Saturday, February 13, 2010

10 Things to do With Your Dog During Winter

Even though the weather is frightful, there are many activities you can, and should, do with your dog(s). Everyone should strive to exercise their pooch physically and/or mentally each day. I know that fitting in a walk is challenging after a long day at work, but your dog needs you to supervise his/her exercise time! If you are having trouble brainstorming new activities, here is a short list of ideas:

1. Teach a “Find It” cue. To train Find It, get your dog's attention, then start training the game by hiding a small high-value treat under a piece of paper or a toy. Let him see you hide it, and even leave it partially in view the first time. Then say "find it!" in an excited voice. Encourage your dog until he or she finds the treat and gobbles it down.

If your dog doesn't get the idea, lift up the paper or toy, show him the treat, partially cover it again, and repeat "find it!" He or she should get the idea quickly. Be sure to keep your voice excited and your tone light and happy. It's important not to get frustrated, since this should be a fun game for both you and your dog. If he or she still doesn't the idea, try a higher value treat. Hide a second treat and repeat the process. Be sure to cheer and act very excited every time he or she finds a treat.

Once he or she gets the idea, start making finding the hidden treat harder and harder. Start hiding treats under different objects, from different pieces of newspaper to other toys. Also begin to work on distance. Start placing the hidden treats two or three feet away from your dog, then four or five. After that, try having another family member distract your dog while you hide a treat. Continue increasing the difficulty level until you can hide treats for your dog to find in another room.

This can also help dogs with separation distress by keeping them busy. In essence, you can hide a bunch of treats and/or stuffed toys (like Kongs) before you leave, tell your dog to “Find It!” and leave. Your dog will get some much needed mental stimulation from all that searching!

2. Take a Tricks and Games class! Just take one class so you fully understand the concepts, then you can easily transfer your knowledge to a whole range of tricks. Or, if you really do not have time for class, pick up a book on tricks. There are quite a few good ones at the store and/or library – check with your trainer for recommendations!

3. Check out a doggy daycare, dog walker, etc. These services cost money, but they are excellent ways to get that wintertime energy out! We usually recommend The Dog Haus and Spa Woof on Eastside, and Ruffin’ It Resort on Westside.

4. Invest in tons of mentally stimulating toys, such as Kongs. If you do a search online, you can easily find more puzzle toys for dogs. Bad Dog Frida has many options (located on Eastside of Madison)! You can even freeze the toys with the yummy treats/food inside for a longer-lasting experience.

5. Purchase a clicker and watch some online demos. Once you are comfortable with the method, start shaping your dog to offer behaviors! I used a clicker to shape my dog, Cymry, to pick up a toy. I said nothing to her, other than the clicker, and she eventually learned what I was looking for. You may want to take a class and/or ask a trainer on how to perfect the method.

6. If you cannot get your dog out for one 30-minute walk, try two 15-minute ones! Or, get moving while the sun is out!

7. Try recalls inside. Put your dog in a stay in one room while you walk to another location. Use your recall word and see how quickly your dog gets to you! This can also become a game like “Hide and Seek.” Start slow. Call your dog while he/she can see you. Eventually, work up to hiding behind things and/or being in a different room. Reinforce when your dog “finds” you.

8. Research dog sports and find a local facility that offers a class. For example, Teacher’s Pet now offers Canine Freestyle, a great way to stimulate your dog mentally and physically. There are also agility classes, tracking, rally-o, etc.

9. If you have stairs in your place, run up and down them with your dog. Or, if you practice a “send” or “go” cue (like in Agility), you can send your dog up and/or down the stairs. At first, you would have to go up some of the stairs with your dog, and when you stop, reinforce their continued movement away from you. Eventually, you can increase the distance until you are at the top/bottom of the stairs and sending them away.

10. CUDDLE! Take a moment away from your busy life to snuggle for 5-10 minutes with your best friend. It will relax you, as well as strengthen your bond.

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