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CANINE CONNECTION: Playing indoors needn't be destructive

Indoor canine playtime is very limited in my house. I've learned from many, many years of experience that to maintain order, minimize destruction and preserve the peace, rough housing does not happen within the four walls of my home.
joan klucha

Indoor canine playtime is very limited in my house.

I've learned from many, many years of experience that to maintain order, minimize destruction and preserve the peace, rough housing does not happen within the four walls of my home.

Just ask anyone who comes to visit and attempts to wrestle and play tug-of-war with my dogs. They get a time out! The visitors that is, not my dogs.

The reason for this is because my home is a place of tranquility. Once inside, it's all about the cuddles and restfulness. I choose to spend my indoor canine time in quiet socialization and contemplation. It's really quite Zen actually.

As I said, years of experience have taught me that indoor play sessions may be a great way to avoid walking in inclement weather conditions, but it can potentially lead to unwanted behaviours from your canine companion.

At one time in my 25 years of working with dogs, I used to play a scenting game inside the home. I would hide treats around the house and teach my dogs to go and find them. It was an awesome mental and physically stimulating exercise. Then one day I came home to find the carpet dug up around a heating vent as one of the dogs located residual odour coming from an area where a treat used to be. Now this game is played outside in the yard or on our hikes where the threat of destruction is inconsequential.

I still enjoy a game of tug of war with my dogs. When I initiate the game and end it on my terms we all have a good bit of fun - outside. Zumi, my shepherd, gets highly stimulated during tug-of-war to the point of obsession and when played inside that obsession becomes obnoxious as she continuously demands I play with her. When the game only happens outside, there is no more obnoxious demanding behaviour. She gets to play one of her favourite games and I still get my quiet time.

A while ago I went to do a consultation regarding two adult dogs that were urinating in the house. Upon arrival I was greeted by two very excited 80-pound dogs who clearly had little leadership. When I came into the home the owner opened the front and back doors to allow the dogs access to the yard.

"The doors are open all day, they can go out any time they want," she said. But as soon as the doors were open, the dogs proceeded to engage in a game of chase. They raced through the house, out the back door, through the yard then in the front door. They ran this race track chasing each other while I stood, gobsmacked, watching it all. After about 10 minutes the dogs stopped, went over to the leather couch and lifted their legs to urinate. They then started the game all over again.

"See!" the owner exclaimed.

"What do you expect?

You haven't given them any boundaries to respect the inside of your home! This game has to stop!" I responded "How am I supposed to exercise them?" she asked Solitary games like brain teaser puzzles where dogs have to figure out how to get a treat out of a toy are designed to challenge them mentally and are a perfect way to exercise a dog mentally. Chasing each other around the house into exhaustion is not. It only teaches a dog to disrespect your space and ignore boundaries.

From time to time I hide my dogs' favourite plush squeaky toys around the house. Sometimes they locate them on their own, bringing renewed interest to the toy. Other times I will ask my dog Raider where his piggy is, for example. He will trot off on his own in search of his toy. When he finds it he then plays peacefully with it on his own, squeezing it just to listen to the honking noise it makes. This is a good indoor game.

Obedience exercises are not just for training classes.

They can be fun indoor games when combined together, such as with puppy push-ups. A dog sits, then is asked to lie down, then return to a sit, then lie down again. This is a good interactive indoor game that burns off energy and instills restraint and calmness.

If you are going to play indoor games with your dog, consider the long-term consequences or benefits of the game you choose. Will it encourage positive peaceful behaviour or unwanted destructive behaviour? Choose carefully.

Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at k9kinship@gmail.com.