I Turned a Spare Bedroom into a Dog Gymnasium Using Everyday Household Items
From buying a house specifically with my dogs in mind to painting a rainbow wall in my office where I spend my days writing, I can’t say I’ve ever been conventional in how I structure my life. The past year has only taken this to a new level — like so many other people, I have sought ways to optimize every area of my home to be the most comfortable for me and my family. That includes my dog: Last summer, I decided to do a home “makeover” and turn the spare bedroom where I stored dog things into an actual doggy gym.
As a dog trainer and active participant in trick dog titling — a sport that your dog can get involved with from home — I wanted to refresh the room where I end up filming a lot of videos for my dog’s Instagram and YouTube channel. I also wanted to create an organized space where my dog and I could focus on the sports we love at home.
Dogs of all sizes, ages, and breeds need physical and mental exercise, and the goal for developing a home gymnasium for my dog is to give us a space for that. Staying active with a pet is always important and has only grown more so during the pandemic and the cold and dark hours of winter, when it’s not possible to give your furry friend dog the same level of enrichment she’s used to. The good news is you can enrich your dog’s day inside, whether you have a whole room to devote to a doggy gymnasium, or if you just want to do some training in a corner of your living room.
Before increasing your dog’s physical activity it’s always a good idea to talk with your dog’s vet to check for underlying conditions, and to keep your dog’s individual health needs in check.
A note on flooring:
If you want to get your dog more active inside your home, the most important thing to consider is your flooring. Performing tricks on hardwood or tile floors can be extremely dangerous to your dog’s joints, and it’s important that dogs have traction underneath them in order to prevent slipping or a risk of injury.
For my dog gym, I purchased blue and yellow foam matting from GreatMats; covering the entire room cost $250 which felt reasonable given how much nice area rugs cost in comparison. If you don’t have or want to devote an entire room to this endeavor, you can invest in a durable area rug, or even use a yoga mat if you want an option that you can store away.
Skills to teach at home:
Having a home gym for your dog is only as good as the time that you dedicate to training and playing with your dog. To keep your dog motivated, have lots of treats and/or toys that your dog is excited about. Some ways to start playing with your dog include:
Box Search: One of the best (and free!) props you can add to your dog’s gym are empty boxes of different sizes. Hide treats and toys in the boxes and then let your dog search for them. This simple game is the foundation for the competitive sport of scentwork. It’s also the kind of work that search and rescue and even COVID-sniffing dogs are trained to do!
Spins: Take a small treat your dog is excited about in one hand and get your dog’s attention. When your dog’s nose is at the treat, lure your dog in a circle then praise your dog and give them the treat. Next, use the same approach to lure your dog to spin the other direction. After several repetitions, you can begin to add in a verbal cue like “spin,” “twist,” “left,” or “right.” After some practice, your dog will begin to understand the cue and you can treat after each spin.
Paws up: Find something sturdy like a box or step stool. Use a treat to encourage your dog to put their front paws up onto the object. After several repetitions, you can add in a verbal cue and begin to fade the lure by treating your dog only when they are in position. (This is also is a great way to pose your dog for Instagram photos!)
Four on: This is similar to the paws up trick, but this time teach your dog to climb entirely onto an object when cued. You can use a box, a dog bed, or even a platform specially designed for this activity like the Klimb.
Props/equipment to build out your dog’s gym:
The good news is, you don’t need to invest in specialty equipment if you’re short on funds. It’s easy to get creative with household objects.
Step stools: A very inexpensive but invaluable prop in my gym is a IKEA step stool that was initially designed for children to reach the bathroom sink. I love that it’s durable and features a non-skid bottom. It also works well for dogs of all sizes.
Tunnels: If you have a small- or medium-sized dog, tunnels designed for kids from retailers like IKEA work really well. If you have a very large dog, you will need a tunnel actually designed for at-home dog agility practice, which can be purchased relatively inexpensively on Amazon and are collapsible for easy storage. When introducing your dog to the tunnel, start by keeping it straight instead of curved. If possible, team up with someone so one of you can show the dog the entrance to the tunnel and the other can call your dog to the other side.
Jumps: You can create simple jumps at home by propping an empty wrapping paper tube or broom handle onto books or boxes to create a jump. As your dog progresses, you can also purchase PVC jumps for dogs. Jumping comes naturally to many dogs, but introduce the concept to your dog by tossing a treat over the jump and allowing them to follow the arc. Be sure to keep jump heights low to start, and consult your vet first to ensure any jump training is appropriate for your dog.
Ladder: You can use a PVC ladder to teach your dog rear-foot awareness. Lure your dog through the ladder with treats until they develop the coordination to think about the placement of each of their paws. You can build a PVC ladder with supplies found easily at a hardware store, or purchase a simple, pre-made one online.
Yoga and playground balls: Want to teach your dog to herd balls or play soccer? You can utilize a playground ball or a large yoga ball if you have one. To teach your dog to push the ball, take a treat and put it on the ground under the ball. When your dog approaches the ball to sniff the treat, they will also push the ball. Praise your dog accordingly.
After several repetitions, you can pretend to put a treat under the ball and only praise your dog and give them a treat after they push it. Eventually, your dog will make the association with pushing the ball, and you can start to introduce a verbal cue of your choice.