Beat Winter Boredom

“The weather outside is crappy, and I tell the dogs to be happy, but to all this ice and snow, they just howl and say, “Go away, go away, go away.” It is so slick and nasty, that even the dogs are complaining, and more ice and snow are on the way. “Go away, go away, go away!!!”

Miserable, inclement weather is here, and the forecast doesn’t encourage any of us to get outside, but dogs that are not regularly exercised are likely to develop behavioral problems such as chewing, excessive barking and separation anxiety. It is their cry for help: Hey, I am lonely and bored. I will have to do something to get my human’s attention and any attention is better than none. So what do you do to use up some of your dog’s pent up energy? Playing Frisbee inside the kitchen is probably not the best idea, but there are many creative ways to keep your dog busy indoors, so that he doesn’t chew up shoes, shred newspapers, and damage the furniture.

  • Does your dog know the basic obedience commands? Does she have a reliable recall and sit and stay? Even well trained dogs need a refresher course now and then to keep them sharp. All dogs should have a reliable, sit, stay, drop it, and come.
  • If you’ve been thinking about teaching your dog some scent work games, the “Which Hand Game” is a great starter. The only thing you’ll need is some dog treats (we recommend homemade, but some dogs respond to veggies like carrot chips or green beans, and a small bit of cheese is always a winner). Place a treat in one hand. Close your fists and hold them out in front of your dog. Let your dog choose which hand it’s in. When he sniffs or paws he correct hand, open it up, and give him the treat. If he chooses incorrectly don’t discourage him, just try again until he catches on.
  • Another version of the hand game is the “Three Cup Game”. Place a treat under one of three cups and have your dog choose the correct one. Once she gets the hang of it, mix up the cups so she isn’t just relying on visuals.
  • Hide and Seek is a favorite with most dogs. Have your dog sit and wait while you find a hiding spot. Call him when you are hidden, and praise enthusiastically when he finds you. Start with easy places, and gradually find more difficult hiding places.
  • A controlled “Game of Tug” offers the opportunity to get a bit more exercise. Just don’t let the game escalate to an aggressive exchange. Stop the game before she gets overly enthusiastic.
  • Have your dog sit and stay while you hide some smelly treats around the house. Start with easy hiding spots and work your way up once your dog is accustomed to using his nose.
  • With a little patience and persistence, your dog can learn the names of her toys. Start by playing with one specific toy and giving it a name every time you handle it. After some practice and praise, your dog will associate that verbal name with the chosen toy. Once she has learned the names of several specific toys, test her skill by seeing if she can pick out a specific one from among her other toys.
  • When your dog knows the names of some of his toys, teach him the “go find it” game. Put his toys in a pile or container, and tell him to “go find” a specific toy. Keep it fun and reward handsomely! This game will give him a great mental workout.
  • Most of us have enough room for a simple game of fetch. Hallways, stairways, and big living rooms are popular choices. Just be careful to put away any item that could be broken. If you don’t like the idea of playing fetch indoors, turn it into a simple game of catch.
  • If you are too busy to interact with your dog, a stuffed Kong is a great alternative. Stuff with kibble, peanut butter, bits of cheese, or any healthy food. The tighter you stuff it, the longer your dog will be interested in it. Stuff a couple Kongs and put them in the freezer for use when needed.

After an exercise session or game, remember that a dog is a social creature. There’s nothing she will enjoy more than just a relaxing snuggle session with you and a tummy massage is always appreciated when your dog misbehaves. She or he is probably just bored. Get your imagination going and enjoy some winter fun!

It’s Officially Spring

The calendar declares that spring has arrived, and although some of us question whether or not it’s really here, we are hopeful. It has been a record breaker winter in many parts of the country but with the worst behind us, we feel the urge to get moving. Most of us paid the price for the bitter cold winter. We gained a couple of extra pounds, but rationalized that is only natural to put on a little layer of fat, and now that decent weather is here, it is time for both two-legs and four-legs to get out there and shape up. If you’ve packed on some extra weight during the winter, there’s a good chance your dog has too, so if he seems a little too padded, it is important to start some safe slimming strategies now, before a pleasantly plump pooch turns into a sausage dog.

According to the Veterinary Medical Association, obesity is the fourth leading cause of death among canines, and dogs carrying too much weight means extra stress on the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and other body organs, so overweight animals (and humans) are more likely to suffer from cardiac disease, respiratory problems, digestive disorders, and high blood pressure . Joints, ligaments, tendons, and bones suffer from excess wear and tear, so they endure arthritis, joint injuries, leg problems, and back ailments. Overheating, skin disease and reproductive problems are common complaints, and there is always a greater risk during anesthesia and surgery. An extra seven pounds on a dog that should weigh 35 pounds is equivalent to an extra 30 pounds on a human weighing 150.

