By Charlene Dunlap

Bored to tears, your housebound Poodles have been misbehaving (or, worse, have become depressed), and you are at your wit's end.  What to do?  Here are some suggestions for in-house activities that can make all of your lives more enjoyable.

Are your Poodles bugging you for attention every time you sit down to finish that fascinating mystery you've been reading?  Are they teasing the cat and making her life miserable?  Is the whole family climbing the walls because the dogs are cooped up inside with little mental or physical stimulation? 

Take heart.  There are plenty of things you can do for your Poodles to break the monotony of housebound boredom and give them a little exercise in the process.  But, here's the caveat: YOU have to be actively involved.

It's true that if you have more than one dog, they will probably do a lot to entertain each other.  And, while it's important for dogs to have canine playmates, unless you also play with your dogs, you are missing a great opportunity to build a more dynamic relationship with them.

Think of the people you most like to be around - usually they're the ones with whom you engage in pleasurable activities, the ones who make you laugh and feel good about yourself.  It's no different for your Poodle: these are also the type of individuals he likes to be around.


BE ENTHUSIASTIC -- Enthusiasm is contagious.  Be enthusiastic in whatever games you play with your dog.  If he's not used to such energetic displays from you, it may take him awhile to trust that you are sincere.  In fact, if he's never seen you this happily animated in connection with what he's doing, he may decide to run for cover!  Be patient.  Anything of value takes time to establish.

BE SILLY -- The sillier you are, the more interesting your dog will find you.  Sometimes when my Standard Poodle Sydney wants to play, she will suddenly appear in the doorway with a toy in her mouth and a sparkle in her eye.  I look up, do one of those big double-takes you see from cartoon characters, jump up, and run stomping after her like Godzilla.  I can almost feel the thrill slide through her tummy as she whirls and dashes away to escape "the monster."

Often I'll walk by one of my dogs, catch their eye and spontaneously break into a little jig (I can't believe I'm telling you this!).  Of course, if you are suddenly silly with an unsuspecting dog who has no prior history of silliness being reinforcing, he'll probably think you're completely nuts and hide under the bed!

KEEP IT SIMPLE -- Games don't need to be complicated or lengthy for your dog to have fun.  Numerous simple little games throughout the day will help keep your dog's mind stimulated.  For instance, at any given time, I may set up a barrier in a doorway which my dogs have to jump over on their way between rooms; when I'm at the end of a paper towel roll, I'll playfully "attack" the dogs with it and then let them capture it to tear up; I'll walk by while they're dozing, give them a little noogie on top of the head, then run down the hall like the house is on fire.

BE CREATIVE -- Watch to see what type of things interest your dog and make a game out of it.  Sydney loves the sound empty plastic water bottles make when she crunches them with her teeth.  Some dogs might chew off pieces of plastic (and this would obviously NOT be a good game for them), but Sydney doesn't, so I occasionally give her an empty bottle to play with.  BUT FIRST . . . as with the paper towel roll, I playfully "attack" her with it, whopping her on the shoulders, hips, and legs while making Darth Vadar sounds then pulling it out of reach as she tries to grab it.  In the end she wins of course, and takes her prize off to her lair where she uses it to make "music" with her teeth.  (Note: Don't suddenly "attack" your dog without first teaching her this is a fun game or she could end up in doggy therapy.)

Often when I find Jyah lying on the bed, I'll crouch down, put my arm under the bedspread, and surreptitiously thread my hand through the covers and grab his foot from underneath like a shark seizing an unsuspecting victim.  Jyah bites and digs at the "attacker" -- often making chaos of the bed covers.  (Remember, games have to be fun from your dog's viewpoint or there's not much point to them.)

A few short games here and there throughout the day will entertain your Poodle and stimulate him both mentally and physically. Your dog will probably have a favorite game, but you can teach him to enjoy most games by making them fun for him and being interactive in a positive way. 

