Here’s why a lot of us dog folks collect toilet paper and paper towel rolls. These cardboard tubes are a popular choice for lots of enrichment activities. You can use them in many different ways, so long as your dog doesn’t eat cardboard.
I fold them up in little packets when playing “find it” games with my dogs of all ages. You can also line them up in a box as in the photo below, sprinkle the treats in, and let the dog get the treats out. This works well for dogs who naturally tend to pick things up with their mouths. They learn to remove the tubes one by one so they can eat the kibble out of the bottom of the box. Although Clara, my bigger dog, just kind of roots her snout around in the box until she pushes some tubes out. Some dogs also learn to up-end the box.
You can also just put a bunch of tubes on the floor in a room. You can hide them, put them in patterns, or you can choose to put food in only some of them to make it into a scent game.
I thought using a whole lot of tubes would be fun, but all that bending over ended up being hard on my knees or back. Besides, I sometimes get dizzy after bending over for too long. You can’t just toss them down; the kibble falls out. So I needed to adapt the game. My “senior human” version turned out to be fun for us all. Sure, it’s tame. But even my lively dog Clara enjoyed it.
The “Sit-Down” Cardboard Paper Roll Game
In addition to our own limitations, as our dogs age, we need to find less intense, miniaturized versions of the games they enjoy. It may not be safe for a senior dog to play vigorous tug, but she may be able to play a more gentle version. Likewise, I wouldn’t send an elderly dog searching the whole house for her breakfast, but it turns out that rolling around cardboard tubes while I’m sitting on the floor with my dogs is quite fun for them.
What You Need
- 10–30 paper towel or toilet paper rolls and something to hold them in. I use a box.
- All or part of your dog’s meal if they eat kibble, or a handful of other non-messy treats if this is not going to be their meal.
- Possibly a low table on which to keep the box and kibble if your dog won’t leave it alone otherwise. I sit cross-legged and have the kibble in a cup in my lap, and put the box of empty tubes to the side.
- Material to create a nonslip surface if necessary.
- A hungry dog who knows how to do simple nose and paw manipulations to get food. (If your dog is not experienced with this, check out my blog post Teaching an Old Dog How to Play with a Food Toy or my movie on Beginner Kongs, and start slow!)
How To Play the Game
- Prepare a non-slip surface if you need to. I use yoga mats and bathmats on my hardwood floor.
- Put your container of cardboard tubes and the container of food on a low table or otherwise inaccessible to your dog.
- Call your dog.
- Sit your butt down on the floor.
- Start putting a 1–3 pieces of kibble in each TP roll and place them in a radius around where you are seated. You can probably get ahead of your dog, especially if you vary where you place the rolls.
- Keep doing this, but here’s a trick: once your dog has gotten the kibble out of a particular tube, if it’s within your reach, put more kibble in it.
- You may run out of tubes before you run out of kibble; in that case, just keep replacing the kibble in tubes that are already empty and within reach, perhaps moving them to a different position.
- You can mix it up by tossing some kibble gently for the dog to chase or find.
- You can fold some of the rolls around the kibble. Most dogs like to tear things open. But I don’t do this for Clara because she would eat them whole. She likes cardboard. But also, when you fold them, they are often not reusable after the dog gnaws them open. But for a dog who especially enjoys the ripping open part, I’d sacrifice a few.
- You can also put some kibble in the box and put it on the floor where your dog can reach it.
- After things are starting to wind down, you can gather up the empty TP rolls and put them back in the box, as long as your dog understands that the box is no longer in the game.
A real plus to this game that I didn’t anticipate is that my dogs love having me on the floor with them.
I tried to figure out a safe version for those humans for whom getting down to the floor (or the getting up again part) is not an option. I couldn’t work it out, though. Even if you sit on a bed with your dog, for example, there is a risk of the TP rolls rolling off the bed and the dog jumping or falling off going after them. Something like a snuffle mat on the bed would work better if you wanted to sit with your dog.
The Senior Sit-Down TP Roll Game
- Not for dogs who eat cardboard! You can’t get to your dog as quickly to intervene if you are sitting down.
- This is not a good game if your dog resource guards food or objects from you. Absolutely don’t do it.
- If you have a bigger and/or pushy dog and you haven’t taught “leave it,” this might not be a good game for you, either. You are right down there on the floor with your dog, probably holding food. If they think the game is to mug you, that might not end well. Neither would it be fun for them if you had to push them away or keep telling them “no.” Enrichment should be fun for all parties involved. In that situation, I would play another game where you don’t have food on your person right down there at the dog’s level.
For hundreds more enrichment ideas, many of them good for senior dogs, check out the canine enrichment Facebook group.
Copyright 2020 Eileen Anderson