Exercise needs be a part of both a human’s and a dog’s weight loss program, and a great way to shape up is to plan activities that combine a workout for both canine and human. Any weight loss program should include walking, but after a sedentary winter, start slowly and increase the frequency and intensity of exercise. Begin with just short walks around the block and then work toward a game of fetch, and maybe a walk through the woods or park, taking different routes to make the trip more enjoyable for both of you. Set aside time each day to exercise with your dog, so it becomes part of your routine, and not just something you do when you think of it or have the time.

Gradually work up to longer, more active sessions as your tolerance and your dog’s tolerance increases. Playing ball or hide and seek are options, and another great way to boost weight loss is to get involved with a canine sport such as agility which offers a variety of physical and mental activity, both for dog and caregiver.

You don’t have to shell out a lot of money to train your dog in agility. Backyard obstacle courses are a great way to provide exercise, build trust with your dog, and prevent boredom. Three common types of obstacles used in agility programs—jumps, tunnels, and weave poles, can be set up in your own yard. Jump obstacles can be built entirely out of inexpensive PVC pipes, and a flexible children’s play tunnel makes a great tunnel…they are usually lightweight, but also heavy enough so that they won’t move when your dog runs through them. . As for weave poles, avoid hard and immovable materials that could injure your dog if he misjudges the distance between poles. Orange traffic cones are bulkier than the weave poles used in agility competitions, but if you are just casually training your dog, they will work fine. Wherever you set up your agility course, ensure that there are no hidden dangers around the course, and that there is enough room for her to run around. As long as you put safety first, you can easily put together an obstacle course that is good for both of you.

Whatever weight loss program you choose, be consistent and persistent! With patience and a positive attitude, both you and your dog will have fun as the pounds drop away.

Beat Winter Boredom

The weather is truly miserable right now in most areas of the country, and even the dogs are not thrilled about taking a lengthy walk, but we all know that dogs that are not regularly exercised are likely to develop behavioral problems such as chewing, excessive barking and separation anxiety. So what is the responsible pet caregiver to do?? When it is too cold to spend much time outdoors, there are indoor activities that can stimulate your dog’s body and mind. Because of their keen sense of smell, dogs love nose games… actually they love almost any activity that involves interacting with their humans.

  • Hide and seek: Simple and fun. Tell your dog to stay while you go to a different area of the house and hide…once you are hidden, call her to come and stay perfectly still until she finds you. Offer a treat and lots of praise and she will think she is an amazing search and rescue dog!
  • Laser pointer capture: Shining a laser pointer on the floor and wall and letting your dog go wild chasing the red dot looks like fun, and it can be IF it is not overused, but most animal behaviorists claim that it can have unintended consequences. Dr. Nicolas Dodman from Tufts School of Veterinary medicine explains that a dog instinctively chases laser beams because, well, the dots move, and they stimulate dogs’ predatory systems so much that they cannot NOT chase it. They can’t help themselves. They are obliged to chase it, and never actually catching it can drive a dog to get so obsessed with chasing the light that he develops behavior problems. Dodman suggests that you keep laser chasing sessions very short and hide a few dog treats around the room, and then occasionally let the laser dot point out a treat that your dog is able to actually “catch.” If you notice the dog becoming obsessed about chasing the laser beams, replace the laser toy with a game of “fetch” where he can actually catch the toy.
  • Indoor fetch: Fetch is an all-round great activity that is usually played outdoors, but it can be adapted for indoors. Fetch can be played down a long hallway or in the basement. Playing fetch up and down stairs is another option and provides a good workout, but keep it to a limited number of throws. It is best to throw the toy up the stairs, not down. That way he’ll be putting less pressure on his shoulder joints.
  • Retrieve it: Many indoor games can help build your dog’s obedience skill, so if you are having difficulty teaching her to retrieve, put all her toys into a box, and then dump them in a pile on the floor. Sit across the room from her and point to the toys, asking her to bring you one. When you dog goes to pick one up, offer praise and when she brings it to you, offer more praise and maybe give her a treat. Repeat until all the toys are in your lap, and then offer BIG praise. You can practice other obedience exercises in the house too. For example, heel up and down a hallway with a ball or toy in your hand, and occasionally throw the ball to the end of the hallway and play a few rounds of retrieve.
  • Tread-milling: If you have a treadmill gathering dust in a closet or basement, now is the time to dust it off. Training a dog to use a motorized treadmill requires patience and persistence, but most dogs will adapt quickly if you don’t spook them so that they develop a fear to the machine right away. Get him used to getting on the machine with the motor turned OFF. Repeat the on and off practice until he is interested in the machine and is comfortable on it. Let her watch you get on and off it with the motor on several times BEFORE inviting her to join you. Proceed slowly and offer praise (and treats if necessary). Never leave her unsupervised!

