We’ve all been there…it’s a wet Saturday afternoon and instead of cuddling up with you on the couch while you dive into a good book, Rascal sits on the floor, staring at you, barking. You open the back door, but the last thing he wants to do is brave the storm. He wants attention. He wants to play. But all you’ve got is a basket of boring bones, a cluttered living room, and not a clue how to keep him entertained.
It can be extremely frustrating for you and your dog when he’s bored. So frustrating in fact that he might start to act different or exhibit bad behavior. “If your dog is getting under foot, getting into trouble, or barking excessively, you’re probably not stimulating him enough,” says Carolyn Coile, author of Beyond Fetch: Fun, Interactive Activities for You and Your Dog. “And if he has to make up games to play, they’re usually not going to be ones that you approve of.”
Thankfully, you don’t have to don your raincoat to keep Rascal from going bonkers. Dogs can actually be as tired from exercising their brain as they can be after a romp around the block. “Exercise is a function altering stimulation,” says James O'Heare, certified Dog Behavior Consultant and Director of the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. “It promotes relaxation and calmness and demotes frustration and other problematic emotional arousals.”
So how do you mentally stimulate your dog? Keep him working for reinforcement, like positive attention or treats, and have him put a little effort into figuring something out, says O’Heare. These easy indoor game ideas can help:Memory
Command your dog to sit and stay while you hide a few treats around the room, then signal him to find all of the goodies. Your pet will have to locate all of the treats from memory. To increase the difficulty, Coile suggests bringing your pet into another room for a few minutes after you’ve hidden the treats. Distract him by asking him do a few tricks or rubbing his belly, then see if he can remember the location of the treats in the other room.
Physical Energy Burned: 1 out of 3
Mental Stimulation: 2½ out of 3Trick Training
Old dogs can learn new tricks! Just like you taught your pup the basics, like sit and stay, you can instruct her how to do things like take a bow, roll a garbage pail across the floor, flick a light switch on and off, and clean up her toys. “If you’re always teaching new tricks you can see the dog really try to figure out what you want,” says Coile. “Once she learns that she’s learning a new trick she’ll pay closer attention.”
Physical Energy Burned: 0 out of 3
Mental Stimulation: 3 out of 3Three-Card Shuffle
Line up three upside down cups on the carpet and tuck a treat under one of them. Bring your dog into the room and rearrange the cups a bit, then see if he can sniff out which the treat is hiding under. If he’s right – he gets to eat it! If you’re pup keeps knocking the cups over, Coile advises using a heavier weight mug or small bowl instead.
Physical Energy Burned: ½ out of 3
Mental Stimulation: 2 out of 3Hide 'N' Seek
Placing your dog’s favorite toy in hidden locations around the house will test his sight and smell. Start by putting the plaything in eyesight, then gradually move it farther and farther away, making it harder for your dog to find. When he locates the toy and brings it back to you, reward his efforts with a treat.
Physical Energy Burned: 1 out of 3
Mental Stimulation: 2 out of 3Tug ‘o War
One of the few physical games that can be played inside, tug will help your dog burn a ton of energy. Dogs will benefit from the human interaction that results from wrestling the toy or rope from your hands, but its fine to teach two well-behaved, well-adjusted dogs to play tug together too, says Coile.
Physical Energy Burned: 2 out of 3
Mental Stimulation: 1 out of 3