If you own an RV or camper, you know that one of the joys of the RV lifestyle is that you can follow the weather, particularly if you are a full-time RVer. You can winter in Florida, summer in Maine, or travel anywhere you can find the perfect temperature to live your best life. This way you can do all of the outdoor activities you love, and avoid the things you dislike – like shovelling snow!
However, even in your perfect climate, storms and bad weather can pop up, driving you inside the RV. While we humans can entertain ourselves inside a small space like a camper by reading, playing games, or catching up on our favourite Netflix shows, our dogs can get bored quickly. Especially if you have a high energy breed with considerable exercise needs, your dog can get stir crazy without access to her regular exercise routine.
Fortunately, you’ve got a powerful tool for canine boredom at your disposal: canine enrichment.
Canine enrichment is a fancy way of saying “mental exercise” for your dog. Mental exercise is just as critical as physical exercise for dogs. In fact, the simple act of going for a walk actually provides more mental exercise than physical, because your dog works his mind as he sniffs and analyzes every scent, sight, and sound along the walk. However, walks are not always appealing when thunder booms and the possibility of lightning makes a walk unsafe.
When you cannot go for long walks or take your dog for runs at the local dog park, there are many canine enrichment activities that can be done in a small space like a camper or RV. Of course, you can also do these when the weather is nice, but they are good to have at your disposal for those days when everyone is cooped up inside your RV unit.
Obedience training should be fun for both you and your dog. Even when done in a fun way with plenty of positive rewards, obedience training should be limited to ten to fifteen-minute sessions. Any longer and your dog will probably stop wanting to participate and lose interest.
If your dog has mastered the basics, you can put her through different sequences of commands to practice things like sit, down, stay, or come. Having a rock-solid “stay” can be lifesaving, so if your dog has a solid stay, you can train for longer times or practice doing peculiar movements and arm gestures while she stays. For example, if she has mastered a two-minute stay, try for three or four minutes. You can practice having her stay while you turn your back, look away from her, do a little dance, or swing your arms around. Of course, you may look funny if anyone passes by the window of your camper, but it is good practice for your dog to know that they should stay until you give their release word no matter what is happening around them.
You can also work on your dog’s “leave it” or “off” command and add in continually challenging situations. If your dog will “leave it” when you place a treat on the floor in front of him, try placing the treat on his paw or tossing two treats, giving the “leave it” command as the treats land. This training is perfect for small spaces and can be fun. It also teaches your dog the critical skill of looking at you for further instruction and waiting for you to hand him food items instead of snatching them off of the ground. This is another command that can be lifesaving, especially if you drop medication or come across something while hiking or walking that your dog might immediately try to sniff or pick up.
Canine Nose Work continues to grow in popularity. In this sport, dogs use their powerful sense of smell to find a scent and communicate to their handler that they have found it. Dogs of all sizes, breeds, and ages can participate just for fun and mental enrichment, or for titles at official scent work events. You can read more about getting started at the American Kennel Club Scent Work page. In order to get started, you can find videos on YouTube and also purchase books and supplies needed to participate in the actual sport.
If you do not think you want to get involved in actual nose work as a sport, and just want to do something fun in a small space, you can also play the Find It game with treats so that your dog searches for treats rather than scents. You can hide the treats in increasingly difficult places or place them in boxes or bins.
Check out the section called Find It at this link: https://thisfurrylife.com/2018/01/17/dog-boredom-busters.
Nose Work is a sport that you can extend outside your RV when the weather is nice. Your dog can learn to find the hidden item around the RV and around your campsite, with more and more complicated hiding spots the more your dog progresses.
There is a seemingly endless array of educational dog toys that require that your dog works through puzzles for treats or food. Toys range in complexity from the basic Kong, which is a rubber toy with a hole through the centre that can be stuffed with food, all the way to more complicated puzzles that require dogs to move multiple parts in order to access their reward. You can purchase toys or make them yourself. Just make sure you always supervise your dog when using any of these toys.
Kong Style Toys
Toys like the Kong or the West Paw Toppl can be stuffed with a variety of foods of different textures. You can start with something moist like a banana and a teaspoon of peanut butter, add in some crunchy treats or pieces of carrot, and then freeze to make the treat longer-lasting if you have access to power while in your RV. The Kong website has many recipes for dog owners https://www.kongcompany.com/recipes.
There are a variety of puzzles on the market that you can purchase to hide dry training treats or kibble. Some have movable pieces and others require the dog to roll them around to release the food. You can also make several toys with things that you have on-hand. One favourite is to place treats in the cups of a muffin tin and place tennis balls over the openings. Your dog will work to remove the tennis balls and find the food. As your dog figures it out, you can hide treats in only some of the cups to increase the level of difficulty.
Another easy option is to take a small dish towel or hand towel, spread it flat, scatter some food across the towel, then roll it up with the food still in it. Place it rolled up on the floor so that your dog must work to figure out how to get to the food. Some dogs will patiently unroll the towel and others will pick it up and shake it; it is interesting to see which method your own dog chooses.
The snuffle mat is another toy that you can purchase or make yourself. It consists of small strips of fabric tied together to form a flat mat with plenty of hiding spots. In fact, it is a great way to recycle fabric from worn-out clothes that you might otherwise toss. You can hide dry food and treats inside the fabric pieces so that your dog must work to find them. Here is a quick tutorial on how to make a snuffle mat: https://youtu.be/DJQY08LPfts.
The Shell Game for Dogs
The shell game is a game in which a prize is hidden under one of three shells, and the participant must try to watch the shuffling of the shells to keep track of where the prize is located. You can easily do this with your dog using three plastic cups and a treat. Place a treat under one cup, shuffle the cups around, and then ask your dog to find it. Of course, your dog is not going to use their memory of where the treat was located, she is going to use her nose to find it.
Check out this video for a quick demo on how to play: https://youtu.be/JTk41dWia5M.
You can come up with your own ideas, just make sure that all of the materials you use are safe for dogs and that you always supervise your dog to ensure that he is not eating something he should not. Not only do these games help your dog work his brain and alleviate boredom and excess energy when you are rained in during a camping trip, but they also strengthen your bond as you play together and you learn more about the powerful mind of your best friend.