For owners facing the challenging prospect of managing their dogs through a period of crate rest, the notion of keeping them entertained and mentally stimulated can seem quite a challenge. Whether due to surgery, injury, or medical conditions, crate rest becomes a necessary but often frustrating aspect of a dog’s rehabilitation, especially for those with more active lifestyles (both owners and dogs!). Let’s take a look at how we can keep our dogs not only occupied during this time but also come out the other side with some new found skills too. Feel free to use the index below to skip to the games you want to try first.
No equipment needed crate games for dogs
Tricks and Skills
This is a great opportunity to teach your dog a few skills that don’t require them to move around too much, in fact, a lot of useful skills dogs can have are based around not moving!
Stay is, in my opinion, one of the essential life skills for dogs and if your dog doesn’t know it yet, now is an ideal time to learn. As they’re on crate rest, learning to stay when you open the door and not rush out is a skill that can be transferred to your home’s front door or your car, and could literally save your dog’s life one day.
Learn how to train ‘stay’ along with all the other skills in this article by grabbing our free crate games guide, just click here!
I used to include this in my puppy classes much to the owner’s surprise, but having a dog used to having their ears looked in, teeth checked and paws held helps vets and groomers handle your dog and helps your dog stay relaxed and not stressed.
Teach a sustained target trains your dog to stay still, no matter what is happening, until you say they can move. This can hold your dog in one position whilst getting their vaccinations or having a part of their body checked at the vets, all with needing to be restrained.
Bark / Quiet
Teaching your dog to ‘speak’ is a great party trick but asking your dog to be quiet is an even better life skill. See how simply this can be trained in our free crate games guide here.
Maybe something to save for later on in your dog’s recovery, a car ride with the windows cracked to draw in all those lovely scents floating on the air and be an absolute joy for your dog, especially if they haven’t been allowed outside for walks for weeks.
Make sure your dog is comfortable and secure, drive carefully with such precious, fragile cargo and make sure they can’t slide around with some extra bedding, towels or blankets.
Anything that requires sniffing is calming and scatter feeding not only encourages calmess but also makes mealtimes last longer and can incorporate some gentle exercise into their day (if they’re allowed at this stage of their recovery).
What is scatter feeding?
Scatter feeding is where you take their meal of dried kibble and scatter it. Your dog will then hunt out all the pieces of kibble. Scattering on hard, flat ground makes for an easy introduction to what they need to do, whereas scattering in long grass can increase the difficulty level!
DIY and make your own crate games for dogs
Tricks and Skills
Introducing some gentle exercise if they’re allowed, the ‘tidy up your toys’ trick incorporates some useful skills. In order to teach your dog to pick up a toy, take it to the toy box and drop it we’ll need to break down the trick into smaller parts and train them bit by bit, building on the last part.
We’ll start with fetch, move onto hold, teach a drop then direct that drop to the toy box. Grab our free crate games guide here to get the full step-by-step guide.
Although there are a multitude of dog specific puzzles you can buy your dog now, there are also lots of almost free and homemade ones you can try too.
Let’s transform that humble cardboard tube into a treasure trove of treats! Simply stuff the tube with your pup’s favorite snacks, fold the ends closed, and watch as your furry explorer uses their nose and paws to uncover the hidden treasures. It’s a gastronomic adventure that’ll have them barking for more!
Towel Taco; Start with a large towel and lay it flat on the floor. Place your dog’s favorite treats or toys in the center, fold the towel over them, and roll it up like a delicious canine burrito. Watch as your furry amigo discovers the joy of unraveling the towel to unveil the tasty surprises within. Taco ’bout a good time!
Take an empty plastic bottle and remove the cap. Place your dog’s favorite treats or kibble inside and let the snack quest begin! Your furry friend will roll, paw, and nose their way to victory as they figure out how to dispense the delicious treasures within.
- Muffin tray (standard size with multiple cups)
- Tennis balls (one for each cup in the tray)
- Dog treats or kibble
- Grab your muffin tray and place a tasty treat or a small handful of kibble in each cup. Make it extra enticing – your dog deserves a treat-filled adventure!
- Now, cover each cup with a tennis ball. The goal is for your pup to figure out how to remove the tennis balls and reveal the hidden treasures beneath.
- Present the tray to your dog and watch as their curiosity takes over. They’ll quickly realize that there are delicious rewards waiting for them, but they’ve got to put on their thinking caps to get to the goodies.
- As your clever canine begins to lift, nudge, and paw at the tennis balls, they’ll discover the edible treasures hidden in the cups. It’s a tasty game of hide-and-seek that engages their mind and paws.
Tips for Maximum Fun:
- Encourage your dog with praise and excitement as they make progress.
- If your pup is new to puzzle games, start with a few tennis balls removed to make it easier, and then gradually increase the challenge.
- Use different treats or textures to keep things interesting for your furry friend.
Benefits of the Muffin Tray and Tennis Ball Game:
- Mental Stimulation: Engages your dog’s problem-solving skills.
- Physical Activity: Encourages movement and exploration.
- Rewarding: Provides a tasty payoff for their efforts.
Want more step by step guides to crate games? Click here for our free crate games guide.
While your dog is confined indoors, why not collect scents to interest and engage your dog? (Plus you’ll still be getting a walk…)
Look for natural items that your dog might find interesting, like fallen leaves, twigs, or small pebbles. These can provide different textures and scents for your dog to explore.
Carry a small towel or cloth with you to rub on interesting surfaces. This way, you can bring home scents for your dog to explore later. If you have other dogs, pay attention to what they sniff on walks and try and grab some of that scent for your housebound dog to enjoy too.
