Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow Day Activities

We’ve been snowed in three times this winter and it isn’t even the middle of January.  This weekend, the snow is deeper than Pip Squeak and the day time highs are only in the 20s.  This is making walks and other outdoor activities challenging and unappealing to say the least.  The dogs always weather the first day or two stuck indoors patiently but after that the boredom in the house becomes palpable.  Yesterday I was sitting on the couch reading and noticed the dogs watching me intently.  Although they were being perfectly well behaved, I got the feeling that they were plotting something.  That is when I started making a mental inventory of all the things I could do to relieve the boredom on a snow day.

  • Interactive toys
Any option that makes a dog work for his food or treats is good for passing time and making the dog think.  Good options include Kongs, the Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude, Tug-a-Jugs and the like.  There are many interactive toys available online or in pet stores.  If your dog isn’t a very aggressive chewer, you can make your own toy by putting treats in a plastic soda bottle (make sure you supervise) or stuffing an old empty marrow bone.

  • Working for food
There is no reason that meals have to come out of a dish.  Pip Squeak can consume her dinner in about 30 seconds if presented in a traditional dog dish.  She uses a Brake-fast bowl on regular mornings.  On slow mornings, I will make her work for her kibble (she gets a piece or two as a reward for performing old tricks or while learning new ones).  This morning we worked on her wave and her lie down (which she resents sometimes).  Sometimes I sprinkle her food around the living room so she has to run around and collect each piece.  This morning she worked for the first half of breakfast and then I scattered the rest.

If your dog has a good nose, you can build on this idea – put some of his food in a lidded container or an interactive toy and hide it.  When he finds it, open the container for him or let him use the interactive toy himself.  Start with easy hiding places (in plain sight or where he can see you hide it) and gradually build up to more difficult locations (hiding it while he is in another room).  You can split up his meal into smaller portions so he has several opportunities to search for it.

  • Recreational raw bones
Any chewing option is going to help entertain your dog and the process of chewing actually releases endorphins which will help him to relax.  Raw bones are great because they will help clean his teeth and provide him with high quality protein at the same time.  If your dog isn’t used to getting raw bones, start with just a little bit at a time (let him chew on a frozen bone for 5 or 10 minutes or so before taking it away) to prevent gastrointestinal upset.  A good frozen bone can keep a dog happily occupied for half an hour or more.  When he is done, he should be fairly content and relaxed.

I tend to feed beef marrow bones (they have a lot of fat so start slowly), beef ribs (more meat, less fat and the dog may consume some of the bone) and chicken legs (the uncooked bone will be consumed and digested) most frequently.  Raw bones may not be a good option for dogs with suppressed immune systems, those on a low protein or low fat diet and those that have had pancreatitis.  If you have any concerns, please discuss them with your vet before offering your dog raw bones.

  • Modify outdoor games for indoor use
I play fetch and tug indoors with my girls.  If you dog isn’t too big and bouncy, play these usually outside games with indoor rules.  The girls aren’t allowed to be as rambunctious and wild as they are when we play outside.  Each dog has to wait their turn and play with their own toy.  I frequently ask them to sit or lie down between turns to prevent collisions and keep them from getting too wound up.

When playing fetch, I roll the ball along the floor rather than throwing it.  Practice asking your dog to stay while you roll the ball and only release him after the ball has come to a stop.  This will help make your dog’s stay more solid while also teaching him to follow a “dead ball” (one that isn’t moving) and keep him from driving too hard to the ball and knocking over the coffee table in the process.  I like to mix things up like rolling the ball so it will bounce off a wall and out of sight into another room.  This makes the girls think harder and encourages them to retrieve a ball that is out of sight.

If you have multiple dogs, work on sending each dog independently after their own toy.  Send them in opposite directions if possible.  This will make it easier for them to determine when it is their turn and reduce the temptation to take off after the other dog’s toy.

Obviously, indoor fetch may never be an option for some dogs due to size or excitement level or if one of your dog resource guards their toy (the enclosed space will exacerbate this issue).

  • New toy/recycle an old toy
I’ll admit to being an impulse toy buyer.  I love to buy toys for the girls and frequently stash new toys for use as a special reward or for a snow day.  New toys are always more exciting than old toys.  Of course, old toys that have been buried on the bottom of the toy bin are almost as good as new toys.  So dig down deep and find a new old toy (or is that old new toy?) for playtime.

  • Destructibles
My girls always enjoy it when I give them something they are allowed to destroy.  Cardboard boxes, oatmeal tubes, paper bags, the inner tubes from paper towels or toilet paper, and the like are all fair game.  Yes, it makes for a little bit of cleanup on my part but their enjoyment makes it worthwhile.  Ben likes crunching on plastic soda bottles.  Of course, you want to supervise and destructibles probably aren’t the best choice for dogs that tend to chew off and eat chunks of things.

  • Trick training
In my experience, ten or fifteen minutes of trick training will help satisfy your dog far better than the same amount of exercise will.  Teach any silly trick you like including rollover, crawl, or shake.  Break out the clicker and teach your dog to wave good bye.  The possibilities are endless.  Be silly and have fun – that’s the most important thing to your dog.

  • Targeting
Teach your dog to target (your hand or an object like a stick or a small plastic disk like a can lid).  Start with your dog onleash in a quiet area.  Present the target object (your open hand, the stick or disk) and wait.  If you are patient, the dog should eventually sniff the target object.  Mark and reward any initial interaction with the target (say yes or click and treat).  I like to put the treat on the target object itself to help reduce confusion initially.  As your dog gets the hang of the exercise, add a verbal cue and gradually increase the distance between him and the target until he is moving to touch the target.

You can use different targets to achieve different goals.  A hand or stick target can be useful in teaching your dog to heel.  A disk target is great for training your dog to go out on command (like in agility training) or to go to his place (teaching him to go to a particular spot in the house).

I keep thinking I should teach Pip Squeak to target my cell phone and Nellie my car keys.  Maybe they can keep up with them better than I do.  If I’m snowed in long enough, I might get around to doing that.

  • Grooming 
Grooming frequently gets put off in my house.  I tend to brush when Ben is getting matted or Nellie has clumps falling off her.  However, I have no excuse on a snow day.  Nellie and Ben don’t like to be groomed so 10 minutes of brushing has them ready to go hide in the closet.  Pip Squeak loves being groomed so 10 minutes of brushing gives her the concentrated hands-on attention she craves.  Either way, it’s an easy constructive way to give your dog some direct attention (desired or not!).

If your dog doesn’t like having his toenails trimmed, work on desensitizing him by making a positive association with touching his feet (pick up his foot, squeeze it slightly, give him a treat and put it down.  Work up to building a positive association with the trimmers (trimmers touch my nail, no clip and I get a treat – okay!).  Then work up to trimming just one or two nails at a time (following each nail or two with a treat).  Wait an hour or two and do a couple more.  It may take all day but heck, you’ve got time.  How nervous your dog is will determine how quickly you can work.

No comments:

Post a Comment