Sure, last night’s snowfall looked beautiful this morning, and my dogs had a great time romping in the fresh white powder. But already, snow-melting salt and other harsh realities of urban life have conspired to turn what would be a winter wonderland into a giant, unpleasantslush-pile. Rather than riskpaw-pad burn, hypothermia, and other unpleasant side effects of snowy cityweather, my dogs and I plan to enjoy the great indoors.
This is not as horrible as it sounds. “Challenging a dog mentally uses aboutthe same amont of energy as challenging him physically,” reminds master trainer and Siris Radio host Greg Kleva.One fun way to flex your dog’s mental muscle – without leaving the house – is with brain-teasing games.
Hide a tasty treat (hint: soft jerky treats such as Wellness Pure Rewardsareespecially effective). Start out by placing a treat on the floor in plain sight, then tell your dog to “Find it!”
“Make the next prize a bit more difficult to locate, say, behind a chair,” Greg recommends. “Continue to vary treat placement, or, for a real challenge, set up a roomful of hidden delights in advance. Watch your dog as he searches, and tap your foot and give an OOH or gasp to get him excited about the ones he’s missed.”
MyK9 crew hasa lot of fun with the Brick and Twister (pictured), two interactive games designed to keep dogs busy and entertained. Simply hide your dog’sfavorite treats in the puzzle compartments and watch her use her smarts to find them, retrieve them, and “treat herself.” In action, these games are almost as much fun for people to watch as they are for dogs to play! (For more info, go here.)
If your dog needs to lose weight, avoid the treat trap by using small handfuls of his mealtimedry foodas rewards that you dole out, one piece of kibble at a time. At mealtime, don’t forget to subtract the amount you used during your play session – you can always replace that amount with Spot’s favorite raw or cooked veggies, so he gets extra nutritional benefit and doesn’t feel cheated.
Toys are nice, low-calorie rewards – so why not use them to teach Spot a few new words with “Name That Toy”?
“Gather a group of toys that are noticeably different (for example, a stuffed duck, pig and shark),” Greg says. “Hold a toy up for your dog to sniff and see, get him excited, and toss it, saying WHERES YOUR SHARK? When he comes back with it, give him lots of praise, then do the same with the pig, then with the duck, etc. Repeat again and again, and be consistent with your naming. Once he has mastered a few names, set out multiple toys and tell him which to get.”
If you have access to a stairway, encouraging your dog to bound up and down the steps after a toy is excellent exercise – especially if your dog has a spare tire and needs to whittle his waist.
“Settle in at the bottom of the staircase, putting your dog in a SIT/STAY next to you,” Greg says. “Throw your dogs favorite toy to the top of the stairs. Say FETCH or GET IT. After he dashes up the stairs and grabs the toy, call him to COME, ask him to DROP or RELEASE, and repeat as above until your dog slumps to the floor in giddy exhaustion.”(Note that this is not a good game for puppies, as their joints are still developing, or dogs prone to injury.)
Make the most of indoor time by boning up on important training commands – but make it so much fun, Spot won’t know he’s learning!
“Call your dog to COME, put him in a SIT/STAY, and then move away from him,” Greg says. “After a minute or so, call him to COME again, and repeat. Try to increase the distance you move away and the length of time you wait before calling your dog to you. This game is great for dogs with attention-seeking behaviors, as it teaches them to wait for your commands.”
After a playful day of practicing this important routine,you’ll have a better chance of getting Spot to come when called on your next visit to the dog park.
What’s your favorite indoorsy activity to do with your dog? Please share it in the comments!