All dogs need exercise, even when there is inclement weather or you just don't feel like going outside. Try playing some of these indoor games with your dog to keep him healthy and happy. In addition, playing with your dog, like training him, enhances the bond you share and helps him keep his focus on you!
You can change these games depending on how your dog is best motivated: praise/belly rubs, favorite toys, items to fetch, or treats. If you do use treats, one way to keep your dog from gaining weight from too many snacks is to use some of his mealtime kibble to play the games. As with any activity, keep each session short and fun! It's better to end the game before your dog gets bored or overly excited.
WHERE'S THE TREAT?
Start with 3 or 4 buckets (old cups or margarine tubs would work too). Show your dog that you have a treat or a favorite small toy. Put your dog in a SIT/STAY or DOWN/STAY about 10 feet away, then make sure he can see you as you place his prize under one of the buckets. Then say WHERE'S THE TREAT? and encourage him to smell the buckets-give him lots of praise when he paws, sits beside, or barks next to the correct bucket, and then lift it up so he can claim his reward. You can up the difficulty level by changing the position of the buckets after you place the treat or pretending to put treats under multiple buckets.
NAME THAT TOY
Gather a group of toys that are noticeably different (for example, a stuffed duck, pig and shark). Hold a toy up for your dog to sniff and see, get him excited, and toss it, saying WHERE'S YOUR SHARK? When he comes back with it, give him lots of praise, then do the same with the pig, then with the duck, etc. Repeat again and again, and be consistent with your naming. Once he has mastered a few names, set out multiple toys and tell him which to get.
Put your dog in a SIT/STAY. Show your dog a toy or treat and put it on the floor so the dog can see it. Say FIND IT! Naturally, your dog will enthusiastically-and hopefully, easily-find the toy or treat. Make the next prize a bit more difficult to locate, say, behind a chair. Continue to vary treat placement, or, for a real challenge, set up a roomful of hidden delights in advance. Watch your dog as he searches, and tap your foot and give an OOH or gasp to get him excited about the ones he's missed.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Settle in at the bottom of the staircase, putting your dog in a SIT/STAY next to you. Throw your dog's favorite toy to the top of the stairs. Say FETCH or GET IT. After he dashes up the stairs and grabs the toy, call him to COME, ask him to DROP or RELEASE, and repeat as above until your dog slumps to the floor in giddy exhaustion. (Note that this is not a good game for puppies, as their joints are still developing, or dogs prone to injury.)
Enlist a significant other or child to help with this game. Each person grabs a handful of treats or kibble. Stand a couple of feet apart. One person calls the dog to COME. When he does, he receives praise and a treat. Then the other person calls. Praise and treat. Both people take two steps backwards. Repeat. Every fourth or fifth time, use praise only. See how far apart (Different rooms? Different floors?) you can venture. For even more fun, have three or more people in different rooms calling the dog.
Teach your dog to CLEAN UP after playtime by picking up his toys and putting them back in the toy box. Have your dog pick up a toy while you hold the toy box up to him. Tell him to DROP IT. When he does, give him lots of praise. Repeat with the next toy. Once he gets the idea, put the toy box on the floor and guide the dog over to it and say DROP IT. Keep it fun and simple, and use the same words each time for every command.
COME WHEN CALLED
Call your dog to COME, put him in a SIT/STAY, and then move away from him. After a minute or so, call him to COME again, and repeat. Try to increase the distance you move away and the length of time you wait before calling your dog to you. This game is great for dogs with attention-seeking behaviors, as it teaches them to wait for your commands.
If your dog likes to jump, you can burn off a lot of his energy by teaching him to jump over and through things. Start with your dog on a leash. Place a pole or stick just barely off the ground, and have your dog walk over it. As you raise it each time, you will need to move him back and let him get a running start. Give him lots of praise every time he jumps over. Once he masters the pole, try a Hula-Hoop!
HIDE & SEEK
This old standby is still loads of fun for you and your dog. Have your dog STAY in one room. Go into another room and hide. Call your dog. Try not to give away your location by laughing! Kids love to play this game with the family dog.
WORK FOR YOUR DINNER
Remember that dogs use about the same amount of energy when they are challenged mentally as physically! Treat-rewarding puzzles, such as the BusterÂ® Food Cube, Canine GeniusÂ® connectable toys, or the Wobbler by KONGÂ®, make your dog work for his treats-or you can use kibble with the toys to feed your dog his entire meal.
In addition to the games above, the book Training Dogs the Aussie Way by Bark Busters founders Danny and Sylvia Wilson contains about 20 pages of tricks to work on with your dog (available from your local Bark Busters trainer or at BarkBusters.com). Remember that basic obedience is the foundation for having fun with your dog-games and tricks should be a fun and rewarding bonding experience, not a stressful time, for you and your dog.