Note: All "Ask the Trainer" Questions and Answers can be found on the "Ask the Trainer" tab of our blog. Submit your questions to projectmaddie (at) gmail (dot) com with "Ask the Trainer" in the subject heading. Thanks to Animal Behaviourist Gen Reisinger for donating her time and expertise to answer our questions!
Q: This winter it has been a challenge to give my dog the outdoor exercise she needs. Ice storms, snow storms, polar vortexes, how can I keep my dog happy when weather conditions prevent us from enjoying our usual outdoor activities?
A: Beating the Doggie Winter Blues
Are you wondering how to turn your dog’s ‘winter blues’ into winter games? Missing walks, or cutting walks in half due to the cold and ice can certainly be a bit of a downer. Did you know that majority of the excitement and benefit for your dog on a walk is in smelling, hearing, seeing and exploring all the new things in his/her environment outside of the house? While waking does expend physical energy, the greatest benefit is the mental stimulation that the outside environment provides. This is why our dog will benefit and tire most from walks when we change up our routes regularly. Understanding this can help us to provide for their mental needs indoors when the weather is too harsh outdoors. The suggestions below will not only keep your dog’s mind busy at this time of year, but also help them to expend more physical energy while they eat their breakfast, and/or dinner.
The first place to start is in feeding your dog out of food toys! If your dog is accustomed to eating out of toys, such as the kong, it is time to start making them more challenging. If your dog is not already used to toys that dispense food during play, let’s get started with that! Offering your dog his food in toys causes him to burn both mental and physical energy while he eats his meal. Once your dog is enjoying and is successful at cleaning out his food toys, you may consider permanently replacing his food dish with food toys. This will allow him/her to continuously burn energy with each meal.
Some of the suggested toys to begin with are the Kong, tricky treat ball, and kong wobbler. As well as these suggestions, there are typically many to choose from in any pet store. Start with something simpler and with higher valued foods. As your dog gets used to eating out of more simple food toys with high valued foods, you can begin to introduce simple toys with just kibble. Then, advance to more challenging toys with higher valued food. Soon your dog will be good at cleaning his plain kibble out of the more challenging toys. Many of the available food toy options also work really well with a raw food diet. It is all about picking the size-appropriate ones that appeal to your dog and work with his/her diet.
If your dog is not yet used to emptying out a filled kong, start nice and simple with a little bit of something soft, sticky and yummy (natural peanut butter, sugar free yogurt, sugar free apple sauce, mashed bananas, mashed steamed carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin) on the inside rim of the kong, and a few loose cookies or pieces of freeze dried liver. This will help your dog to make the association between his/her kong and yummy food that is easy to get. Now that he/she gets excited when he sees the kong and is looking for food from it, start to make it a bit more challenging. Begin to stuff it a little tighter with the use of his main meal. Take a small amount of kibble and place it in a dish. Mix in a teaspoon to tablespoon (depending on size of dog) of whatever his/her favourite soft & sticky food item until each kibble is coated with it. Now place a smelly treat (freeze dried liver is good) at the bottom of the kong, some of the kibble mixture, a smelly treat in the middle, and the remainder of the kibble mixture to fill the kong. At the top, one last smelly treat that is easy for your dog to pull out and get started! As your dog gets better at cleaning his/her kong out to the very bottom, stuff it with more food and tighter. The final stage of a stuffed kong for an advanced dog is a tightly packed and frozen kong (put upside down in zip-lock bag in freezer).
When your dog has become a pro at emptying his frozen kong, he is certainly ready to explore some other types of food toys. There are also some brilliant doggie puzzles available in most pet stores. These types of puzzles will have your dog nosing, pawing and licking to glide pieces of the puzzle out of the way, and to shift the puzzle exposing other pieces to be moved out of the way to find more food! Your dog’s entire meal can be fed using a doggie puzzle!
The “find it” game! This game is designed to fulfill your dog’s natural desire and talent at scavenging for food. It can also be played with either stuffed food toys, or with simple piles of kibble. As in anything new that your dog is learning, start off nice and easy. Start by hiding little piles of kibble, containing a smelly treat or two, behind furniture and objects that are easy for your dog to get behind. Start by playing the game with hidden treats and kibble in one room. Help your dog to find them. Encourage your dog to check out different spots in the room by pointing with your finger. Point at one or two spots that do not have food, then at one that does. “Jackpot!” As your dog finds the piles of food, you can click and bonus reward if you are into clicker training. Otherwise, just finding the treats is a prize for your dog. Every day, make the game a little more challenging until you are hiding your treats in food toys (maybe still have some easy to eat piles) all over the house with some in more challenging spaces. Always start the game by saying “find it!”.
One more fun game; Target training with post-it notes! Teach your dog to “touch” his nose to your hand, and then to a post-it note (see Pawsitive Plus Dog Training facebook page for steps). Now you can place post-it notes all over your house or yard and send your dog out to “touch” for a click/”YES” and a treat!
These are just a few ideas to start with as you work on keeping your dog fit and mentally stimulated over the winter months. Have fun with your dog while working through these ideas. Having fun is the best benefit of all!
Please visit the Pawsitive Plus Dog training and Consulting Service ltd. Facebook page for additional pointers and videos of dogs playing, and learning while eating their meals out of different food toys and puzzles. “Like” us on Facebook! We are also happy to answer any questions you may have along the way!
Genevieve Reisinger, BSc, CAPPDT, CBATTI Canine Behaviour Specialist
Pawsitive Plus Dog Training and Consulting Service ltd. firstname.lastname@example.org 289-242-7767 www.pawsitiveplus.com