With a little imagination, neither you nor your dog needs to sit around on the couch all day yearning for better weather. Who knows—winter might even become your favorite season!


Let’s Beat Those Back To School Blues

Back-to-school time involves transition for the entire family, as parents and children begin to adjust to a new routine, but it is a confusing time for dogs who have enjoyed extra attention and playtime during summer vacation. Think about it—there is nothing better in a dog’s eyes than having his humans around for extended periods of time. When the kids go back to school, they have activity filled days with friends and fun and extracurricular activities often take some of the after-school time, keeping them ( and moms and dads) busy day in, day out. Suddenly the dog is left alone with lack of activity and attention!  Dogs are very attached to their humans, and it is difficult for them to suddenly spend 8 hours or more alone each day, and even when the children do come home, they are often busy with schoolwork or school activities. This can result in boredom and separation issues, which can cause a normally well-behaved dog to behave badly—barking excessively, chewing on furniture, or soiling in the house. Tactics to help the family dog transition to the new home-alone schedule include:

  • Pumping up the exercise. Don’t use busyness as an excuse for not spending time with your dog.  Schedule time EVERY day for some physical activity—a long walk, or an active round of fetch. (Leaving the dog alone in the yard does NOT count as exercise.)  Get up a little earlier to interact with the dog, which will make your dog feel less ignored, and will also lower his energy level so that he will be less likely to do something naughty.
  • Adding mental stimulation. To reduce boredom while everyone is gone, make your leaving a good thing. Buy some new SAFE toys and give them just before you leave so that they associate your leaving with getting something good. A stuffable, chewable toy like the Kong is a great toy to keep him occupied.  Something that has a familiar scent like a kid-scented T-shirt or sock will often comfort the dog.  Leave the TV or radio on. Animal Planet on TV can entertain the dog reassure him that everything is normal.
  • It is important to stay low key when leaving in the mornings. No big goodbyes. Just leave quietly without causing any anxiety.  And make returning “no big deal” too. It is especially important for dogs that have anxiety that you act calm, quiet, casual, and don’t immediately enthusiastically greet your dog. If you act like leaving or returning is not a big deal, then it won’t be a big deal for the dogs. When you come home after a long day, you may be tired, but after calmly greeting your dog, remember that he needs to be played with. A long walk, or playtime will get out all that pent up energy from the day and lets your dog know that you love him. It is also a stress reliever for the humans involved!
  • If at all possible, someone should go home during lunch to help relieve the stress of no one being home for 8 hours. If that is not possible, consider having a friend walk her, or paying a dog walker. Taking your dog to a doggy day care a couple times a week is a great option too.

A dog is not an “until” dog…..”Until you get too busy” or “until you have no time.”

A dog is a forever dog! You made a commitment to your dog, and keeping that commitment is not always easy, but it might make the difference between a happy dog and a destroyed house!

Mastering the Walk


Training your dog should be rewarding for both you and your dog, but I have a confession to share: this past week was NOT a rewarding time for either me or the dogs I was attempting to train. Sir Charles Tucker the Third is an awesome dog; we have been working with him for some time now and were quite confident that he understands the COME command, and will respond. Well, two rabbits crossed his path, his distraction level kicked in and Tucker took off. (I will never know if one rabbit could have been resisted!) Was I tempted to scold him? Absolutely. When he finally decided that the rabbits were gone, and he came back to me, was I a happy trainer? Absolutely not, but, remembering the advice from the experts that “Come” should always be a word that means joy, I realized that I could easily sabotage any progress that we had made. Instead, I accepted the fact that Tucker was not completely trained for instant recall, and recognized that really reliable recall takes lots of practice, lots of patience, and lots of treats.

Then there was the new dog that probably had never been on a leash. Walking politely by your side doesn’t seem like it should be a difficult task, but Andrew proved to be quite a challenge. Some dogs learn very quickly that the human is in control, but Andrew didn’t accept that idea. It took us more than ten minutes to just get half way down the driveway!

If you have a dog that pulls on the leash, simply stand still until he stops. Then praise him, and when he seems calm, proceed with your walk. Every time he pulls on the leash and you continue the walk, you are rewarding him for pulling. Why do so many dogs pull on leash? Simply because they can. They learn that pulling on the leash gets them where they want to go. They pull, and their humans follow. Professional trainer Pat Lee insists that dogs will walk in a calm, controlled manner when their caregivers are calm and assertive and praise the dog when he is following the command and stop immediately if he starts pulling. (We are hopeful that Andrew is beginning to understand that concept!)

