Smoke has been covering the Carson Valley in Nevada for two weeks -icky! Bad for us, bad for the poor people fighting the Rim Fire in California and not good for the dogs; not to mention depressing. You can't really walk them 20 minutes twice a day in this unhealthy air. So what to do?
Pick up their food bowl and don't feed them from it. Measure out the same portions as you would normally feed, or maybe a little less. Instead of letting them gobble up the food in 20 seconds (Retrievers LOL) or graze on it all day (little dogs), use it to keep their minds busy. Mind exercises can tire a dog out more than physical exercise. Food is a primary resource for dogs, hence motivating. And if they are not getting it in their food bowl, they are even more motivated. I know picky eaters who will work for kibble they are uninterested in their bowl.
First try teaching your dog some new tricks. Puppy push-ups are good for exercise: Sit, Down, Stand, Sit, Stand, Down for one reward is a good way to get exercise and use a canine brain. If your dog doesn't know Stand, now is the time to teach it. Lure the dog into a Stand from a sitting position by moving your hand with a treat into a position at the same level as his spine. Higher and he'll sit, lower and he might go down. When he's got this concept, have him Sit, Stand, Sit before he gets the one treat. Then Stand from a Down, Down, Sit, etc.
Another trick for exercise might be a multiple roll over. Roll over 3 times before getting reward. Teach your dog to pick up his toys and put them in a box - handy too. Great time to practice Heel off leash in the house. Teaching tricks is fun for you and your dog and helps increase the bond between you. Dog Scouts of America has a list of 100 tricks on their website and Amazon.com has several books you can order or download.
But what if you're gone all day? Food dispensing toys may be your answer. The original Kong is still a favorite but not too good for dry kibble. You can try moistening the food, shoving it into the Kong and for extra puzzle factor - freeze it. There are several website with Kong stuffing recipes so don't get stuck on the expensive stuff Kong markets. If you have multiple dogs you may need to separate them to avoid food fights. Kong also has a Wobbler which looks like a big, hard Kong but which is easy for you to pour in dry kibble. It wobbles like a weeble wobbler and the dry food comes out a hole in the body. Easy for you and fun for your dog. But smart dogs will get the food out pretty fast. Another favorite toy is the Tug-a-Jug that is a little harder for the dog to figure out but still easy for you to stuff. There are several balls that dispense food. Just go to your favorite pet store and ask what food-dispensing toys they have or go on line and find something your dog would like. Buy several to make cleaning easy and to keep your dog interested. Hiding these toys can lengthen the fun.
Tug is a great exercise for you and your dog. You can buy one or make your own from felt strips the color of your favorite team. Tug does need to have rules, though. Humans start and stop the game. Stop before the dog gets so excited s/he starts "climbing" up the tug. Teach "out" before you do much tugging and reward the "out" with a high value treat. Now you can tug and stop. You can use "tug" as a reward for other tricks such as "puppy pushups" or heeling by your side off leash.
There are lots of new puzzle toys available which hide a treat under a cup or compartment and the dog has to use its nose and paw to find a treat. Hide-a-toy versions conceal multiple squeaky toys in one toy. There are squirrels in a tree trunk, eggs in a turtle etc.
Nose work is a simple way to challenge your dog's mind at very little cost. Use free boxes from USPS or that you have lying around. Hide some really stinky treat in a designated scent box and let him find which one has the food. When he finds it, go in and reward with some more treats, then pick up the box and start over. Start simple and gradually increase difficulty by having the scent box under the others or on a chair, or behind a mop or ---- well use YOUR imagination. Just increase difficulty so your furry friend is challenged, but not defeated. In the beginning it shouldn't take him more than 30 seconds to find the treat. Gradually increase the difficulty until he might have to search a minute or two. In competition dogs take up to 3 minutes. A variation on this is to put the dog in a "wait" and go hide yourself and release him to come find you.
Enjoy keeping your dog engaged and active until this Rim Fire is finally put out.