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With our busy lifestyles, our dogs are often left to their own devices for hours each day. How to keep a dog entertained while at work is a question many people ask themselves.
Leaving a dog home alone for a long time can lead to many different social and behavioural problems in our dogs.
As we all know, bored dogs quickly become destructive dogs when there is no outlet for their energy.
They get sick of foraging for the same smells of their home and go looking for something else to do. After all, dogs are smart animals, and we need to exercise their brain as well as their body.
In this article, we’ll explore different ways to keep your dog entertained while you’re at work. Note that some activities are best done under supervision before you leave your dog alone. Not all dogs can be left alone with toys they can be a choking hazard.
By increasing our dogs mental stimulation we can provide them with an outlet for their excess energy. One of the most common and easiest ways to do this is through Enrichment Feeding.
Dog Enrichment Feeding improves and enhances your dog’s mental state by using a range of activities that are designed to challenge and exercise their brain. These activities encourage your dog to solve problems and learn new skills. Some fantastic side effects of this are that your dog will become more confident as well as tired.
Exercising your dog’s brain can often exhaust your dog more than a long walk. If your dog is tired, he will relax more while you’re out of the house. We’ll be looking at different types of Enrichment Feeding below to help make it easier to keep your dog entertained while you’re at work.
Food Toys can help to encourage your dog to perform natural foraging behaviour with the use of food as a reward. By increasing foraging behaviour, you may decrease other unwanted behaviours such as excessive barking.
Dogs are basically one big nose on four legs, so implementing sniffing games is a fantastic way to exercise your dog. On top of that, sniffing is energetically expensive for dogs, which means that it can get your dog satisfied and tired quickly. Often much more than a long walk outside.
You can learn more about dogs and their noses here: Secrets of the Snout: A Dog’s Nose Is a Work of Art
When playing sniffing games with your dog, it’s important to remember to not rush through it. You should give your dog time to get all the information they need before moving on. Additionally, try to vary the location of sniffing games regularly and don’t always play in the same spot.
Note that food toys can be a problem in households with more than one dog. Supervise your dogs when you give them food toys. Also, remember any toy can become a hazard to your dog if used in the wrong way. It’ll depend on you and your dog which toys you think you can safely leave your dog alone with, and which toys you’ll let your dogs play with under your supervision when you’re at home.
An all-time-favourite for many dog owners.
A smaller and softer version for puppies.
Engage your dog’s mind and body with a hand-made Snuffle Mat.
There are many ways to make homemade dog toys too. Let’s look at some of the best DIY dog games that most people can get started with straight away.
A DIY food toy can be as simple as recycling an empty plastic bottle. Just fill the bottle with dry food plus a few extra-tasty treats and then punch some holes in the sides (big enough for the food to fall out) for hours of fun. Don’t forget to remove the bottle top and the plastic ring for your dog’s safety!
You can even use toilet roles for Enrichment Feeding. Smear some yoghurt, cream cheese or peanut butter inside the toilet roll and then add a few solid treats before you squash the ends of the toilet roll.
Ice-blocks are great on hot summer days. You can literally freeze any number of things in ice cream or yoghurt containers filled with water or bone broth. Just put in anything that your dog likes.
For example, you could put in pieces of fruit or suitable food scraps. You can also go as far as putting in toys like a Kong, or you could have a cotton rope hanging out of the container. This will not only get your dog more interested, but you can also use it to hang the Ice-block to add an extra layer of difficulty.
Instead of giving your dog his dry food in a bowl, go outside and scatter the food in your yard. This will not only keep your dog busy for some time, but it will also give him many feel-good reactions when he finds his scattered food.
Additionally, you can also hide some higher value treats in different locations to keep your dog motivated to continue the good work. If your dog is used to having a Kong, why not hide a Kong somewhere out there too?
Dogs love to use their superior sense of smell to locate food in different places. Grab a cardboard box and put some kibble and treats inside and then seal the box. You can increase the level of difficulty by layering treats around boxes of different sizes that are stacked within each other.