Some tips to help you and your pet both enjoy the walk:

  • You need to have the right equipment. We do not recommend a retractable leash, because it is difficult to exercise control.
  • Always carry bags for cleaning up and disposing of dog poop—leaving dog waste is a health hazard and downright irresponsible.
  • Always practice safety first. Be aware of others coming up from behind you. Dogs do not like to be startled. Watch out for kids on skateboards or bikes. Many dogs don’t like motorcycles or even pedal bikes.
  • If you walk on small side streets without sidewalks, it is important that you allow yourself and your dog enough room so that cars are not a danger to you, and you are not a danger to the drivers.
  • Be consistent about reinforcing leash walking and not allowing leash-pulling, and insist that everyone who walks your dog follow the same procedures.

Not only will your dog benefit from a controlled walk, you get perks as well, by improving both your physical well being, and your mental well being. Walking your dog should be a pleasurable experience for both you and your dog…and one of these days, Andrew and I may enjoy walks beyond the driveway!

Welcome to Winter!

Cooler weather should not be used as an excuse to skip walking the dog. An exercise-deprived dog usually develops a serious case of cabin fever, which escalates to frustration-induced behaviors such as hyperactivity and destructiveness. Dogs (as well as humans) need DAILY exercise to keep physically and emotionally fit!

If the weather is really uncooperative, making it impractical to exercise outdoors, a treadmill can be a great tool to help your dog stay active. Most dogs adapt to treadmill exercise if they are introduced to it slowly, but it is important to be patient and never push the dog…if she gets spooks, she may never get comfortable enough to enjoy using it, and NEVER leave a dog on the treadmill unsupervised. With a few extra precautions, you can keep your pet safe and healthy during these crisp, cool autumn months!

Winter does pose one serious risk to our furry friends. Most people winterize their automobiles in the fall. Traditional auto antifreeze is lethal to animals, and dogs are attracted to it because of the sweet-salty taste. Suffering is a horrific part of antifreeze poisoning and as little as a ¼ teaspoon ingested from a puddle on the garage floor can kill an animal.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at least 10,000 dogs drink antifreeze every year, and most die! Mindy Bough of the ASPCA Poison Control Center stresses that just a few licks can cause kidney failure—even a small amount that may be licked off a paw. Propylene glycol-based coolants are available, and although they are less toxic than the traditional ethylene glycol-based coolant, it is important to not allow even a drop of any antifreeze to remain where your pet has access to it.


Boredom Leads to Inappropriate Behavior

Guess I am not sure where the cliche “quality time” originated, but apparently this term caught on and became a yuppie buzzword to differentiate it from just “regular time”. Most of the folks I know feel that all time should be quality time, but the fact is that all time is not equal. Just being with your family, friends, and furbabies is not always “quality time.”

One of the main reasons given for relinquishing a dog is behavior problems, and often the problem is that the dogs are not getting enough “quality time”, and as a result, they resort to inappropriate, often destructive behavior. They are bored! Dogs need a lot of exercise, both mental and physical., and without it, most of them will invent their own “games” like “Let’s see how much stuffing is in Dad’s favorite chair,”, or “How many holes can I chew in the door/wall/carpet.” All dogs need physical activity, and with busy schedules and hectic lifestyles, it is easy to just settle for a five or ten minute walk down the block, which is not enough!

Cesar Milan is making millions solving dog problems, and if all dog caregivers simply followed his first rule: EXERCISE, many of the behavior problems would be eliminated. Your dog needs daily, serious walks, especially if he spends much of his time alone home while you are at work. ( Serious walks are good for you too!) By giving your dog acceptable outlets for his energy, your relationship won’t be strained, and you won’t have to worry about the condition your house will be in when you come home.

Here are a few tips for curing cabin fever, and fostering good relationships: ,

  • Teaching a dog to catch and fetch a Frisbee or stick, or anything else you are willing to throw, is cheap, easy exercise. You only have to stand in one spot for a few minutes with your dog while he exercises his entire body. Many dogs will fetch anything you are willing to throw, for hours.
  • Social interaction is important for your dog, and he needs to practice his social skills with other dogs. If your town doesn’t have a dog park, perhaps you could schedule “play dates” with a friend’s dog where they can interact, hopefully in a large, securely fenced area.
  • Do you have a treadmill? In nasty weather, a treadmill can be a lifesaver… may take some patience, and maybe a little treat bribery, but most dogs, if introduced properly, will learn to enjoy the treadmill.
  • Kongs and Buster Cubes are my very favorite toys for dogs left home alone. Most of the Kong toys are meant to be filled, and depending on the filling, your dog can be kept busy for hours. Buster cubes are also meant to be filled with small dry treats or kibble. When the dog shoves the toy around, pieces of food randomly fall out. If you use Kongs and Buster Cubes, be sure to count the food as part of their daily ration.
  • Turn on the television to a channel your dog might enjoy, or leave the radio on with soft, relaxing music. It will make him feel less alone.

If your dog is getting adequate physical and mental exercise, she will be sleeping ON the rug instead of chewing it up!