Stuck inside due to an injury, bad weather, or social isolation? During Coronavirus stay at home orders, I found myself at the crossroads of several factors that kept me from running: an annoying hamstring injury (mine), training (Sitka), and inability to go anywhere (Coronavirus).
I took advantage of the perfect storm and saw the benefit in being forced to slow down and really focus on working with Sitka to become the adventure dog I want him to be with indoor dog activities that would prepare him for the summer months just around the corner.
How do I entertain my dog indoors?
When I was forced to really think about all the ways we could make use of our indoor time, I realized that there were plenty of fun games and and training practices we could do to alleviate our cabin fever.
We learned not only can we have a lot of fun working indoors, but we still managed to get in more physical exercise than I had thought we would. Sitka and I took twice daily structured walks, worked on tricks and obedience skills indoors, and learned how to use new gear.
I don’t panic when we are not able to get our regular physical activity in, I just switch activities and focus more on mental games we can do that prepare us for other adventures, like paddle boarding, summer hiking, and trail running.
1. Mental Stimulation Games
All over social media, I have been seeing pleas from dog owners asking how to keep their dogs entertained during self quarantine. A common misconception about dogs, particularly energetic ones, is that they need to run all that energy out.
Yes, I run a ton with my dogs, but it’s not because I need them to burn energy, it’s because that’s our thing.
Of course daily physical activity is essential for a dog’s overall health, but they don’t need to run daily marathons in order to satisfy their needs. Dogs need to be stimulated both mentally and physically.
Think of mental stimulation games like driving in bad weather. It’s much more exhausting to drive in a snowstorm than it is to drive on a sunny day.
A few favorite indoor activities include:
- Find the treats
- Hide and seek
- Obstacle courses
Check out my full list featuring tons of different brain games for dogs that will tire them out in a jiff.
2. Food Dispensing Dog Toys
I often use these as meal replacers and freeze them so they last a long time. This is especially handy if you’re in a meeting and need your dog to stay quiet while you’re on the call. Think beyond a single filling and make the toy exciting for your dog. Layer fillings to keep things interesting. A few favorites include:
- Peanut Butter
- Pet Plate meals
- Frozen blueberries
- Leftover smoothie
Basic Obedience Training
I’ll be adding more detailed posts for each entry over time. For now, I just include a short version of how to work on the command to give you a starting point. Working on these basic commands will be essential building blocks for outdoor adventures. Your pup will be a trail etiquette master by the time you hit the trail.
“Place” is the ultimate chill command. It is hands down one of the most important commands I have taught my dogs.
Use a cot (my training included this one from 4legs 4pegs), dog bed, or even a towel as your marker. The goal is to be able to use any framed area as a “place,” including rocks, picnic benches, rugs, etc.
You can use Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol as a way to get you started. She doesn’t specifically use the word “place,” but I just added it in. With practice, your dog should be able to stay in place quietly until they are released with a cue word like “free.”
You can practice recall indoors using toys, treats, mealtime, or new people. See the opportunities when your dog is really engaged with something and get them really proficient in the command. This will translate wonderfully as you gradually transition to off leash hikes.
5. Loose Leash Walking
One of the most important lessons I learned from my trainer to really nail loose leash walking is to walk by time, not by destination.
A walk is a walk right? Just because you’re not outside doesn’t mean you’re not getting your steps in.
When I began training with Sitka, we started indoors, walking back and forth, between rooms, and up and down stairs. This helped him become really fluent in the sort of walking I want to see before we head outside where there are distractions everywhere you turn.
6. Learn New Tricks
I really enjoy working with my dogs to teach them new tricks. It’s fun to watch them learn and think about what you’re asking of them. This is also a great way to get them mentally tired.
There are two books I use and recommend for tricks:
Both books are filled with hundreds of tricks to teach your dog, so you’ll never run out of ideas! There is some overlap between the two books, but there is enough variety to keep trying new tricks.
7. Try Nose work
A dog’s sense of smell is 40 times stronger than a humans. Too often, our pups don’t get to use that nose to its advantage. Scent work is one way to develop their sense and get that brain working. Journey dog training has a great post about how introduce your dog to scent work.
Use items you have in your home to create a fun agility course for your dog. You may have to clear a bit of space moving furniture around in your living room, but your dog will have a blast (and so will you!). All it takes is a little creativity.
A few ideas include:
- Setting a wooden dowel between two chairs to create a jump
- Take a towel or blanket to create a “tunnel” using chairs, or a coffee table and the couch
- Use water bottles to create makeshift weave poles
- If you have a hula hoop hold it up and teach your dog to jump through it.
9. Camp Inside or in your Backyard
If you’ve been itching for a night in the tent, you don’t have to go far to have the experience. Set up your tent in your living room or back yard. This will also help your dog get used to sleeping in a different sleeping situation than they’re used to, especially if you’ve never camped with them before.
10. Teach Place on a Paddle Board
The place command is so wonderful for a number of situations, including training your dog to join you on a paddle board. Paddle boards can be odd objects for dogs to interact with, especially on an uneven surface like water.
I’ve had dogs that love the water, but hate being on the paddle board. Part of that reason was because I never took the time to teach them step by step.
