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!

The best toys for young, strong dogs

Most dogs between five and 18 months, large or small, play hard — so it’s up to us to locate toys that are both safe and last more than 20 seconds once the dog starts using them!

Soft latex or plush toys aren’t suitable for most growing dogs (although some dogs enjoy carrying a fleecy toy like it’s a puppy). Stuffed animals, particularly those with squeakers, tend to be disemboweled after only minutes of play, and latex ones are torn apart even faster.

A game of tug with you or another dog makes many dogs’ lists of all-time fun activities, so knotted rope bones, strong rubber tug toys or large plastic bones are good additions to the toy box.

My first criteria when choosing a toy is “Will it last longer than a week?” If the answer is yes, then the toy likely passes the safety test, as well. The second is, “Will my dog play with it?” Toy-treat combos, such as products made from rawhide, might be enjoyed by your dog, but don’t qualify as interactive or provide much mental stimulation. While some dogs are happy to make a toy from anything, it’s important to start teaching your dog early in puppyhood which objects are for playing, and which objects belong to you.

Here are five of my favorite dog toys (affiliate links to Amazon, but you can find these many places, including your local pet store):

Buster Cube


The Buster Cube is a perfect way to feed your dog if you don’t have time to trade the dog’s dinner for a few tricks or obedience behaviors. The cube has a maze-like center that you fill with kibble or treats, and your dog rolls it this way and that to get the food out. It’s a great way to add a little work to your dog’s day!

Ultra Kong


If ever a toy was designed specifically for big, strong adolescent dogs, the Kong Company has made it happen. The “Ultra” Black Kong toy is made for heavy chewers and can take more abuse than its red counterpart. If you have one a dog who does not enjoy chasing or chewing the Kong, stuff it full of canned food and freeze — this will generate interest!

Jawz disc


The Jawz disc by Hyperflite is an extremely durable disc that flies just like a regular one. Most dogs will destroy a regular plastic disc in one 20-minute play session. Although puppies and young dogs should not jump to catch discs until their growth plates have closed, you can begin teaching dogs of any age how to grab short tosses and pick up rollers off the ground.

JW Pet Invincible Rings


These heavy-duty interlocking rings are perfect for joint tug games, whether with you or another dog. They withstand dogs who are strong pullers and chompers! A determined dog can sit with this toy and chew it apart, so it is best used under supervision and not left alone with your dog.

Kong Goodie Bone


Even dogs who aren’t chewers like this bone, and dogs who are chewers love it! A little peanut butter or cream cheese, or a biscuit stuffed in one end provides hours of tough-chewing fun. My dogs like to “share” it between them with endless games of tug. Perfect for your female who likes to play, “I have it and you don’t”! Put it in the refrigerator or freezer first to sooth teething jaws.

Hol-ee Roller Ball


Not a chew toy, this ball stands up to heavy use primarily because it can’t be punctured!

Be sure to inspect all your dog’s toys regularly, and replace any that are worn or have pieces missing.

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.

Before bringing your puppy home

Those little balls of fluff are adorable, but life can become miserable without accomplishing at least these five tasks first:

  1. Buy a crate. A crate is an indispensable tool for house training, as well as keeping your belongings and your puppy safe while you are gone. Crate-training takes a few days if your breeder hasn’t already started it with your new puppy, but most puppies take to it quickly if you are diligent.
  2. Choose your vet. If you don’t already have a veterinarian for other pets, ask your friends, co-workers or breeder who they recommend. If possible, schedule a “well puppy” visit with your veterinarian for the day after you bring your puppy home. (Most breeders will require the puppy be examined by a vet within 48 to 72 hours of purchase for the health guarantee to be honored.) When shopping for a vet, don’t hesitate to ask about recommended vaccination schedules, costs, restraint methods, and whether the clinic offers any “extras,” such as boarding or microchipping.
  3. Enroll in a puppy kindergarten class. A training class for puppies aged 8 to 18 weeks is a vital component of your new puppy’s life. These classes will not only get you started on the basics of obedience training and house manners, but should also allow your puppy the opportunity to play with other puppies. This is a must if you plan for your puppy to interact with other dogs throughout its life. Again, ask friends, your vet and breeder for recommendations, and visit the class in advance of enrolling, when possible.
  4. Prepare the menu. Decide before you bring your puppy home what food you will feed. Kibble, raw, home cooked or frozen — the variety of choices at the moment is astounding, so take some time to research options before selecting a food or feeding method. The solution is to choose an option that meets your puppy’s nutrient requirements, and that you feel good about preparing and feeding.
  5. Get some toys. What’s life with a puppy without dog toys strewn about the house? Choose sturdy, easy-to-wash toys that appeal to your puppy’s desire to chew. Rope tug toys and “puppy” chew bones are fine, so long as your puppy is only playing with them while supervised. Do not allow a puppy to chew any toy not specifically labeled for chewing (especially rope or cloth toys). Buy enough toys that you can rotate a couple sets in and out of your puppy’s life — they’ll be like new again!