Going stir crazy due to Covid-19? Are your bored dogs driving you insane? Here are some quick ideas to keep them occupied without leaving your property, using things you probably already have on hand! Watching the video montage should give you some inspiration, and reading the post will give more details.
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Hide and Seek (with items)
This is fun to play with a favorite toy, treats, or just bits of kibble if you’re watching your dog’s waistline. Put your dog in a separate room, then hide the treats in accessible locations. Let them out and tell them, “Find the treats!” This can also be done outside. As animal behaviorist Julie Bond says, “Both dogs and cats like to sniff and explore, so simply spreading out their food or snacks in your grass allows them to use their noses as nature intended.” You may have to give them hints when you first introduce this game, but eventually they’ll be finding all the hidden goodies on their own like a pro!
Johanna Korvela from Sweden combines trick training, nosework, and hide and seek (see video) to keep her Collie Melker’s brain engaged. She said, “I highly recommend nosework; it can also be a toy or food hidden in the house or in objects. Let the imagination go wild, and the Internet is a big help, too! Trick training can be done anywhere and is fun for both dog and owner.”
Hide and Seek (with people)
If you have more than one person living in your household, you can hide or have someone else hide indoors or outside. It’s the same process as with concealing treats, except you’re telling the dog, “Go Find Hanka!” or whoever. (Some of you may get that old kids’ book reference.) It doesn’t have to be elaborate: a good hiding place can just be standing in a closet or behind an open door. This is a great one to play with kids and dogs simultaneously. Kids love to be the hiders and have the dogs find them!
You can even tag team the hiding! Said Kristan Neubecker, Collie owner and proprietor of Pets and Purrs Barkery, “We play the ‘come find me’ game: one human somewhere hidden calls, and the dogs go to that person while the other human hides. After they find the first human, the second says, ‘come find me!’…” You can repeat this cycle as often as you want, or until the dogs are sufficiently worn out.
Collies love tug! A tug rope is great, but you can even make your own tug toy with an old handtowel, washcloth, or knotted sock. Most dogs aren’t too picky; they just want something they can sink their teeth into. Usually I start a game with Yoshi, my exuberant little female Collie, then my big boy Gustav joins in. If he takes over as nanny dog, my job is done. Also, Collies tend to have a weird love of paper products, and mine often play tug with (and simultaneously shred) paper towel rolls and cardboard boxes!
Hidden Object Games
These are a little more interactive than your standard hide and seek, requiring personal human involvement. “Which Hand” is a classroom favorite recommendation from professional animal trainer Julie Bond:
Ask your dog to sit, and show them that you have a treat. Move your hands behind your back and switch the treat from hand to hand. Offer your dog two closed fists and have them bump your fist with their nose or a paw to try to find the treat. If they pick the wrong hand, that’s okay – just try it again!
Julie also recommends the shell game for both canines and felines. It’s a variation of that old “follow the pea” sleight of hand circus trick; but no worries – you don’t have to be a magician for this to be fun! Your pet will be relying on their nose more than their eyes, anyway. You just need three cups placed upside down. Let your pet see you put a treat under one and mix them all around. Then, with their nose or paw, have them select which cup hides the treat. (Clever Smooth Collie @wow.its.westley modeled this game quite nicely in the Collie Tricks video.)
Fetch is great for the younger, more energetic doggos like Yoshi. Oddly, she will only play fetch indoors, perhaps because there are far more exciting things to do outside? When I throw a ball or squeaky toy down our hallway, she goes bouncing after it and brings it back so we can do it again! (Her theme song is Tigger’s song, swapped out for her name. She loves it when I sing it to her – that’s what I tell myself anyway.) Sometimes I also put a ball in a sock for an added level of fun.
A well-rinsed milk jug or water bottle with the plastic ring removed can make a great homemade puzzle toy. I usually put cat kibble into a water container and cut small holes in the sides to make a treat dispenser, and this keeps our pups occupied for a while as they nudge it with nose and paws or pick it up and shake it – depending on their styles. Just be sure to supervise and make sure your dog is only eating the contents, not the containers. Puzzle dishes can also be created with an old muffin tin and tennis balls (whole or cut in half) as covers for the holes. I’ve also heard great things about DIY snuffle mats and snuffle balls made with strips of fleece fabric.