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Historically, Poodles were bred to retrieve.  This gives Poodle owners an advantage in exercising their dogs.  Most Poodles like to chase things, and chasing expends energy, leaving a more relaxed dog.  The following are some of the in-house retrieval games we play.

(Okay, so I got this idea from watching cat owners, but dogs enjoy it as well.)  I use an inexpensive four-foot-long buggy whip (purchased from a farm suppy store) that has a four-foot-long lash at the end.  (The whip is light-weight and flexible, and there are no sharp ends that could injure the dog if he bumps into it.)  I tie a soft stuffed toy to the bottom of the lash and begin flying and flipping it around with the dogs in pursuit.  (So far, I haven't broken anything valuable.)

Almost all owners play this game -- the dog chases and (hopefully) retrieves a ball.  Most dogs enjoy the chase and the activity burns energy.  Hallways are good for this as the dog usually has a bit more running space. If you

Sydney grabbing empty plastic water bottle

Jyah trying to get the "bed shark"

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Below are more games that will build rapport and exercise your dog at the same time:

Using a treat, lure your dog around the kitchen table.  Give him the treat after one circuit.  After you've done this a couple of times, and your dog begins to understand what you want, only lure him part of the way but encourage him to keep going.  Give him the treat when he's made one loop around the table.  After doing this several times, and you know your dog is committed to continuing all the way around, add the cue "go around."  It won't be long before you can stand in one place and tell your dog to "go around," and he will run around the table.  Then have him do it two times before giving him a treat, then three times.  Neat thing about this is that your dog gets exercise and you can simply stand there like a traffic director.  (Just remember to keep all treats very tiny or your dog will put on weight . . . which will require yet more exercise!)

To play this game, have a toy (preferably one that squeaks) in your hand and show it to your dog.  Begin walking around the house, up over the sofa, across the bed, around furniture, etc.  Squeak the toy periodically to keep the game interesting and, from time to time, play a quick game of tug of war with the squeaky toy.  This game gets both of you up and moving. 

This game will get your dog's adrenalin up.  It should only be played occasionally so the novelty doesn't wear off.  I put the Poodles in the car, go back into the house to set up an "intruder," then take the dogs for a short ride.  When we return, they discover to their surprise that an intruder has gotten into the house.  (It should also work, though not as well, if you shut the dogs in another room, set up the "intruder," and then let them out to make the discover on their own.)  The "intruder" must be something foreign to the dog -- the more life-like its shape, the better; and, it should be something with a face that has very noticeable eyes. (Dogs are very aware of other animal's eyes.)

I innocently accompany my dogs into the rigged room and let them discover the INTRUDER!  I shriek and act theatrically upset to see it.  Then I encourage the dogs to check out the trespasser until they are assured there is no harm in it, and that they feel relief and victory after their shocking discovery. 

Jyah, after the flying squirrel

Jyah and Sydney check out the weird intruder

If done properly, this is a great interactive game.  (By done properly, I mean that the dog must be willing to give up the toy when you ask him to.)  In this game, you are each pulling (tugging) the opposite ends of a tug toy, which has exercise benefits for both you and your dog.  Some dogs can get too intense in this game and need to have a cool-down period.  From time to time while playing this game, I'll stop, stand still, calmly say "out," and trade my dog a treat for letting me have the tug toy.  After a few seconds, I begin the game again.  I always end with giving my dog something in return for letting me have the tug toy.  (In effect, teaching him that good things happen when he gives up a desired toy.)

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If your Poodle is obedience trained, opportunities abound for mentally and physically exercising your housebound dog.

The standard Obedience exercises of "Come," "Sit," "Down," "Stand," and "Stay" can be practiced anyplace in the house at any time.  Having the dog rapidly perform a combination of sits, stands, and downs several times in a row is equivalent to a person doing pushups.

The foundation for all trick training is an obedience background.  Learning and performing tricks is genetically built in to Poodles and most flourish when learning new actions and behaviors on a regular basis.  Tricks also help develop flexibility: turning in a circle is good for mobility of the spine and for developing balance, doing a play bow stretches the muscles up the back of the dog's legs (like you touching your toes), and sitting up (begging) strengthens the back muscles.

