ideas of particularly useful skills:
- Go to Place/Bed/Crate
- Impulse Control Exercises, like Stay or Leave it
- Relax/Settle on cue
- Any of the foundation skills you need for a larger behavior modification plan
Of course you can also just enjoy fun tricks, like spin or high five.
Adding More Physical Exercise
Increase the amount of energy burned by adding physical exercise to your games and training. Make sure it’s safe and appropriate for your individual dog.
- Jumping on and off furniture or raised surfaces
- Running up and down stairs
- Jumping up (to catch a toy or touch your hand)
- Adding distance (to your “come” or “go to place”)
- Balancing on uneven surfaces (sitting, standing, or laying down)
What Works for Your Dog?
Now that you have ideas, you’ll need to determine what works best for your dog and gets you the results you’re looking for.
- What happens after the activity? Enrichment should help your dog be calmer and their best self, not leave them frustrated or amped up.
- What do you want to achieve with the activity? Less annoying behavior in the evenings, more napping, a dog who “smiles” more? Once you know, you can track your progress toward your goals and determine what works best.
- Are you and your dog enjoying the experience? If your dog doesn’t want to participate, then move on to something else. If you dread the game, rethink things. This is supposed to be fun!
A “Rainy Day” Can Be a Great Day
With a little planning, your “rainy days”, stuck inside, can be just as fun as a romp in the park. Your dog’s needs can be met and their best behavior encouraged. When incorporated into your dog’s daily routine, indoor enrichment is a win for everyone!
While enrichment and indoor activities can be helpful when dealing with behavior problems, you may need a more complete plan to fully address the issue. Consider scheduling a private behavior consultation to get personalized support.