Physical enrichment for dogs and cats

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By Nichole Myers-Youngquist, CPDT-KA, WHS Public Training Instructor

In the first blog of the series, I explained the concept of enrichment. Last week, I told you all about social enrichment. This week, let’s get physical!

Here are some ideas for exercising your pet indoors and in your backyard (or a catio).

Hide n’ Seek Recall (indoor and outdoor game):

  • Dogs: This activity works better if you live with another person, but I have done it by myself. Place your dogs in a room where you are not going to hide. The second person can close the door. When I am alone I use the cue “Go to bed.” They will lay on the object at which I am pointing. I also leave them with a bully stick or goody-filled Kong. Bring a handful of yummy treats. Go hide, then call your dog in your most exciting, high-pitched voice. The second person will open the door. If you are alone, ideally, your dog will come running and start searching for you. When she finds you, be excited, pet her, and give her yummy treats. Suggestion: Hide in an easy place the first few times you play this game. (I was left hiding in a closet for 10 minutes the first time because my dogs couldn’t find me and got bored.) Outside, you will need a second person to hold your dog while you go hide. I played in Seaside, Oregon in the dunes. I hid behind the tall grass. My dogs were on a long line and my husband led them around during the search for me.
  • Cats: Why not try this with your cat? leave your cat with a small amount of yummy cat treats, boiled chicken, or tuna. Go hide. Be sure to bring some of the yummy treats. Call your cat (“Here, kitty, kitty”). If they don’t come running, think about what sounds make your cat excited and come running to you: a bag being open or the can opener slicing? Bring those with you when you hide. When your cat finds you, be calm and slightly excited, and reward her.

Encourage the zoomies (indoor and outdoor; both cats and dogs): Frenetic random activity periods (FRAPs), also called the zoomies, are random bursts of energy occurring in dogs and cats in which they run frenetically, commonly in circles. They usually last a few minutes or less. It is not known what causes animals to engage in FRAPs. According to professor Marc Bekoff, dogs and cats should be allowed to freely engage in them as long as the dog is in a safe area and will not harm others or themselves. FRAPs are a normal and healthy behavior. So, let’er rip!

Balls, balls, balls (indoor and outdoor): Basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, rugby balls, kick balls, and exercise balls, are one of the best ways to exercise your pets. 

  • Dogs: Teach your dog how to play soccer. Research how to play treibball. If your dog pops the ball, it turns into a whole new toy! Reminder: If you play ball indoors, don’t break your mom’s favorite vase like Peter Brady. Clear all breakables and create a safe space. 
  • Cats: Many cats like to chase balls. Find what ball toy your cat likes and rock n’ roll! While we at WHS recommend keeping your cats indoors due to health and safety, this activity can be played outdoors if you have a safe, screened-in enclosure such as a catio.
Brown tabby Cole

Homemade agility and parkour courses and cat superhighway (indoor and outdoor): Agility and parkour sports are very popular right now in the dog world. For local information on how to get started in agility, you can visit the Willamette Agility Group (WAG) website. And for parkour, there’s the International Dog Parkour Association. You can even get a title in parkour virtually.

Both dogs and cats: Set up agility courses both indoors and outdoors by using brooms and mops (cavaletti), pillows (wobble boards), cinder blocks with boards across (bridge, hurdle, tunnel), flower pots or cups (weave poles), or hula hoops. Help your pet climb on sturdy lawn chairs, large flower pots, cinder blocks, tree stumps or logs, or picnic tables for parkour. 

Cats: Cats love high places. I love Jackson Galaxy’s idea of “Cat Super Highways,” shelving on the wall on which cats can walk, jump, and relax. Or just get away from you or the dog!

Pet bowling (indoor and outdoor): I saw a YouTube video about how cats and dogs are different. This inspired me to create pet bowling. When your pet is not looking, set up ten plastic or paper cups in a diamond formation at the end of a long hallway. Space them evenly apart but not touching each other. Put treats under several of them. Position yourself at the opposite end of the hallway. Call your pets. Say, “Check it out,” and point to the cups. Watch as your pet races down the hallway, knocking the cups over. Call your pets. Count the number of cups knocked over. Strike!

Go ahead and get started! And feel free to share your progress with us. Tag #willamettehumanesociety in your Instagram posts. We’d love to see you hard at work!

Next week, I’ll have tips for mental enrichment. 

We’re excited to resume in-person group classes and private lessons, with remote options still available if you prefer. Questions? Email us at behavior@whs4pets.orgor visit this page to find out about classes and enroll.