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Entertaining a dog at home: Simple ways to keep a dog busy

Spitz dog playing with a ball indoors advice

There are plenty of options for keeping a dog entertained at home.

© Shutterstock

Do you work from home, or want to make sure your dog is fulfilled every day when they are not on walks?

By Karen Wild, CCAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Published on the 21/11/2020, 17:00

Dogs are intelligent, busy creatures and need mental stimulation, especially when young. Keeping your dog entertained is more fun than simply providing a basic toy.

Dogs have always needed mental activity, long before the days of being at home during the coronavirus pandemic. You may need to listen to a work meeting without distraction, but don’t want your best friend to be bored!

Dogs have incredible skills for working out puzzle toys, foraging and using scent to guide them, and learning tricks too. Here’s our helpful guide to give you ideas on how to keep your dog busy.

How do I entertain my dog indoors?

Normally when out on walks, we would play fetch, but whilst this is great for burning off excess energy, sometimes we have to be at home. Firstly, decide what your dog actively enjoys. Do they sniff and hunt a great deal, are they into dog treats, or just like listening to you for great social interaction? If you can provide things that cater to these needs, your dog will be more settled naturally.

‘Enrichment’ means something that actually brings an additional benefit. Make this list, then move on to the paragraphs below for more ideas.

Is it OK for my dog to be bored?

Boredom really means that there is nothing rewarding around. A dog that is bored will make their own entertainment, and seek something new to play with no matter whether that’s chewing a shoe or barking to make you come running!

It’s true that you don’t need to constantly work to keep your dog entertained, but they need to have an outlet to burn off excess energy. Providing chew toys, a dog puzzle with treats inside, interactive dog toys (some of them can even be ‘smart’ toys that turn on and off to vary the frequency of play) will all help. Start to introduce rest and relaxation as part of your fun indoor activities. All dogs, especially puppies, sleep a great deal, so make sure that you aren’t experiencing puppy boredom by giving them activities and then routine ‘sleep times’.

Are you worried your dog is bored at home? Find a local borrower, who would love to take your dog for a walk

Do dogs get bored at home?

On rainy days, when outside feels a bit damp and cold, your dog might be happy to stay indoors. However, there is very little in the normal house that your dog will find new or interesting unless you provide it. Activity ideas include simple games such as hide and seek, or finding tennis balls, or basic obedience training. They don’t need to be expensive to be fun. If you really can’t spare the time, employ a dog walker so that your dog can be out having a great time whilst you sit at your desk (see our article on pet care services for more).

Can dogs watch TV?

Now that TV is digital, dogs can experience it in the same way visually as we humans do, watching moving pictures and listening to the sounds. However, a TV is not an interactive dog toy and isn’t really an effective way of keeping your dog entertained. Your furry friend will soon tune out of the activity on the screen. If your dog is overexcited about the television, be careful as they can jump up and knock it, scratch it or become stressed and noisy. There are much better ways to start keeping your dog busy.

Interactive dog toys

Toys such as Kong wobblers contain some of your dog’s food, or dog treats, with a weighted base and a small hole so that the treats drop out as your dog pushes it around with their paw. The power of play becomes self-rewarding as the more the dog interacts, the more rewards appear. You may need to push it for your dog a few times so that they get the idea, but be careful that you aren’t teaching them that you will always do it for them!

Other interactive toys include snuffle mats, where food or dog treats are scattered onto a mat made of lots of thick strands of fabric. This is a great way of teaching your dog that dinner can be searched for using their nose.

Another simple game is to take a muffin tin, place a small piece of dog treat in each section, then place tennis balls over the top. Your dog can use their nose or bring their paws in play to knock the balls aside to earn their reward.

Games to play with dogs

Fetch and tug of war used to be be popular, but these can sometimes lead to problems with obsession, injury from crazy leaping around for a tennis ball, or pulling hard on items as a ‘win’ game. Instead, it’s a good idea to work on skills that will help your dog. Make a big list of tricks that you can teach, so that the training game becomes the best part of your dog’s day. Basic obedience comes from your dog learning that it is fun to interact with you, and enriches their quality of life immensely.

