Your dog is sick or injured and can’t do the usual activities that would entertain him and wear him out. Don’t panic – there are still lots of things you can do to keep his mind busy! Be sure to consult with your veterinarian, and take things easy on days when your pup is feeling poorly. For the days when he’s feeling pretty spunky, here are some ideas.
Have a get well party. If your dog likes people, invite some friends over for dinner, and have them give your pup treats, pet him and play with him.
Visit a friend’s house. If your pup is contagious, be sure to choose a friend who doesn’t have a dog. You can just explore the back yard together if they prefer.
Do a puzzle. A food puzzle, that is! There are lots of these available both to buy and make at home – just search online for “dog food puzzle” or “dog food dispensing toy.” If your dog likes his own food, just use his meals for this. If he’s a bit pickier, use a healthy treat, but be sure to cut back on the amount of food your dog gets in his meal so he doesn’t become overweight – at least until he’s able to exercise again.
Play I Spy. Drive your pup to a busy area with lots of activity, like a park, playground, downtown, or strip mall, and let them watch the goings-on out the window.
Try a Sniffari. If your dog is physically able to take walks, drive somewhere where there’s lots of empty space – the desert, a deserted park, or a dirt road is good for this. Put your dog on a long line and a harness, and follow him wherever he wants to go. The fun part of a Sniffari is, he gets to decide where you go, how long he gets to sniff, where to head to next … he’s in the driver’s seat!
Get some wheels. If your pup is a relatively calm sort, instead of walks, consider teaching him to ride in a wagon or dog stroller (these are often easy to find secondhand online). Begin in the house with the wagon or stroller still, then praise and treat him for staying in it. Slowly begin to roll it, a little at a time, always praising and treating your dog for staying put. When it comes time to take a walk, ask someone else to come with you to make sure your dog stays seated inside the vehicle for entire trip.
Construct an obstacle course. You’d be surprised just how tiring proprioception exercises are! Lay an ex-pen or baby gate on the ground, and practice walking over it. Can you lure your pup through a hula-hoop? How about walking backward? Construct a “tunnel” with a blanket and some chairs and teach him to go through it. Practice helping your pup to weave through some cones (or other household objects). Can you lure your pup into putting all four feet into a cardboard box? How about putting his front feet up onto a book? His back feet?
Teach some new tricks. There is a whole world of fun tricks to learn that don’t require a lot of movement. Some ideas might be: touch a button or a bell to make a sound, push a beach ball/toy truck with your nose, lay your head down between your paws, play dead, shake a paw/high five/wave, give a “kiss”.
Play some scenting games. Dogs love to use their noses to solve puzzles, and it can be surprisingly tiring. Hide treats around the house or yard, then let your dog find them (you might let them watch you hide them at first, until they get the idea). Play a version of the Shell Game with some paper cups and a treat. Hide somewhere in your house, then encourage your dog to find you by calling them – don’t forget to reward when they do!
Focus on tiring out your dog’s brain, rather than their body. Actually, this is good advice in general for a well-behaved dog. Dogs are incredible athletes, so sometimes we forget how effective it is to tire out their brains, as well!