4 Easy Games That Help Dogs With Behavior And Anxiety

4 games for behavior anxiety in dogs

Dogs are versatile, adaptable animals who live in almost any household situation. From small apartments to mansions … there’s a dog breed that can thrive and fit into almost anyone’s life. 

Despite how different they’ve become, dogs are still the direct descendants of wolves. They keep some of their wild instincts and behaviors. If you’re a busy dog owner, it can be hard to keep your pup entertained as you juggle work, family, and daily life.

Dogs are intelligent pack animals who need challenges. But trying to provide the mental stimulation they crave can feel overwhelming and frustrating. Many dog toys on the market boil down to being the same product. 

By appealing to your dog’s natural instincts, you can engage him both mentally and physically … with fun games and activities. These activities can help curb boredom. So games can reduce boredom-induced anxiety or behaviors in dogs like excessive licking, chewing, and pacing. 

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Even if your dog isn’t displaying these problem behaviors and typically gets lots of attention and exercise … a change of pace can still be good for his brain.

So how can you keep him entertained and engaged?

Natural Activities And Games For Your Dog

I’ve put together a list of some games inspired by natural canine behavior. I’ve also included instructions on how to set up these games in your home.

Digging

Digging behaviors can be the bane of a dog owner’s existence. From tearing up flower beds to rooting around in your bed, digging can make any pup seem like a big pest. But digging is a natural behavior that you shouldn’t always discourage. 

That doesn’t mean you have to let your dog destroy the whole yard. You can find alternative ways to let him play safely … without destroying your herb garden.

Creating a designated digging spot can keep your dog happy and engaged. And it may cut down on his digging in inappropriate places. You can buy a child’s sandbox and fill it with soft organic dirt as a great way to safely allow digging. 

You can make this game even more fun for your dog by hiding toys and treats in the sandbox so he has to forage for them. He’ll feel like a wolf digging up hidden caches of food! If you use treats, be sure your dog finds them all … so he doesn’t find them crawling with maggots another day!

Scenting

Most dog owners are familiar with their dog’s urge to investigate interesting smells. Scenting is a compelling behavior for dogs, because of their powerful olfactory glands … and because canine communication often relies on scent alone. 

Introducing new scents into your dog’s life can be a stimulating game that can keep your dog’s brain active. Adding in items scented like other animals is commonly done in zoological organizations. There’s no reason you can’t do it at home too. 

Bottled animal urine is typically sold to ward off pests for gardeners or attract animals for hunters. You can spritz these delicious-smelling goodies on pieces of cardboard or rags. Then hide them around the yard for your dog to discover. 

Easy to find urine types are:

  • Coyote
  • Fox
  • Wolf
  • Deer

This game isn’t an ideal activity for all dogs. If you have a very territorial or anxious dog … feeling like another canine has invaded his yard could be very distressing. 

You may want to try this activity on a smaller scale in a public place like a park. This will test your dog’s reaction before trying it in your own space. And it will reduce stress if it upsets your dog.

If that doesn’t suit your dog … there are plenty of other ways to engage your dog with scents

Small animals like guinea pigs and hamsters have interesting smells. But they aren’t threatening to dogs. Ask for a small part of used bedding from a friend or family member’s small pet and place it in your yard. This can be an interesting find for your pup. 

Foraging

Foraging is part of the enrichment routines of small animals and birds. It’s not something you’d think of to entertain your dog. But, many dogs enjoy foraging activities. You can change several of the above activities to provide foraging enrichment. 

  • Hide treats in your dog’s designated digging space. 
  • Attach every new scent stimulation with a hidden treat. 
  • Hide treats inside hollow toys. Then hide the toys in your house or yard so your dog must sniff them out.

Hunting

Another important activity of dogs’ ancestors, wolves, is hunting. While it may not be so crucial for your Pomeranian … that doesn’t mean these behaviors aren’t still ingrained somewhere in your dog’s brain. 

Most dog owners agree that it’s not always appropriate to let your dog exercise this instinct as much as he’d like. Your neighbor may not appreciate him chasing her cat. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to ignore these urges altogether. Hunting games are fun and stimulating  … particularly for dogs with a high prey drive. Of course, really allowing your dog to chase animals is usually not safe or ethical. 

But you can still find ways to engage your dog’s interest in hunting. These include: 

  • Noise making toys 
  • Interactive toys you move 
  • Motorized toys 
  • Feather wand-type toys (sold for cats)

These types of toys can also be lots of fun for your prey-driven dog. Some motorized toys are remote controlled. They’re an easy way to keep both your dog and a willing participant (often a child) amused.

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Have Fun With Your Dog!

You may not be able to fit every single one of these activities into your daily routine. Not every dog will have interest in every activity. Nor will every activity be suitable for your schedule or living situation.

Most of these games are simple enough that you can use them to provide at least an occasional change of pace … and prevent canine boredom.

Don’t be too ambitious! Instead of fitting every single one of these activities into one day, try rotating one or two per day. That way they’ll stay interesting and engaging for longer. You don’t even need to be present for all these games. 

For example, foraging around your apartment or house will likely be just as entertaining … without your attention.

Don’t give up if your dog doesn’t seem interested at first. He may not yet understand what the game is or how to take part. Don’t hold either your dog or yourself to high expectations for these activities. 

Relax and have fun. You have a new way to keep your pup entertained without wasting time or breaking the bank.

RELATED: 5 Ways Play and Exercise Can Help Keep Your Dog Mentally Healthy

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