New Things to Do with your Dog While Stuck at Home

By Hilarie Erb, AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer

A great many dogs, and their owners, can probably use more fun things to do while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a lot of basic training you can do indoors with your dog, but that can get boring after a while. To liven up the routine, mix it up with games and tricks. The games provided here are intended for enjoyment under supervision; dogs should not be left alone with the items used.

  • Muffin Tin Game: Drop treats into muffin slots, cover with ball or toy. Let your dog work it out.
  • Treat Under Blanket: Place treat under blanket or towel to make the dog work harder to get it. Start with a small hand towel so she can learn the game. Then move to larger towels and blankets to increase the challenge.
  • Tea Towel Snuffle Mat: Lay a towel flat on the floor, and place some treats in the center. Then fold the towel longways across the treats. Next, tie the towel in a loose knot so the treats are in the middle. Your dog will have to figure out how to untie the tea towel to get at the treats inside. Easy for you to make, but not easy for your dog to undo! To add to the challenge, tie several tea towels together in a row with treats in each one.
  • Treat Treasure Hunt: Hide treats around the dog’s area for her to sniff out. A similar game for a nice day is simply toss a handful of kibble onto the grass in your back yard. Hunting for the goodies can occupy a good amount of time.
  • Communication: Hide treats while the dog is in another room. Bring dog to room and have him find the treats.
  • Memory: Hide treats while the dog is watching, then remove dog from room for a short time. Return to room and ask the dog if he can find all of the treats that he saw you hide.
  • Wild Sits (or other wild things!): Run around and get your dog excited. Then stop suddenly and ask for a sit and reward for correct behavior. If the dog jumps, turn away and ignore 10 to 15 seconds before resuming the game. To keep your dog on her toes, you can also ask for downs or other behaviors your dog knows like “give a paw.” See Teach Tricks, next!
  • Teach Tricks: Tricks are fun for your dog and you. Teach high five, spin, leg weave and more. There are videos to get you started on the AKC Trick Dog: Resources page.

When your dog is ready for some bigger challenges:

Teach Your Dog to Solve a Problem

Let your dog figure out how to pull a string to get a treat. Tie a ribbon or small rope to a treat and hide it under a small platform or piece of furniture, far enough back so they cannot reach the treat with their mouth or paw. Encourage your dog to investigate and see how long it takes for him to tug on the string to retrieve the treat. Reasoning skills are essential for developing puppies and older dogs alike. Successful problem solving is also a big confidence booster.

Shoebox Hide-and-Seek

You don’t have to participate in an AKC Scent Work trial to have fun with your dog’s nose; you can do some scent work in the house. All you need is a set of empty containers like shoeboxes or yogurt tubs. Place the containers in a group on the floor and bait one or a few with smelly treats. Then allow your dog to sniff all the containers in a search for the hidden treasure.

In the beginning, you can make your dog’s job easier by leaving the lids off the containers. You can progress to replacing the lids but first poke holes in them. Once your dog has the idea, start increasing the challenge by only baiting one of the containers and spreading them out around the room. In addition, the more containers your dog must search through, the greater the effort required.

The Cup Game

Place a treat under an upside down plastic or stainless-steel bowl or cup. Different sizes and different surfaces increase or decrease difficulty of game.

Let your dog see you hide one treat under a cup on the floor. Tell him to “take it,” and when he noses or knocks over the cup let him eat the treat it was hiding.

Once this is mastered, the dog is ready for the shell game. Rub the treat on your fingers and along the inside of three mugs lined up in a row, so the smell of it is everywhere. This is a visual tracking game, and we don’t want him cheating with his talented nose! Let him see you hide the goody under one of the cups. Tell him to “take it” and give him the treat when he makes the right choice, no matter how long it takes him, and no matter how many mistakes he makes. Repeat many times, hiding kibble under each of the three cups, one at a time.

Note: for very small or timid dogs, begin with small disposable plastic cups to set them up for success. As skill improves, make the cups/bowls bigger or heavier, but make sure they are made of a safe substance (nothing breakable).

Name That Toy

Teach your dog names of toys (one toy at a time) and ask for specific toys. These can be hidden, and the dog can be asked to “Go Find… (toy name)” Start with his two favorites and teach him to fetch them by name one at a time, in a room with no other toys to choose from. If he isn’t a naturally motivated retriever, use lots of praise, tug, or treats to reward the good fetches.

Once he knows the names of two toys, put both on the floor and ask him to fetch one at a time. Reward correct choices with whatever makes him happy and by continuing the game. If your dog makes incorrect choices, repeat the request (avoid saying “no”), eventually guiding him toward the right toy if he really needs help. If he can succeed with two, try three or more. This is difficult brain work, so expect to build your dog’s vocabulary very gradually.

We think these activities will be just as much fun for you as they are for your dog – part of the fun, after all, is just being with your best friend.


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