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How to Keep Your Furry Pals Entertained If Your Health Prevents You From Getting Outside

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Having an illness which limits your ability to go outside, whether it’s due to mobility, immune system, or mental health issues, can suck sometimes. If you have someone in your life to help with the everyday stuff, this can help, but sometimes help is just not available.

So, what do you do? Often I am only able to take my dog to the garden or for a short 20-minute walk around our block (and usually very slowly – not exactly energy burning!), so my husband has taken up the dog walking mantle, but he isn’t always around and I need to think of alternatives. Occasionally, I have had to ask a friend to stay when the hubby is away, but I have also researched something called “Enrichment for Dogs.” This has helped alleviate my guilt when I cannot get someone to take my dog out for me and also has reduced the interior-destroying “zoomies” that happens when my dog is overly bored.

Enrichment just means ways to stimulate your dog’s mind when you are unable to do that with outdoor walking — or if outdoor walking alone does not satiate your pooch’s need for entertainment. Many do not realize that mental stimulation is important to a well-rounded doggy life, alongside nutrition, comfort and physical exercise. Dogs are intelligent beings; happiest when they have a clear hierarchical structure in their pack, clear routines and purpose in their lives – much like human children! For a non-working dog, we can invent jobs for them to help them feel fulfilled and challenged in their daily lives. I actually find that finding new ways to motivate my dog actually motivates me too, so it’s a win-win.

Here are some low-to-medium effort ideas to keep your furry pal entertained:

Filling a Kong with food is a great way to keep a dog entertained for a while. I freeze them to ensure they last even longer – ensuring to put a straw through the middle before freezing and removing before giving to the dog. You can fill with lots of different textures for more interest, but purees will work best of course.

Snuffle Mats
Snuffle Mats can be homemade or store bought; they are mats which have lots of interesting nooks and crannies for dogs to “snuffle” around and find the hidden treats. Make sure to check that the fabric is natural and machine washable.

Usually made from silicone where you can spread purees or doggy peanut butter on them. There are patterned ridges that make it interesting for the dog to lick. I find these difficult to clean though in my opinion.

Treat dispenser
Wobble Kongs, treat balls and treat puzzles are all toys that you can fill and watch them exercise those problem-solving noggins!

Tennis ball blaster
This one only works if you have a yard or a long corridor, but is as great way to expend some of Fido’s energy without exerting too much yourself.

Doggy bubbles
This can be fun for both you and your dog. Make sure to only use non-toxic, dog-specific bubble liquid

Suction cup tug-of-war
Tug-of-war is almost always more fun when there are two parties, but this isn’t always possible, especially if you dislocate easily! I find pretending to hold on to the other end helps my dog engage more with this toy.

These are some medium-to-high effort ideas:

Nose work games
If you notice when out on walks that your dog follows his nose more than anything else, then he may love this! Using scent bags or even just bits of kibble, you can teach him how to sniff out certain objects.

Teaching them new tricks
This can be fulfilling for both of you and the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is just not true! They don’t have to be ground-breaking or cruft standard tricks, small ones can be just as engaging and fun to learn.

Flirt poles
Flirt poles are a great way to exercise a dog’s prey drive, but similar to the ball blaster. You will need an open space to utilize this.

Tearing up boxes
At first I thought allowing my dog to tear up cereal boxes stuffed with kibble would encourage him to be destructive in the wrong ways, but it actually had the opposite effect! His destructive behaviors were largely directed at expensive leather belts and shoes, so letting him do it in a controlled manner and with an object that we allowed him to, quelled the need to be an opportunist when we left him alone and rifle our wardrobes!

Shell game
Have you seen videos of this online? A dog presented with three down-turned cups and tasked with finding the treat. This can take some time to teach, but once he’s figured out what he’s supposed to do this can be really fun (and ‘grammable).

Name games
With a bit of repetition, you can teach your dog to differentiate between certain objects, like his favorite stuffed toys.

Hide and seek
This one is only good if you can maneuver through your home, and your dog already has a good stay-command response, but if this is something that you can do, it can be very rewarding. I’m not always sure my dog knows why I’m so happy when he finds me, but he’s happy that I’m happy and he gets the treat, so it’s all good.

I hope some of these suggestions have inspired you to try new things with your furry pals and feel more involved in the ongoing lifetime development of your dog. It’s a great way to bond with them, and I find I feel like I’ve accomplished something too, which is great for my mental health. Remember, even when you can’t do all you’d like for your pets because of health limitations, there’s always alternatives and options! Don’t stop trying.

Originally published: December 20, 2019
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