Rainy days are wonderful for practicing for upcoming SUP adventures. Start out in your living room using the “place” command and eventually work toward climbing on board in the water. It make take your pup a few sessions once you hit the water, so go prepared knowing that you might not get your SUP ride in for the day.
Counter-Conditioning: Indoor Dog Activities for the Outdoors
I use counter-conditioning techniques to get my dogs used to strange new gear and tools, like the ones I list below. Use their food as a reward and they’ll think you’re just playing a game. This is something that pairs well with clicker training.
11. Grooming Tools
My first experience cutting Sitka’s nails was a nightmare. I was too nervous to do it myself, so I took him to a mobile groomer at a local farm store. He transformed into a dog I’ve never seen, bit the sleeve of the groomer, and roared with anger throughout the entire process.
I promised him I’d never do that to him again, so I began the long process of training him to get used to having his nails clipped.
In the meantime, I built a scratch board to keep his nails at least a little trim while we work toward clipping.
The training goes something like this:
- Reward for interaction with the clippers.
- Tap the clippers to one nail and reward, continue with each nail.
- Then I put the clippers around the nail and reward, repeat with each nail.
- Squeeze the clippers around the nail gently, repeating on each nail.
- Lastly, go for a true snip and reward.
My friend recommended Millers Forge clippers that have thousands of reviews on Amazon and are super cheap. They’re Italian and supposedly stay sharp for a very long time. Dr. Buzby also has a great video on how to safely clip your dog’s nails.
A few other commands that help with this process are:
“Check” This command means Sitka has to roll over on his side
“Let me see.” I say this to teach him veterinary touches, like looking at his gums, into his ears, and handling his paws and individual toe nails.
12. Wearing Dog Goggles
Rex Specs can save your dog’s eyes from sun-related diseases, sunburn, and scratches from debris on the trail. If you plan to hike in high elevation, ski with your dog, or play in the water on sunny days, you should consider eye protection.
Start by taking the lenses out of the goggles. The first step is to get your dog used to seeing them and feeling them on their face without the lens. Begin by rewarding for any interaction with the goggles. This could be pawing, sniffing, nosing, etc.
Next, start luring their face through the chin strap. Keep it really loose so it doesn’t feel restrictive on their face or around their mouth. Hold it there with your hand and continue to feed them while it’s on their face.
Next, try to buckle the strap and continue to feed if they allow them to remain on their face without swatting at them.
If they seem ok with them on their face, try getting them to move around to see how they react in motion. This is where some dogs start to realize there’s something strange on their face. Go slow with this step and take as long as your dog needs to get to this point.
Once they’re ok with them on their face with movement, you can put in the clear lenses and leave them on during short walks or play sessions in the backyard. Eventually you can swap in the tinted lenses.
Keep in mind that this process may take weeks before your dog is ready.
13. Muzzle Training
Even if your dog is the sweetest creature on Earth and would never hurt a fly, you want your dog muzzle trained for any given number of situations, like car accidents, veterinary visits, or back country emergencies. Dogs can react out-of-character when they feel stressed, and that moment is not the time to try and cram a muzzle onto their face.
I use the Baskerville muzzles and train the exact same way that I do for Rex Specs.
14. Practice loading your dog’s pack
If your dog is not injured or recovering from surgery, then have them wear their pack around the house to get them used to walking around with weight. Start very low and then add a pound or two each day until you reach 10% of their body weight. You can also learn to configure the items for balance and know how to pack them when the mood hits to head out for a backpacking trip.
15. Teach Your Dog to Wear Booties
Remember that time you went out for a snow hike and your dog came back with ice balls? Use counter-conditioning to get them used to wearing their booties around the house. This way, it won’t be such a big deal when you head out next winter. Booties also come in handy if your dog tears a paw mid-hike.
All right so the remaining suggestions on this list don’t directly involve your dog, but they serve to plan for the future or help you pretend like you’re outdoors having fun right now.
16. Adventure Planning
Take the gift of down time to put together a list of all the adventures you want to tackle in the upcoming months. I like to create a spreadsheet and make a list of the hikes I want to do, places I want to camp, and extended trips I want to take with my dog.
17. Edit Photos
If you’re anything like me you have tens of thousands of photos of your dog (that’s not an exaggeration…) and surely there remain plenty to be edited. This will also jog your memory of past adventures to keep you going during some down time.
18. Update Your First Aid Kit
I never realized that items in first aid kits expire after time, until I did a pet first-aid lesson with my veterinarian. It makes sense.
Since I rarely have to use my first-aid kit, it’s not something that I think about, but it’s important to have a useful kit when you need it. So take a look and make sure that nothing has expired and replace anything that you have used.
19. Read about Adventure Dogs
If you can’t get outside with your dog at the moment, then live vicariously through others who have. This post features some of my favorite books about dogs. The list isn’t entirely about adventure dogs, but there are several tales of pups who will get you dreaming for the day you can head back out into nature again.
20. Make Homemade Dog Treats
Your pup will appreciate the effort of making homemade dog treats and they’re a breeze to make. I have a few recipes on the blog that get rave reviews around here.