Hide and seek is another game for dogs and a great way to give you both some mental stimulation! First of all, run and hide but allow your dog to see you go. Call them and they will find you easily. Steadily make it harder and harder to find you. The basic obedience skill of calling your dog back to you means that your dog learns a very reliable behaviour and bond with you as owner.

How about some basic nose work, where you scatter tiny pieces of their food around the garden for them to seek out? Repeat this with your dog a few times rather than giving them their dinner in a boring bowl.

Ways to entertain your dog while at work

If your dog is in the room with you, you will probably want to ensure that they are quiet, so no squeaky or noisy toys! Peanut butter (check it is safe for dogs) can be smeared inside a chew toy and will keep your dog busy for a while.

If you aren’t in the house and would like your dog to have company, you can provide the fun puzzle toys mentioned above, but also perhaps employ a dog walker to come and play with your dog and take them out for some fresh air. Day care and pet sitters may also help support their time alone.

How do I keep my dog from getting bored in the house?

Even though you may be at home, you will need regular breaks. As long as your dog is fit and well, you should provide at least two walks outdoors a day. Healthy dogs also keep their owners active, and a good sniffy walk helps everyone’s quality of life.

Home activity ideas include plenty of creative games. Why not grab some old t-shirts and play briefly with them, then hide them so that your dog can search for their scent? Basic nose work games such as these are very easy to start. Everyone is keen to learn new skills, and your dog can always pick up something new. Make a list of tricks and games to play and pick a new one every single day.

How do you mentally stimulate a dog?

Dogs are masters of scent detection, discrimination, hunting and foraging as well as being our best furry friend. Even a small dog or young puppy has a great nose for sniffing out challenges. Start with hiding a favourite soft toy, letting your dog see you hide it a few times. Gradually make it harder to find. People also need mental stimulation, so it can be very enjoyable working out new items to get them to hunt for, and new hiding places. Always give your dog regular breaks and a refreshing drink of water. Scent work is hard work.

How to keep a puppy entertained?

Puppies are such busy little creatures, but part of puppy socialisation means you give them the chance to learn about a wide variety of situations.

Fun brain games for pups include new surfaces and textures such as a tiny bit of water in the bottom of the bath (put a towel or mat in so that they don’t slip). Add a variety of toys and keep them entertained splashing around.

Food puzzles are another way to occupy their jaws so that they don’t chew on things that belong to you.

Chew toys should always be improved with a tasty scrape of doggy peanut butter so that your puppy has a great time, even when teething. Puppies need rest, so allow regular breaks.

Above all, mental stimulation has to be meaningful to the puppy. Take a look at our article on puppy socialisation to build a well-rounded and robust young dog.

How to keep a dog from being bored when home alone?

Be cautious not to develop a dependency between yourself and your dog, so that when you finally leave the house the dog has nothing to keep them entertained. Create a big list of all the activities your dog can enjoy without you needing to interact with them. Food puzzle toys, interactive dog toys, the frequency of play with you and without you… these are all important guides for what your dog will need when you are not there. If you can’t provide enough contact, or your dog becomes stressed, seek an experienced person such as a dog walker who can help occupy them in the hours they would otherwise be alone.

How to keep a dog quiet when working from home?

Put simply, the busier their mouth, the quieter they are. A Kong Wobbler will keep their brain busy as they use the paws and mouth to knock the treats from within. Chew toys are the best, however, since they keep your dog entertained by simply mouthing and tasting the delicious flavour and texture. Save these for the times when you really need to concentrate on your work!

How to keep dogs entertained in the yard?

You could try some home agility! A healthy dog will always enjoy jumping over things, running through tunnels (or homemade cardboard box tunnels) and why not get some weave poles? These are simply poles in the ground spaced apart that your dog can learn to zigzag through. It’s fun for you too, teaching these new skills.

How to entertain your dog for hours

Firstly, a tired dog is a peaceful dog, so make sure you exercise them regularly before you need them to entertain themselves. We do not want your dog to get stressed at not having enough to do! If you have other doggy friends that they can meet, they will make each other very busy and can keep playing for yours. A puppy will need social contact, so try to set this up if you can. It’s not kind to leave a dog alone for hours on end, even with the best toys in the world, so if you have to leave your dog for any length of time, employ a pet sitter or dog walker who will help.