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Keeping your dog entertained at home

Tracy Purnell By Tracy Purnell

It's not just us confined to our houses at the moment, our furry friends are to! GetOutside Champion and dog owner, Tracy Purnell, tells us how she's keeping her dogs entertained whilst our time outside is restricted.

Dog chewing stick in living room

At this difficult time, in these unforeseen circumstances, we are advised to stay at home. It is proving to be challenging for us all. Although our pets are likely to be happy that we are spending more time with them, the limits on the amount of time we can spend outdoors can have a negative effect on them too.

Walks maybe shorter in length and some may not be having regular walks at all. Dogs can become destructive and misbehave through boredom. They can also pick up on our stresses and anxiety. Dogs need mental stimulation as well as physical activities to curb problem behaviours such as chewing, barking, digging etc.

Here are some ideas to help you spend quality time with your dog, while we are advised to stay at home. For some of us, our dog may be the only company and comfort we have at this challenging time. Make indoor play fun and exciting, dogs love to interact with us and these activities will help grow the bond between you and your dog.

Marley the dog playing find the treat hidden under cups

Find the treat

You will need three cups or similar for this game. Place the treat in your hand, make a fist an allow your dog to sniff your hand, so he knows you have something worth engaging. Ask your dog to sit and stay. Place the treat under one of the cups, swap the cups around and around for a few seconds and continue to make your dog wait. Ask him to find the treat.

This can also be done in your hands if you do not have any cups or such like that you can use. Hide the treat in one of your hands behind your back. Make a closed fist then hold your hands outwards towards him so he can take a sniff and find the right hand. Make a fuss when he gets it right. Do not reveal until he has chosen the correct hand.

Another game we often play involves cutting a few small holes into a plastic bottle, this can make for a fun game that will keep their brain stimulated and keep them busy.

Inside the bottle place a few pieces of carrot, some dog biscuits, or whatever your treats your dog likes to eat. They will then spend some time rolling the plastic bottle around trying to get at the treats.

Take care that there are no sharp edges that may harm your dog once you have cut into the plastic bottle. Always supervise your dog while playing with the bottle.

Dog exploring bottle in garden

Keep them busy with a Kong at feeding time

This is a great idea to use up any leftover food instead of it going to waste. Most dogs are not fussy and mixing different types of food my sound revolting to us, but delicious to your dog. If food supply is short in your house at the moment, use dog food instead. Dog biscuits or canned meat will be fine to use. The Kong will make them work for their food. It will keep them busy and mentally stimulated.

Chopped apples, carrots and bananas can be stuffed into the toy. Peanut butter, yogurt, mash potato and cottage cheese work well too. If your dog does not have a Kong, some rubber balls have small holes which can be large enough to stuff with food. A small crosscut into a tennis ball also works just as well.

Dog with Kong

I like to give my dogs a whole egg to play with. They push it around the floor and pick it up very gently, only to drop sharply to the floor to collect their smashed prize. Raw eggs are good for them and they can also eat the shell.

Some human food can be extremely toxic to dogs. Here is a list of some human foods you should not give to your dog. If in doubt, leave it out.

  • Chocolate
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Corn on the cob
  • Avocado
  • Artificial sweetener (Xylitol)
  • Cooked bones
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Caffeine
  • Rhubarb
  • Mushrooms
  • Unbaked dough
  • Salt

Helping out with the chores

Give your dog a job to do. Most dog breeds are working dogs and need a purpose plus mental stimulation. Domestic pet dogs don’t usually need to work for anything. They get food, toys and affection for free! Giving your dog a job to do helps them build confidence, plus, how useful would it be to have your dog help you out around the house? Well, now you have the time to teach them just that! They can help to carry logs in from outside to the fire, carry buckets, help bring the shopping indoors, the list is endless.

Teach your dog new tricks and brush up on their obedience.

If at some point you taught your dog obedience techniques, manners and simple tricks, these can sometimes be forgotten if not regularly reinforced. Now you have the time to brush up on their skills.

Sit, lie down, wait plus a good reliable recall are all important obedience commands.

Speak, turn around, roll over, fetch are fun commands to teach your dog.

Dog with sweeping brush it it's mouth


Dog massage is a great way to bond with your dog. Dogs can feel stressed and up tight at these strange times too. Muscles around your dog’s neck can become tight from pulling on a lead, tension in their legs from running and jumping around, not to mention some of the peculiar sleeping positions they get into. A simple gentle massage will have them feeling relaxed and will also have a calming effect on you! Incorporate brushing into a massage routine and even ear cleaning and cleaning their teeth.

Rotating their toys

Allow your dog to have just one or two toys a day. Rotate the toys and this will become exciting for them and help relieve the boredom.

Training and playing games with your dog mean you will need a large supply of treats as rewards. I trick my dogs into thinking I have treats by putting dry dog food into a fancy bag. This may not work for all dogs, so maybe you could mix the biscuits into some tuna juice (not tuna in brine, as this contains salts and is not healthy for your dog) or similar, for a few seconds before removing and placing into a small treat bag. Carrots and apples cut into small cubes are a great healthy snack for your dog. Carrots also help prevent some worms in your dog.

Baking treats for your dog can be fun. Be creative, there are lots of recipes on the internet. It’s also good to know exactly what you are feeding your dog.

Dog with toys
Making dog treats
Bone shaped dog biscuits

Treat recipes I use for my dogs

​Peanut butter cookies

  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • ½ cup of runny honey
  • 1 ½ cup of skimmed milk
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 cup oats

Mix all the ingredients together. Roll out the dough onto a surface sprinkled with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough flat and to the thickness you require. Use a cookie cutter or you can, cut shapes with a knife. Place on a baking tray covered in greaseproof paper and bake for 20 minutes at 160 degrees. Allow to cool on a rack before giving it to your dog.

Bacon pup cakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 1 cup cooked bacon

Mix all the ingredients together. Spoon the mixture in equal amounts into silicon muffin moulds or cupcake tins. However, be sure to grease the tin or use paper cups, as the mixture could stick to the tin during cooking. Only half fill the cups to give plenty of room for the pup cakes to rise. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 160 degrees.

Published 16/04/2020

Tracy Purnell By Tracy Purnell


Tracy is an avid mountain walker, photographer and trig pillar obsessive.

Find out more about Tracy Purnell.