Jessica Coupland, owner of a Collie/Husky/Great Pyrenees mix and a rambunctious young Beagle, suggested getting a foam or more challenging plastic egg carton (like those used by Eggland’s Best) and filling it with kibble, apple sauce, egg, yogurt, peanut butter, or any healthy treat! “My Beagle puppy is incredibly high-energy, and anything that gets that nose working does wonders to help tire her out,” she said. When it comes to Pearson, “He thankfully has calmed some, but I have done a lot of things like this with him.”
Again, this is one of Yoshi’s favorite games. Simply sending your dogs into the backyard isn’t always enough entertainment. Collies love to have their people interact with them, so sometimes I’ll go outside and chase (or pretend to chase) Yoshi around. Mostly I just feint and lunge from side to side, and she runs around me in happy circles, barking like a fool. For those whose play style is more similar to mine, you might enjoy using a flirt pole (fairly easy to make with string, stick, and toy) that will allow you to remain relatively stationary while your dog does the work. If you’re fleetfooted and spry, you can mix things up by running and letting them tag you for a change.
DIY “Busy” Treats and Chews
Chews are great when you need something to keep your dogs busy that will require less input from you, so your Collie won’t be bumping your elbow with their long nose while you’re trying to type or yapping at you while you’re on a call… (No that I’ve experienced those things, obviously.)
Collie mom Kristan said, “A fully stuffed Kong in a sock will keep them busy for a good while trying to figure it out.” Julie Bond recently wrote an excellent post containing recipes for making your own Kong filling and other homemade, healthy dog snacks like pumpkin/carrot treats and yogurt-based “pupsicles.” Also, peanut butter (xylitol-free of course!) works great in an old marrow bone in place of a Kong or smeared on the ends of a well-chewed antler.
Train New Things
Training done right (positively reinforced with lots of praise, treats, pets, or butt rubs) should be fun for you and your pup! Collies love to be challenged, and any novel command can be a game. To stay occupied, Collie mom Lora Schasel said, “We’ve been practicing agility (threadles and wraps), obedience (off-leash heeling with good eye contact and nice straight fronts), rear end awareness with perch work, and finishing up an online canine fitness course.” Chevy Manchester, owner of blue merle Collie Rocco, said she has “Just been polishing up some obedience and starting to teach ‘back up,’ because he is CLUMSY and needs better awareness of himself!”
Ciara, an Old Time Scotch Collie, has won multiple “Trick Dog” awards and is generally a very accomplished canine. Lara Sullivan has worked extensively with Ciara in “Treiball,” an ideal activity for herding breeds, and Ciara has learned how to “go to counter” on a ball (see video) and push it to Lara with her nose. She also excels at impulse control games, maintaining a down-stay while Lara “uses chopsticks to move kibble from one bowl to another.” My Collies could do this, but this would probably be torture for my Aussie mix Freckles and she might snap under the strain… Food is the center of her universe!
If you can leave your property, never underestimate the power of a walk! In certain areas – like where I live in Florida, USA – which have issued a “shelter in place” mandate, neighborhood walks are about all we can do now. I know someone currently stationed in Italy who is only allowed to walk their dog for a set amount of meters, but they’re making that work by taking more frequent, slower walks. (Download the ResQWalk app to convert your steps into donations toward the animal rescue organization of your choice. They could especially use the boost right now!)
Dog trainer and Collie owner Julie Bond said, “If you are out there walking your dogs, please please PLEASE let them sniff. Sniffing is their favorite activity! It expends energy, stimulates their brains, and reduces anxiety. So what if you only get 2 blocks on your walk? Your dog got to catch up on all the neighborhood goings-on, because you let them sniff out the information left behind.”
* Bonus Resources
Thanks to all this coronavirus craziness, many of us are experiencing a new normal. While we may not be able to publicly go out and make friends, at least we can still make long-distance friends! Much of the information in this article was gleaned from the international Rough Collies Facebook group. Even if you don’t normally do social media, I highly recommend joining this online forum of Collie lovers, owners, breeders, and trainers from around the world. I have asked many a question and always received helpful replies!
If you’re not already doing so, follow Julie C. Bond on Facebook (@K9freud on Instagram) or check out her blog! She posts more frequently than I do, and she is actually an expert. People often ask me training questions; but I can only make suggestions based on what I’ve done with my dogs, whereas Julie really knows what she’s talking about. She is also available for “distance learning” and video chats if you want to keep up on your dog’s training or have questions about behavior modification for your pet.
For toys you can order online, see our blog post specifically on favorite Collie-approved items. Do your best to stay safe and stay positive, everyone!