Once home, set up a designated area where your dog can explore the collected items. Place the leaves, twigs, and scented cloth in a safe and controlled environment, allowing your dog to engage with them at their own pace.
Don’t forget to grab our free guide which teaches you how to train your dog with all the skills in this article, along with a reminder of all the games and puzzles; just click here!
Top crate games available to buy for your dog
Tricks and Skills
Why not take this opportunity to muzzle train your dog? Muzzling can be useful at the vets, groomers and for dogs who eat things they shouldn’t on walks! It’s not just for naughty dogs and it’s low impact, low energy, low movement training.
(Get full instructions in our free crate games and training guide here)
Ring the bell
Nina Ottosson puzzle toys are a line of interactive dog toys designed to mentally stimulate and engage dogs in playful problem-solving. Created by Swedish dog trainer Nina Ottosson, these toys are known for their innovative designs and the ability to challenge dogs of various skill levels.
Here are some key features of Nina Ottosson puzzle toys:
- Interactive Design: These toys are crafted with various compartments, compartments, or movable parts that hide treats or kibble. The idea is to encourage dogs to use their paws, noses, and brains to figure out how to access the hidden goodies.
- Range of Difficulty Levels: Nina Ottosson puzzle toys come in different difficulty levels, ranging from beginner to advanced. This allows pet owners to choose a puzzle that suits their dog’s cognitive abilities and keeps them appropriately challenged.
- Durable Construction: The toys are typically made from durable and safe materials, ensuring they can withstand the wear and tear of enthusiastic play. This durability is especially important for dogs who may be more vigorous in their attempts to solve the puzzles.
- Versatility: Nina Ottosson puzzle toys come in various styles, including spinners, sliders, flippers, and more. Each design presents a unique challenge, keeping dogs entertained and engaged over time.
- Promotes Mental Stimulation: The primary goal of these toys is to provide mental stimulation for dogs. The process of figuring out how to access the treats inside the puzzle engages a dog’s problem-solving skills and helps prevent boredom.
- Suitable for Various Breeds and Sizes: Nina Ottosson puzzle toys are designed to accommodate different breeds and sizes of dogs. Whether you have a small toy breed or a large working dog, there’s likely a puzzle toy that suits your furry friend.
In some cases, chewing and licking behaviors can contribute to a dog’s recovery from surgery, but it largely depends on the type of surgery and the individual dog’s needs. Here are some considerations:
1. Stress Relief: After surgery, dogs may experience stress and anxiety. Chewing on appropriate toys or licking can serve as a self-soothing mechanism, helping them cope with the discomfort and stress associated with the recovery process.
2. Preventing Boredom: During the recovery period, dogs may need to limit physical activity. This reduction in exercise can lead to boredom. Providing suitable chew toys or puzzle feeders can help keep them mentally stimulated and prevent boredom-related behaviors.
3. Supervision is Key: While chewing and licking can have positive effects, it’s crucial to supervise your dog, especially if they have undergone surgery. Some surgeries may involve incisions or sutures that need time to heal. Excessive licking or chewing in the surgical area could potentially interfere with the healing process.
Depending on what you feed your dog (wet/raw or kibble) there are more interesting and calming ways to present their meals that’ll keep them busy, engaged and interested for longer.
A traditional kong is ideal for feeding wet or raw food at mealtimes and promotes calmness and relaxation.
Stuff their food into the body of the kong toy and allow them to lick and chew it out. Make sure the kong is the right size to prevent any choking hazards and in the summer you can freeze the kong pre stuffed to make it last longer.
An alternative to a kong, although not as tough and chew proof, is the lickimat. Spread any soft treat (yoghurt, cream cheese etc) or part of their dinner and leave them to work it all out of the mat. You can freeze these too!
Dry food / Kibble
Snuffle mats are ideal for dry food.
Sprinkle a few bits in for a search and snack, or toss the entire dinner allocation in there to have them searching for every morsel.
If your dog is allowed outside, perhaps later on in their rehabilitation plan, you can skip the lawn mowing for a few weeks and use that long grass as nature’s snuffle mat!
Remember to rotate games and toys to prevent boredom and repetition
Use food taken from their meal allowance to train with, not extra treats. With less exercise a small weight gain is anticipated but attempt to keep it lower with some smart training choices.
If your dog is really struggling to relax, try an Adaptil plug in for some calming pheromones. Adaptil mimics a nursing mother’s pheromones to help your dog relax and stay calm.
Classical, soft rock and reggae music have all been proven to reduce stress in kennelled dogs. Dogs have been shown to tire of the classical music so try that first then move on to some 80’s soft rock classics followed by some timeless UK UB40 reggae.
Try and remember that bowls are for water and find an alternative way of feeding meals, such as kongs or snuffle mats.
You know your dog best, so ensure your dog is safe when trying out any of these toys, games and DIY puzzles. Some dogs just can’t be trusted not to eat a cardboard toilet tube, and some with rip up a lickimat in minutes, so make sure you choose the best games for your own dog.
Ready to start crate training your dog?
All articles on tetradog.com are written by qualified behaviorist and dog trainer, Cheryl Walker.
- · Foundation degree (Level 5) in canine behaviour management
- · WSDA instructor (World Scent Dogs Association) and level 1 competition judge
- · ADTB Puppy level instructor Diploma
- · Diploma in Puppy Training
- · Diploma in canine behavior training
- · Canine First Aider
- · Veterinary Support Assistant Diploma
- · Completed Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Sirius academy
- · Owner of an extraordinary working Cocker spaniel called Huckleberry