By Shoshi Parks
It’s February. It’s cold. And winter still trudges on.
Sometimes it feels like you’ll lose your sanity if you have to take another walk with your dog in the snow, rain, or freezing temperatures – or a combination of all three! Mental stimulation is just as important to your dog’s well-being as physical exercise, and smart play can offer hours of constructive, creative fun. So just because you don’t have an open space to play in, doesn’t mean you can’t have quality playtime with your pup! Below are three positive-reinforcement training games to play with your dog – yep, you guessed it – indoors.
101 Things to Do with A Box
This game utilizes the positive-reinforcement learning principle of “shaping” – which is essentially asking the dog to use problem-solving skills plus creativity in order to “win something.”
Start with a cardboard box of any size on the floor in front of you. There are 101 things your dog can do with this box – they can stand or sit inside of it, touch or move it with their nose or paw, and so on. Decide what you want your dog to do first (start with something simple, like touching it with their nose) and then encourage them to notice the box by giving it a little shake. The goal is for your dog to understand that the box has meaning and that it pays to try things out. As they get closer to the end goal, they receive rewards that motivate them to continue. For example, if you want your dog to touch the box with their nose, they may begin simply by looking at the box. Mark the moment they do with a “YES!” or a clicker and throw them a small reward, like a yummy dog biscuit. If they move closer to the box, mark and reward that, until finally, your dog is curious and confident enough to touch the box with their nose. Throw a party with your voice and treats and try it again, this time only rewarding the end goal of touching the box with the nose!
When your dog catches on to the game, try some more complex behaviors like standing on or stepping inside the box.
This is a fun game that can also be helpful for dogs that do not naturally indicate that they need to go outside.
Start with a simple “service” bell, like those found at the front desk of a hotel (they can be purchased for less than five dollars online.) Place it on the floor near the exit door and using your hands or a treat on top, encourage your dog to notice it. As your dog engages with the bell, they will eventually make it ding. When it does, mark the moment with a “YES!” or a clicker and a delicious reward. Continue to encourage your dog to ring the bell and name it with the cue “ring the bell!”
When your dog is easily ringing using their nose or paw, slowly begin to move away from the bell. For every foot or two you move away, ask your dog to “ring the bell” from your new position five or more times until, eventually, your dog is able to ring it regardless of your location in the room.
If you want your dog to learn to ring the bell when they need to go out, start pairing the two by cueing your dog to “ring the bell” before stepping outside for a potty break. With time and consistency, your dog will recognize that the bell happens before they get to do their business and will start to ring it on their own when they need to go out.
Put the Toys Away
It may be a chore for your children, but teach your dog using positive-reinforcement methods and it becomes a fun game!
Start with one favorite toy and give it a name (i.e. “Busy Bee”). Next, work with your dog to take it out of your hand and to drop it. Ask your dog to “pick up Busy Bee” and offer it back. If your dog takes it, let them know they got it right by marking the moment with a “YES!” or a clicker. Play with them for a moment as a reward then ask your dog “drop” the toy, trade them a treat and letting Busy Bee drop on the ground. Continue to practice until your dog can pick up and drop the toy on cue.
Next, put the toy on the ground in front of you and ask your dog to “pick up Busy Bee.” Mark and reward with a moment of play then ask for a “drop.” Repeat this until your dog is confident picking up the toy from the ground. Now, scoot a foot or two away and point to ask your dog to “pick up Busy Bee.” Mark and reward with a moment of play then ask for a “drop” in front of you. Slowly move farther away from the toy and closer to the toy chest, making sure you give your dog the chance to practice several times at each new distance. Finally, when you’ve reached the toy chest, ask your dog to “pick up Busy Bee” and have them drop it not on the floor, but in the chest. Give this a cue, too. As they walk towards you, ask your dog to “put it away.”
When your dog is happily putting away the first toy, select another, give it a name, and start over again! The average dog can learn more than 150 words. See how many toys yours can identify!
Next time the weather is poor but your pup is itching to play, keep these indoor-friendly games in mind – your pup will be thrilled!