Beat your pup’s cabin fever

dogs-91536_1280 It’s -8º, the sidewalks are covered in ice, and it’s also sleeting. You just don’t want to go out. As a result, your pup is a little terror–running circles around your house and chewing things up because she needs some exercise. What should you do? Try some of these fun games! The mental exercise will help wear her out, keeping you both sane and toasty warm.

Play “Hide and Seek”—Rope a family member or a friend into playing with you. You and your friend should each have a stash of delicious treats or a favorite toy in your pocket. Then, go somewhere in the house and hide. Don’t make it too tricky at first. Call your dog to you. Give her a big reward when she finds you —either a tasty treat or a chance to play with her toy.

In the meantime, your friend should hide somewhere else in the house and repeat! Your friend can’t make it to your house in this weather? Work on your pup’s sit-stay while you hide. Then call her to you!

Teach your dog a new trick—Teach your dog to roll over, shake hands, hide her eyes, or touch a target with her nose or paw. The mental work of learning something new prevents boredom.

Feed your dog her meals in a toy—Mix up some dog food with a little bit of yogurt, stuff it into the center of a Kong, put it in your freezer overnight, and then let your dog enjoy her meal, frozen-yogurt-style! You can stuff multiple Kongs and feed your dog her whole meal this way. The chewing will help tucker her out. Buster Cubes are another great option. You fill the ball with kibble, and your dog has to roll it around with her nose to get the food to come out.

Play tug-of-war with your dog—This game is a great way to burn energy, build a strong bond, and teach obedience like “Take it” and “Drop it”. Watch Emily Larlham of Kikopup teach her dog to play tug. Remember to set rules for the game. Teeth on skin = Game over!

Teach your dog to “Find it!”—Find three large cups and place them upside down on the floor. Put them about 3 feet apart at first and then gradually extend the distance between them as the dog gets better at the game. Put your dog in a down-stay or a sit-stay. Hide a very tasty treat under one of the cups—like a piece of chicken or cheese. Allow your dog to get up and find the cup with the treat. When she finds it, she gets the treat! Once your dog gets the game you can put this skill on cue by telling her to “Find it!”

Your dog is a bundle of energy, and—sleeting or not–that energy tank needs to be drained each day. These games provide stimulation for your dog, through safe chewing, the mental work of learning, or exercising with tug. We hope these games help keep you and your dog sane and having fun together this winter!

Roundup: Your adolescent dog

A roundup of articles to help you and your pup sail through the choppy waters of adolescent months.

Creative Commons License photo credit: lindyireland

Your agility dog: Building focus and drive (Part Two)

In Part One of this two-part series, we talked about what drive is, why it’s important, and the difference between drive and arousal. This week, we’re going to take a peek at some strategies to increase focus for dogs prone to arousal and talk about how to build drive.

Focus and agility

Now that we can tell the difference between drive and arousal, it’s time to apply what we’ve learned to agility class. Most dogs who are serious about their agility are tempted to bark at other dogs running a course. (Heck, some dogs bark while they run the course!) Some handlers look at this tendency proudly, noting how much “drive” the dog has to do agility.

But before we go slapping the “drive” label on anything that barks, let’s review our definition from last week: Arousal plus focus on the handler equals drive. Barking wildly while other dogs run does not fall under this definition!

So, how do we prep our dog for this and numerous other distractions while on the course? And what can we do with a dog who is determined to find something else to focus on besides the handler?

First, let’s up the ante on Doggie Zen. Start requesting your dog’s attention/eye contact for longer periods before clicking and treating. Use your dog’s favorite treats (or favorite toy!), held just out of reach. Practice in locations with other distractions: the vet’s office, the grocery store parking lot, or just outside the dog park. At home, add a verbal “Leave It” cue and start putting the treats on the floor instead of in your hand — first behind you, then (the ultimate!) between you and your dog.

Second, start or review the Name Game. You can use this same method to enhance your dog’s response to your on-course recall word, as well.

Use these tools in a distracting situation to gain and maintain your dog’s focus. If your dog starts barking at something, move farther away from the action until he or she is able to focus on you. Then praise, reward and make your way back to the distraction.

To see a great example of how channeling your dog’s drive and focus can be helpful (and an amusing look at how a simply aroused dog behaves), check out this video!

Slow dog? Build drive!

The easiest way to get a faster dog on the course is to use what he already loves — a game or toy! Pair your dog’s favorite game with an “on/off” cue — remember “Go Wild and Freeze”?

Does your dog have a favorite game, such as tug or fetch? If not, it’s time to find out which non-food-eating activity your dog enjoys most. Dogs who have a natural retrieving instinct are likely to enjoy chasing balls, discs or other toys, while wrestlers often enjoy tugging on ropes or leashes. Terriers typically like chase-and-pounce games. If you have a timid dog, play gently at first, allowing the dog to “win” the toy often.

Your body language and tone of voice is also vital to enhancing your dog’s drive. Using a high-pitched, excited, happy tone works to bring out the puppy in most every dog. Practice using this tone during all of your dog’s favorite rowdy activities, such as walking or feeding time. When working on an obstacle, make sure your body language is inviting to the dog. Don’t stare at the dog, and turn your body sideways or keep your back to him or her as he or she navigates an obstacle.

Experiment with both your body and voice to see what your dog responds to best.

Doggie Zen

“Doggie Zen” is an exercise I learned from clicker trainer Shirley Chong. This exercise is particularly effective in teaching your dog to focus on you amidst distraction.

Before you begin, remember…

  1. A click is a promise that a treat is coming. Always offer your dog a reward after you click, even if you have made an error.
  2. Reinforce (click and treat) any behavior you like. Ignore or manage behavior you don’t like.
  3. Wait until the dog has offered the behavior several times before putting a name on it. For example, if you are trying to teach your dog to “Sit” using the clicker, don’t use the word “Sit” until you have captured the behavior several times.

Doggie Zen

  1. Gather your treats, clicker and dog. Put your dog on a leash to keep her near you, if necessary.
  2. Hold out a treat in a closed fist for your dog. Your dog will lick your hand to get at the treat.
  3. As soon as your dog stops licking or sniffing your hand (even for a second), click and open your hand to present the reward.
  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until your dog is no longer attempting to touch you. When this happens, begin waiting for the dog to look at you before you click and treat.
  5. Move your fist to a different place; hold it out to one side, then the other. This will help your dog understand that looking at you, not looking for the treat, is what earns a reward.

Watch a video of the Doggie Zen exercise.