Quash Quarantine Qualms: Brain Games to the Rescue

Are you and your dogs stuck at home hiding out from the coronavirus? They’re probably wondering why they’re not getting as many walks or car rides to different places. Changes in their routine can be stressful. You can help to reduce their stress—and yours—with some mental activities that are perfect not just when a pandemic has you quarantined but also if the weather is miserable, or you’re sick and can’t do much.

Quarantine or not, dogs need to keep their brains active just as much as they need to be taken for a walk or run. Providing mental stimulation helps them to feel more confident, improves the bond between the two of you, and helps to stop destructive behaviors resulting from boredom.

For instance, if you walk your dog every day, but miss out on these games, you’ll likely notice that your dog is still frustrated and might bark at every opportunity or chew furniture or other objects. These three games will help to alleviate any of those bored behaviors, especially during times when you’re unable to get out on a walk.

When possible, play these games consistently alongside physical exercise most days. Right now, that might mean playing in your own yard, tossing a ball down the hall for your dog to chase, or playing tug.

Brain Game 1: Teach a New Trick

The simplest brain exercise you can do with your dog is to teach a new trick. This requires concentration and maximizes their brain power.

Simple tricks include teaching your dog to sit, lie down in a specific place, give a paw, or touch his nose to a target. Fancier tricks could involve teaching your dog to spin or roll over, or even give you a double high-five.

To teach your dog any trick you’ll need a supply of high-value treats, using them to maneuver your dog into position for the trick. A clicker is helpful but you can also just click your tongue or say “Yes!” when your dog does what you want. Reward with a treat each time they perform the trick correctly.

Length of Time: 10 minutes every day for a week

Brain Game 2: Indoor Obstacle Course

Your dog will love this if you aren’t able to get outside for a walk, because not only will it give them the chance to try something new, but they will also be getting much needed exercise they might otherwise miss out on.

You can use whatever you have lying around your house to create an obstacle course. A large box can double as a tunnel, or dogs can jump onto the sofa (for some dogs it may be safest for them to go up and down steps or a ramp), walk along a plank, or step through the rungs of a ladder on the floor. Use your imagination!

Length of Time: 30 minutes

Brain Game 3: Hide and Seek

If you’re all out of treats, and they’re bored with all their current toys, this is a fantastic game that allows them to find the best treat ever – you!

Have your dog sit and stay, and then go into another room and find somewhere to hide. This could be behind a curtain, or sofa. The better your dog gets at this game, the more creative you can get with the hiding places.

When you’re in position, shout a release cue to your dog and wait for them to sniff you out! Make sure you give plenty of praise when they find you! Hint: If your dog experiences anxiety when separated from you, it’s a good idea to play a different game.

Length of Time: 10 minutes

Because these games use treats as a reward, it can be easy to overfeed your dog. Count any treats you use are toward your dog’s daily food allowance. If necessary, reduce the amount of their morning or evening meal to account for treats.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

John Woods is founder of All Things Dogs, created to educate dog owners on how to care for their dogs.