Furtropolis by Outward Hound

Social Distancing Before It Was Cool: Solo Fun with Your Dog

If you have a dog that is reactive or has behavioral challenges it can feel isolating, or like your dog’s life is limited. With so many people posting pictures online or talking about going to dog parks or training classes, it can feel frustrating to have a dog who isn’t social. As a result, you wonder if your dog is missing out on opportunities to participate in enrichment activities, but that doesn’t have to be the case! People with reactive or anxious dogs that aren’t comfortable being close to other dogs or people have been social distancing long before it was a thing, but that doesn’t mean having to sacrifice enrichment.

With the pandemic going on its third year, now more than ever is a perfect opportunity to spend quality solo time with your dog. There are even an array of organizations to virtually get involved with and activities you can do to build a community for yourself with other dog lovers. 

Learn About Your Dog 

dog lounging with his human

With the winter weather and continuing pandemic keeping you inside more, now is a great opportunity to spend time observing, playing, and learning alongside your dog. Figure out what kinds of games and activities your dog enjoys most. Keep in mind just like us, dogs grow and change over time.

Your dog’s preferences for activities and games will likely evolve during their life. For example, a dog who as a puppy might have been easily frustrated by puzzles, as an adult may find them very enjoyable.

As we go into the deepest months of winter, you might find yourself spending more time inside but that doesn’t mean your dog has to be bored. Try to think about what your dog enjoys most and create time for that. 

Scent Work & Foraging Games 

toys for dogs that like to dig. dog playing with snuffle mat

Sniffing comes naturally to dogs. Dogs explore and experience much of the world through their sense of smell. In addition to gathering information, sniffing is also stress-relieving and relaxing for dogs. Particularly for dogs who live with a lot of anxiety, or who are reactive and often get stressed while on a walk, foraging and nose work games can be an enjoyable activity.

If you have a yard, you can sprinkle treats into the grass. Don’t have a yard? That’s ok! You can create foraging opportunities for your dog indoors. Snuffle mats can be made at home or purchased. A snuffle mat is a simple but effective puzzle that simulates foraging opportunities for dogs. They are made with a solid base and dense fabric (often fleece) strips and flaps that food and treats can be sprinkled into or hidden within for dogs to find.

If your dog is feeling cooped up this winter, try feeding all or some of their regular kibble meal on a snuffle mat. Alternately, an easy way to create DIY foraging opportunities for your dog is to use empty boxes spread around a room with treats or kibble sprinkled inside. 

Keep Training Spontaneous with an Activity Jar

It’s easy to feel unmotivated or overwhelmed with not knowing what to do with your dog.

When it’s just you and your dog it can be easy to get into repetitive habits for what games you play, or what tricks you practice. Just like us, dogs can become bored easily if they are doing the same things repeatedly.

One way to keep your training and playing enriching for your dog is to switch up what activities, games, and cues you practice each day. A fun way to do this is to create an activity jar. On small pieces of paper write each trick, game, or activity your dog knows. You can also add tricks or cues you want to teach your dog this year. 

Fold up each piece of paper and drop it into an empty mason jar. When you are feeling tired after work or aren’t feeling especially motivated but know your dog would benefit from enrichment games or training, reach into the jar, and pick out something to work on that day. This can help keep training and playing spontaneous and enjoyable for you and your dog. 

Give That Dog a Puzzle 

challenge slider dog game

A fun way to bring excitement and enrichment into your dog’s day while staying inside is by introducing your dog to puzzles. Dog puzzles have compartments you can put treats into and then dogs use their mouth and feet to open drawers, move levers, and remove pieces to access the treats. If you’re being thoughtful about how many treats your dog gets you can also use some of your dog’s meal/kibble in the puzzles to make mealtime more engaging.

Puzzle play is a fun and easy way to give your dog mental exercise at home and away from any stressors or triggers they might have. Puzzles are mentally challenging for dogs, and most dogs will quickly start to learn and memorize how to do the puzzles.

Bonus: For an added challenge keep track of how long it takes your dog to solve your puzzles and see if they get faster over time. 

Schedule a Private Lesson 

If your dog isn’t safe or comfortable being near other dogs that doesn’t mean you can’t explore new dog sports or take a fun training class together. Working with a dog trainer doesn’t just need to be about working on behavioral issues. In fact, spending time with your dog learning a new sport or skill can strengthen your bond.

Sports can give you and your dog a stronger training foundation which in turn can help you learn better skills with managing your dog’s behavioral challenges. Most dog trainers are more than happy to schedule an individual lesson with anyone who would rather work independently on learning a sport. Individual sessions can be scheduled virtually over Zoom as well. This can be a great way to help you and your dog get exposure to new activities including Trick Sports, Competitive Obedience, Rally Obedience, Scent Work, Parkour, and more. 

Earn Virtual Titles 

dog training with bag of treats

One of the big benefits of the pandemic for dog owners who have dogs that struggle being near other dogs is that everyone has been socially distancing. This has led to an expansion of opportunities to work with your dog to earn actual dog sport titles virtually.

The trick title organization Do More With Your Dog (DMWYD) has title options for beginner (novice) level through Grand Champion that dogs of any age, breed, or mix-breed can earn. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has expanded its opportunities for people to earn titles at home with their dogs in a variety of sports including Tricks, Obedience, Rally Obedience, and Scent Work.

For dogs who have reactivity or anxiety challenges, a traditional dog show setting often isn’t a safe or fun option, however virtual competitions where titles are earned by sending in videos of the performance or skill being done in a private area are a great way to participate.

Dog sports are a great confidence boost for dogs and people. Setting a goal of building your skills on a new sport can help to strengthen your bond with your dog and increase your confidence in working with your dog and your dog’s confidence with learning.

Focus on Fun! 

flat faced dog frenchie with toy and family

All dogs benefit from regular daily enrichment. Making sure your dog gets enough mental and physical exercise is good for your dog’s health and wellbeing. Dogs who are bored are more likely to find ways to entertain themselves, which can mean being destructive by chewing up things that aren’t theirs, barking, etc.

It can feel like there is a lot of pressure to push our dogs to be more socially engaged than they are comfortable being but try to ignore that pressure, not all dogs are social with other dogs or people and that’s ok!

Keeping your dog safe and comfortable is always the priority and there are so many ways to incorporate enrichment into your dog’s life while allowing them to stay distanced. Regardless of what activities you and your dog try to practice this winter, the most important thing is making sure you and your dog are having fun together. 

Entertain your dog indoors this winter with these boredom busters