If you don't know where to begin, go to your local Pet Mart and purchase Kyra Sundance's modestly-priced book, 101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog.

A game of tug of war

Done well, canine musical freestyle is probably the most challenging of all dog sports; however, there are many levels of expertise and if you are doing it for fun, not competition, anything goes.

As with all dog training, a solid obedience foundation is highly desirable since many moves are trained  from obedience positions.  For example: the "heel" cue is used to train the dog to stay beside you in the heel position no matter which direction you are moving, i.e., backing straight, backing around in a circle, side-stepping in either direction; the "front" cue is used to teach a side-step (grapevine in dance lingo) where you face each other and both move sideways crossing your legs as you move; and, the "stay" cue is needed for control when you want the dog to pause between moves.

Many tricks can be incorporated into your dance although they call them "moves" when used in a choreographed routine.  Some of the basic tircks/moves often used in routines are: "circle," where the dog turns in circles, "weave," where the dog walks back and forth between your legs as you're walking, "back" away from the handler or with the handler or in any 

Both dogs are backing around me in a "brace" (two dogs with one handler) routine.

number of combinations, and "high," where the dog stands or hops on his hind legs.  Once you've trained your dogs to do a few moves, you can start putting them to music.

You don't need a huge space to practice dance moves.  Sandra Davis, one of the all-time best American musical canine freestylers, often teaches her dog moves in her dining room (with the table and chairs removed of course).

There are many websites that sell how-to freestyle videos, such as the World Canine Freestyle Organization and the Musical Dog Sport Association

I'm not sure who invented this game, but it teaches the dog to think, and thinking takes energy.  Basically, you put a box on the floor and click and treat each time the dog interacts with the box in a different way.  The explanation of this is beyond the scope of this article, but you can read about it at:

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So, next time your Poodle is housebound, think of all the fun the two of you can have together.  Then, when you have pleasantly tired out your dog through mentally and physically stimulating games and exercises, put on that new music CD Through a Dog's Ear - Music to Calm Your Canine Companion, and let the therapeutic sounds sooth away all his tensions while you sit back in that big easy chair, prop your feet up, and, in total peace and quiet, finish reading that mystery.

live in a two-story house, carpeted stairs will give your dog lots of exercise.  Just throw the ball up to the second floor or down to the first floor and send your dog after it.

I teach my dogs to push a soccer ball around the room: it's good exercise for their neck, shoulders, and back.  I taught this by putting a treat underneath the ball and showing the dogs it was there.  As they reached for the treat, they automatically moved the ball with their nose.  At that exact moment, I said "push" and they picked up the treat.  (If timed correctly, the dog learns that the word "push," followed by his nudging the ball, equals receiving a treat.)  When the dogs got to the point they expected to find the treat when I said "push" and they nudged the ball looking for it, I kept the treat in my hand but still asked them to "push."  As soon as they made the ball move, I gave them the treat from my hand.  It didn't take long before I had my dogs pushing the ball around the room in hopes of getting a treat.

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Seeking games where the dog uses his nose and wits to find someone or something is another preferred in-door Poodle activity.


One of my Poodles' favorite games is Hide and Seek.  If your dogs are not obedience trained, you will need two people to play this version of the game, one to hold the dogs while the other one hides. However, if your dogs are obedience trained, you can put them on a "sit/stay" while going to a hiding place.  Once you are hidden -- behind a shower curtain, behind a door, under a blanket, on top of the washing machine, behind a chair (even the smallest house has somewhere to hide) -- call your dogs.  It's not as easy for them to locate you as you may think since your scent is everywhere in the house.  Make finding you worthwhile by giving them lots of hugs and praise.

This is another version of the Hide and Seek Game where I hide a favorite toy and ask the dogs to search for it. 

A third version is to hide bits of food for the dog to find.  Most Poodles love using their noses to search for things -- especially food. 

Playing hide and seek