Winter doldrums

We have been getting blasted by severe winter weather this year. It is making it difficult on the us but also on our dogs. The extreme cold, along with the massive amounts of snow, have made exercising the dogs challenging to say the least. So I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on how you can keep fido entertained and challenged without the need to bundle up. Make no mistake, physical exercise is a very important part of your dogs psychological well being, but at those times when mother nature is not cooperating you can substitute some mental exercises to help entertain and relax your dog.

Mental exercise can challenge your dog and drain some of his excess energy. Just think how you feel after a long day at the office. Ready to go home, sit down and relax. The same goes for your pooch. Making him think can tire him as much as a good walk. So here are a couple activities to try:

A dog’s sense of smell is fair more developed than our own so take advantage of that and teach your dog to find hidden items by using his nose. Start by hiding treats or his favorite toy. Put your dog on a sit – stay, let him smell the item you are going to *hide* (but don’t let him grab it or eat it). Then set the item on the floor a couple of feet in front of him, wait a second or so and say “Find It” as you release him to get the toy or treat. Your dog will easily be able to find it; after all, it is right in front of him, but these first repetitions are crucial to make an association in his mind as to the name of the game and how to play. Gradually increase the distance between your dog and where you place the item. When he is beginning to understand this game move the object further and make it slightly hidden, (in the next room next to a chair leg or barely tucked under a rug). It is important that your dog be successful. The early hides should not be so difficult that your dog gets discouraged and quits trying to sniff the item out. As long as your dog is sniffing and searching, encourage him and praise when he makes the find. If your dog gives up a search, it means you have moved ahead too quickly, so repeat some easy finds. As you progress your dog will gain confidence in his ability to use his nose to locate the item. You can make the hides progressively more difficult and all the searching and challenge of these scavenger hunts will burn some of that energy!

Another way to keep your dog occupied is to have him earn his kibble. There are a number of well designed toys on the market that allow you to place dry kibble inside and have your dog manipulate the toy in order for the food to fall out. These various balls and cubes can keep the dog working and problem solving. Another option at feeding time is to simply scatter the food on the floor rather than making an easy meal of it by serving it in a bowl. Dogs are scavengers and hunters by nature, a little work at meal time is rewarding for them and offers a mental challenge to sniff out all the little morsels.

And of course, our favorite way to mentally challenge our dogs is to utilize obedience training and tricks. A trained dog can be asked to perform various behaviors such as a few puppy push ups (a series of sit-down-sit-down, exercises) or required to roll over, stand, back up and give a high five. This mental challenge will stimulate your dogs mind, keep the leadership roles in correct order and help a dog to burn off a bit of that pent up energy from laying around all day.

If you need help with any of the training, remember that is what we are here for. At That’s My Dog! we can help you foster a wonderful relationship with your dog through our programs in obedience and tricks.

Stay warm!
Robin and the pack (Tom, Hero and Ella)