Ask your butcher if they can cut the ends of large marrow bones. Give it to your dog to keep him busy while getting all the marrow out.
Once your dog has done that, wash the bone and then smear peanut butter or cream cheese in the open end. Fill the hollow centre with dry food and seal the other end with the peanut butter. This will make for an excellent treat for your dog that can keep him busy for quite some time.
There are may food toys for your dog that you can purchase online. We put together a list of our favourite ones.
A Kong can be a great source of mental enrichment for your dog. They can have many different forms, but a Kong is typically stuffed with food and given to the dog to work out.
Many dog owners leave their dogs with Kongs during periods of separation, it’s a well-known option to keep your dog entertained while at work.
You can even freeze Kongs for a tougher challenge. If you buy a Kong, make sure you get the right size for your dog. Also, don’t forget that Enrichment should, most of all, be a fun activity for your dog.
If you notice your dog getting frustrated, it’s not a good sign. It’s best to start off with something easy, and then work your way up from there.
When using treat balls for your dog’s Enrichment, you place dry food in the opening, and then your dog has to roll the toy around to get the food out.
Sometimes a dog will need to learn how to get the food out, which means that you might have to play with the toy yourself until your dog understands it.
You can also smear peanut butter or cream cheese near the opening to encourage your dog to look for more food. Don’t forget to praise your dog when he gets it!
Hands down, Snuffle Mats are fantastic. There’s a longer article about them here if you’re interested: All You Need To Know About Snuffle Mats for Dogs
They can be a tremendous source of Enrichment, and you can either purchase one online or make one yourself. When ready, all you need to do is to sprinkle treats onto the mat and then enjoy watching your dog search for the treats.
Sandpits are not only an ideal way to support a healthy digging habit without sacrificing the garden, but they can also be used to make your dog work for treats. Burying treats in the sandpit will increase mental stimulation due to your dog having to sniff for the location of the treat. Also, you will reward digging behaviour in this exact location and reduce the likelihood of your dog digging elsewhere, which is a great side-effect. You can get a simple clam shell sandpit from most Bunnings.
There are many different puzzle feeders available to buy; they all require different problem-solving strategies. You can use them for your dog’s main meals, or they can also be given as an extra treat.
There are lots of great fresh, natural treat options that you can use to stuff your dog toys with. Try as many as you want, and over time you’ll be able to tell which treats your dog likes and which ones he doesn’t care about. Here are some ideas:
Most dogs love peanut butter so much that they will eat it non-stop if you let them, so you’re probably wondering if Peanut Butter is good for your dog.
For the most part, it’s best to think of peanut butter as an occasional high-value treat. For example, peanut butter is great for hiding pills, and peanut butter can also be used to distract your dog while you need to bath him or trim nails. As a rule of thumb, you should give no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories in treats such as peanut butter.
Not all types of peanut butter are equal, and the wrong brand can be dangerous for your dog even in small portions. It’s best to always check the ingredients list of the peanut butter you plan to purchase. Look for one with the most natural ingredients as possible.
Peanut butter can be an excellent source for protein, healthy fats, Vitamin B, Vitamin C and Niacin. That said, a lot of peanut butter has added sugar, salt and preservatives, which aren’t great for your dog. Most of all you want to steer clear of peanut butter with added Xylitol. It’s an increasingly common sugar-replacement sweetener which is fine for most people but extremely poisonous to dogs (Read more here: What Kind of Peanut Butter is Safe for Dogs?).
If you have a decent blender or food processor, you can also easily make your own peanut butter at home.
Most of the time, you can simply rinse dog toys with water and use an old toothbrush to help clean the toy. If dog toys are extra dirty, you can soak them in a solution of one part vinegar and two parts water. Many dog toys are dishwasher safe too, read brand-specific instructions to find out if you can put your dog toys in the dishwasher.
I hope I could provide you with some useful tips and tricks to keep your dog entertained while you’re at work.
In short: While there’s no simple answer that will work for all dogs, try to focus on different enrichment activities throughout the week, so that you dog has better chances of remaining in a calm state when you’re out of the house.