Self-isolating? How to keep your dog happy and stimulated at home

With the Covid-19 pandemic meaning self-isolation for increasing numbers of us, dog owners face a problem. Our dogs needs exercise and stimulation, but how can we do this at home?

The good news is, it’s not that hard. In fact, Covid-19 may be just the opportunity you have been waiting for to improve the bond you have with your dog without even stepping out of the front door.

It’s too easy to think of exercising your dog as just being a routine walk round the usual places - but for dogs, having a chance to play games with their owners can be far more interesting, use much more energy, and be a lot of fun for you both.

Watch our YouTube video for some great ideas!

The games that dogs really enjoy tap into their natural instincts and give them a chance to do the things they often don’t get a chance to do, but that make them far happier, healthier and content. This improves the dog/owner relationship and can help deal with a whole host of behaviour problems that so often come from boredom and frustration.

Getting started

Many games centre around how you feed your dog, or else them working out ways to get food. For most dogs, dinnertime is a pretty boring affair – and to realise why, think of how a dog originally was designed to find their next meal.

Virtually every waking minute would have been spent roaming around, scavenging and sniffing out food – in fact for a dog, it is practically a full-time job that would occupy them both physically and mentally for a major part of their day. Once they find their food they then have to work fairly hard to eat it as they would have to rip, tear and gnaw. Finding and eating dinner would provide a dog with virtually endless physical and mental stimulation - and allow them to satisfy their hard-wired instincts.

Compare this to how we feed our canine companions: Dinner served up on a plate and presented to the dog with no work needed at all, and in two mouthfuls, it’s gone. Ten seconds of frantic gulping rather than 14+ hours of engaging work – it doesn’t really compare. No wonder dogs get bored!

To transform your dog’s day, there are a large selection of games and activities you can add in to your daily routine that can enhance your dog’s meal times and make them last far longer - and better still, make you a key part of one of the best bits of your dog’s day.

There are plenty of interactive feeding toys on the market to provide great problem-solving tasks for dogs to work out. Start simple until your dog has got the hang of it - and then you can build up to the more fiendish if you find you’ve got a canine Einstein!

No need to spend money or leave the house

You don’t have to spend a fortune though, or even leave the house to shop. Putting some food into an old toilet roll (if you’ve managed to get any!) or kitchen towel roll and folding down the ends will give your dog a cheap interactive dog toy as they work out how to get the food out.

Put a few pieces of food into an old plastic drinks bottle and see if they can work out how to get them out.

Hide pieces of food under a towel or a plastic plant pot and let them work out how to get them.

Even simpler, and if you are not too garden-proud, you could just scatter your dog’s kibble around the garden and let them sniff it out. This exercises a much-neglected canine sense, their fantastic nose, and for some breeds and types of dogs this can be a total transformative experience as they finally get to do what they were designed for!  

Make sure all games are supervised and that everything you use is safe. Give your dog plenty of encouragement and work alongside them so it’s something you do together.

Alongside these interactive games, there are some enrichment toys that are more just for your dog. One of the best is the good old stuffed Kong toy - a strange-shaped, rubber chew-resistant toy that can be stuffed with food. Make sure the Kong you use is an original one and not a copy, is the right size for your dog, and start off making it easy for them to get the food out of so they understand how it works.

Once they have got the hang of it, you can make it far harder by packing the food in really tightly so they have to work hard to get it out - or you could put it in the freezer and freeze it – or add a bit of cheese and microwave it so the melted cheese holds it all together. Just make sure you let it cool for at least 30 mins before you give it to your dog.

While Kongs doesn’t stimulate your dog’s hunting or scavenging behaviour, they do stimulate their gnawing and chewing behaviour. For dogs the act of chewing and gnawing is a great stress buster too so you are getting two benefits in one by giving him part of his daily food this way.

You could of course hide the Kongs in various places to be hunted down! Start by leaving them in plain sight, then hide them half under something – and then make it harder as your dog gets good at it. You may want to limit the rooms you do this in otherwise you will have a dog who endlessly hunts under everything and excavates rooms in the hope of finding a stuffed Kong!

The secret to successful dog games is to be inventive – as long as it is safe, anything goes! The other secret is to have as much fun as your dog does.

A positive side to Covid-19 for dog owners (and dogs) is that we will be spending more time at home with our canine companions, and by introducing interactive games into your routine will pay off in your relationship with your dog long after the pandemic is a thing of the past.

Public Health England states that, as of 13 March 2020 is that ‘there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs and cats can be infected with coronavirus (COVID-19).’

Please follow https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response for the latest updates and any changes to advice.