What can you and your dog do if you're stuck at home because of social distancing or illness? Just like us, our dogs need exercise, mental stimulation, and interaction in their daily lives. If you are self-quarantined because you're sick or immune-compromised, here are some things you can do at home with your pup.
Cats are well known to be efficient predators, but don't forget that dogs like to hunt, too! Instead of feeding your dog just out of a bowl, hone their hunting instincts. Hide some of their kibble and/or treats in areas of your home. You can hide them loosely or you can use commercially made toys and puzzle feeders. If your dog has never used a puzzle feeder before, don't make them switch cold turkey. You don't want to make their first hunt too difficult or they may give up and then it's no fun for your dog or for you. Still offer most of their food in their bowl that they are used to, but hide some of the kibble in areas your dog likes to frequent the most.
There are a variety of stationary puzzle feeders and toys, as well. As veterinary professionals learn more and more about dog behavior, they are getting a better understanding of their needs for mental stimulation and enrichment. This is great for dog owners, because it means there are more and more puzzle toys commercially available to us. As with rolling puzzle feeders, set your dog up for success. If your pup has never used a puzzle toy before, start simple.
Make a Snuffle Mat
A snuffle mat is essentially another puzzle feeder/toy where your dog can forage food, treats, and smaller toys hidden within the mat out with their nose. They're also super simple for you to make when you're already stuck at home and may be looking for something to keep yourself busy. All you need to make one is a rubber mat with holes throughout and a length of fleece (up to a yard in length, depending on the size of the mat). Cut the fleece into strips ranging from one to one and a half inches wide and six to seven inches long.
If uniformity is your aesthetic, then ensure the strips are all the same length. For a more textured look, you don't have to be quite as precise. To begin making your snuffle mat, thread a strip of fleece through one hole of the mat, then back through the hole immediately adjacent, and tie a single knot. Continue until you finish one row of holes and then repeat for each additional row, ensuring that all the knots and fleece tails are on one side of the mat. Sprinkle some treats or kibble on the fleece and let your dog nose around to their heart's content.
The Classics: Fetch, Tug-o-War, and Tag
Who says you need to be at the park to play fetch? If you have the floor space, you have all that you need! Of course, for most of us growing up, "no balls in the house" wasn't just a flippant house rule, so take care when playing that things don't get too rambunctious. If your pup is more a tug-o-war or tag/keep-away fan, those can also be fun ways to burn up energy for your dog (and for you, too).
Take your fetch playing to the next level! Toss the ball down a hall or set of stairs to really get your dog moving. As with fetch and keep-away, though, take care things don't get too out of hand so that your dog doesn't knock something over in the house.
Teach Them a New Trick
Use all this extra free time to teach your pup new tricks. Using a clicker and your dog's favorite bite-size treat, your dog can be waving, spinning, and playing dead on command in no time!
Implementing Environmental Enrichment for Dogs. College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University.