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43 Small, Fun Things to Do With Your Dog Just Because

Even with dogs, it's the little things that count.

Joy Velasco for Fatherly

At the beginning of the pandemic, amidst the waves of worry that cascaded over all of us, there was a refrain called out by those searching for some lockdown silver linings: Hey, dogs must be psyched that their owners are home all the time! While, yes, many dogs certainly enjoy families are home with them because, oh boy! oh boy! their humans are here! which means more time for walks, for good scratches, for treats. But they also feel the stress and anxiety that humans feel. What’s more, altered routines also affect a dog behaviorally. Seeing as how this year has, oh, been nothing but a seemingly unending onslaught of stress, anxiety, and altered routines, dogs haven’t exactly had it that easy.

This is to say that while there’s never a bad time to do something nice for your dog, now’s a pretty great time to make sure you are being extra attentive to some small, nice things to do with your dog. Like making sure they get a lot of exercise. Or providing more mental stimulation. Or just being extremely conscious of sticking to their routines. Because spending time with your dog is also good for yourself. So, to offer some help, here are 44 small, fun things to do with your dog.

  1. Take the dog for long, long, long walks. It’s good for the dog. It’s even better for you. Wear a mask, be respectful of personal space, and enjoy the cold air and solitude.
  2. Stick. to. a. routine. It’s the smallest, nicest thing you can do, but it will greatly help both you and your dog’s mental health. Food. Exercise. Water. Walks. Grooming.
  3. Buy them some feeding toys or puzzles. Dogs naturally love to root around for their food, so giving them the opportunity to put some effort into their meal provides some mental stimulation, too.
  4. Play with them. Seriously. Just play with them. Play is hardwired into a dog’s DNA. They need it. Run around with them.  Throw sticks. Throw balls. Play tug of war. Wrestle with them.
  5. Take your dog on a “sniffari,” which is a walk where you allow them to safely follow their nose to whatever odors they pick up. This demands a different “walk” mindset, as it’s less rigid and more free-flowing. But if you can do it, your dog will likely be psyched.
  6. Or make a scent trail. If you have a yard, you can make a small scent trail with new and interesting smells for your dog to keep them intellectually stimulated. Bury socks, spray animal scents (available in sporting goods stores), and put other stinky items in dog-proof boxes along the edge of your yard.
  7. Is your apartment loud? Play some calming sounds for them, which can do a lot to ease a stressed pet.
  8. Same with calming scents. Depending on your dog’s disposition and allergies, scents are often a great way to help a dog chill out. Chamomile is a noted pet stress reducer, as are vanilla, ginger, and lavender.
  9. Take them on snow hikes! Not all dogs like snow, but those that do really like snow.
  10. Set up a weekly playdate with another dog buddy. If you can (safely and with a mind for social distance) meet a friend with a dog in a park or backyard, it’s a good way for you to get some much-needed socialization while letting your dog blow off some steam.
  11. Send them to the groomer. Yes, they will hate it in the moment. But if their hair is matted or they have fur on their paw pads that need to be clipped, that can be uncomfortable and they’ll feel better afterward.
  12. Give them vitamins. Look up their breed and common issues that develop and whether any vitamins or other medications can help keep them healthy for the long run. Serve in cheese or natural peanut butter (make sure there’s no xylitol in the PB).
  13. Get a treat subscription box.  Because the treats aren’t for us humans, sometimes we forget to pick them up, leaving the pup treat-less. Subscriptions make sure this doesn’t happen.
  14. Play outside until they refuse to play anymore. Like, exhaust them with fun just once or twice a month.
  15. Take them for a walk in the woods someplace they’ve never been before.
  16. Bake them a homemade, dog-safe treat. Here’s a great list of options from the American Kennel Club.
  17. Keep an eye out for signs of stress (Avoidance. Yawning. Scratching that isn’t related to an itch. Panting that isn’t related to exhaustion, etc.) when your dog is playing with your kids.
  18. In general, always continue to teach your kid good dog behavior — what to do and not do around a dog.
  19. Wrap an old t-shirt around a water bottle. If your pet enjoys crunchy noises, this is a dream toy for them.
  20. Or knot a bunch of old t-shirts into a sturdy tug toy.
  21. Get your dog a heated dog bed for the winter. Especially if your dog is on the older side. Their bones ache, too.
  22. Bored dogs are destructive dogs. Get him or her the ultimate tug-of-war chew toy, like this one.
  23. Build them an obstacle course. Lay down some tunnels. Add some PVC pipes to weave through and jump over. Whatever. Just make it fun.
  24. Put their favorite treats in a muffin tin, fill with water and freeze. They’ll have fun licking their way to the center.
  25. Occasionally let them lick up your leftover natural peanut butter or plain Greek yogurt, or have some bites of your apple if they’re not a picky eater.
  26. Focus your attention on them. Dogs love being the center of attention. So when you are playing with them, focus on them as much as you can.
  27. Live near a body of water? Spend a day swimming.
  28. Buy them a G.I dog bone. They’re full of protein and a joy for most dogs to chew.
  29. Fill a plastic kiddie pool with a ton of balls and let your dog go wild. As always, make sure the balls won’t cause a choking hazard.
  30. Get them a snuffle mat — or make your own. A snuffle mat is basically a rubber mat with a bunch of fabric strips knotted through holes at the bottom. It sort of looks like an above-water kelp forest. But it’s a great place for them to find hidden treats.
  31. Rotate their toys. Dogs get bored of the same-old, too. Put some old toys away for a few months so when they’re brought back out they’re new and exciting again.
  32. Give your dog a massage! The American Kennel Club has excellent instructions for how to do give a stress-reducing rub down.
  33. Make them be of use. Dogs like tasks. Teaching them to, say, fetch the paper or slipper — and rewarding them for the correct behavior — helps keep them happy and satisfied with themselves.
  34. Or just teach them new tricks. There are a ton of videos on YouTube to help give you interesting ideas and guide you through the process. If anything, your dog will love the one-on-one time.
  35. Grab a pup-a-cino at Starbucks. Yeah, the off-the-menu item is a bit cheesy, but chances are your dog will love it. If they are able to ingest dairy — it is just whipped cream in a cup, after all — it’s a nice treat.
  36. Blow bubbles outside. Let your dog pop them.
  37. One word, two syllables: Frisbee. Playing catch with a ball is one thing, the flying discs up the ante and offer a new fun challenge.
  38. Stay. Lay down. Sit. Keep them fresh by running through the commands they know.
  39. Make a fort for them to play in.
  40. Cuddle or nap together. Just be there for them when they want to relax.
  41. Have your child read aloud to the dog, as dogs are excellent, non-judgmental ears for first-time readers. This also calms dogs. If your child isn’t ready, read aloud to both of them.
  42. If possible, remove your dog’s collar at night. Just as we like taking off our restrictive clothing, so do dogs.
  43. Do what you can to make sure they know they are safe, loved, and appreciated as much as possible.
  44. Just tell them they are a good dog.