The summer season offers us lots of opportunities to have fun in the great outdoors with our dogs. But, what about those days when it’s simply too hot to spend time in the sun? Having some tricks up your sleeve for indoor enrichments can help you keep your dog busy, happy and out of trouble. On days when long walks aren’t possible because of hot pavement or playing in the yard for more than a few minutes can lead to over-heating, use your imagination to have some fun. Whether you do some manners training, trick training or play some fun games, you can really keep things interesting and stimulating for your dog!
Here’s a few simple ideas for enrichment that can provide you and your dog with some good times- and a bonus is that you can really build in some impulse control along the way. This gives you more bang for your buck: having a good time together while working on improving training skills.
If you haven’t already, check out our piece on playing Tug with your dog. Tug can be a great way to release energy and when taught with rules, you’ve got a fantastic opportunity to build in impulse control and improve obedience skills. By making the game continue contingent on following the rules, we can have fun with our dogs and work on training at the same time.
Find It is a great game that can really get dogs going. Hazel loves Find It, though it took some practice before she felt comfortable with the boxes. I started out by placing her in a sit-stay and allowed her to see me place a few treats in random spots. Once she got the hang of that, I put her outside of the room and let her back in with the cue “Find It!” and from there we built up to the boxes. I place the boxes in random locations and she runs from box to box. At this point, not all boxes have treats in them, so she has to find the ones that do.
Clearly, she thinks this is great fun! I had to remove the flaps from the boxes, as they made her a little tentative. Once I did that. she seemed to feel more confident and enjoy the game that much more. As the summer goes on, I’ll increase the difficulty by placing boxes upside down and hiding the treats inside another object inside the box. In Hazel’s case, I need to do this slowly, because I don’t want her to get spooked or give up and decide the game is not worth it. For us, Find It is only worth it if it’s fun!
Look at that blurry tail. She obviously thinks Find It is fantastic! Find It is a great brain game which also allows dogs to use their noses and their ability to find a scent. And since the nose is a dog’s most powerful tool, we are offering them so much more than just a fun game.
This terrific graphic from Yaletown Dog Training shows just how amazing dog’s noses really are.
Flirt Poles can be a great alternative to Tug. It’s another game that really allows for a very active release of energy. You can get your dog jumping and running and also incorporate the “drop” cue to build in impulse control. Dropping the toy on cue gives you the opportunity to start again. Sometimes, just like Tug, you need to build some drive for this, and you can do that by being a very active participant and making the toy really come to life by moving it around a lot. Depending on how much space you have, Flirt may be best played outdoors, but, if you have a big enough indoor area, you can certainly play inside as well.
Flirt is a great game for releasing physical energy, and by incorporating “drop” into it, it’s another opportunity to build impulse control.
Work-to-eat toys can provide your dog with literally hours of entertainment, while getting their meals or special snacks at the same time. Hazel has a tendency to gain weight easily, so we are in the process of switching over to all work-to-eat. Might as well get a little workout in while having a meal! She also has a tendency to completely destruct even the toughest of rubber toys, like the Kong XL Xtreme, so I use marrow bones, which I fill and freeze. Because I am using them for meals, I use a mix of wet food and kibble, sealed off with a slick of peanut butter. But, you can get really creative with this and use lots of different types of stuffings as long as they are dog-safe.
It took Hazel an hour and a half to work her way through this frozen, stuffed marrow bone. And for us, a big benefit is that I don’t have to monitor as closely as I would a Kong or other rubber toy because she doesn’t try to rip it to pieces. I just put it down and let her go to town! We are patiently waiting for our Foobler to arrive, because when it does, we plan to give Hazel all of her meals with it, save the occasional special stuffed bone. Another good option is the Kong Wobbler though I have seen dogs try to just chew it open, some successfully, others just made a bit of a mess and rendered it useless.
Puzzle toys come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and levels of difficulty. The one pictured here is a very simple one, but Hazel really loves it. When we first started, I would put a treat under every block, but as she has gotten better at it, I now only put them under a few. As she knocks them over with her nose, she either finds the treat, or keeps going until she does. One funny thing about this particular puzzle is that I have seen dogs literally bulldoze through the whole thing at once! Hazel doesn’t- she very systematically knocks over each block looking for the treat. It’s fun to watch and she could literally play over and over. You could use bits of kibble instead of treats for this game if you wanted your dog to earn part of his meal by getting some activity at the same time.
Hazel and I are working towards Trick Dog certifications. So far, we have earned the Novice title and are about 80% of the way to the Intermediate title. Hazel has some anxieties, so I pick the tricks we work on carefully and some of them we have to go through and build very slowly. Which is fine, the whole point of tricks, as far as I am concerned is to have fun. We have done some tricks solely for the fun of it and that are not part of the program, such as teaching her to balance things on her head. Her biggest feat to date is balancing her Academy Award from The Academy for Dog Trainers on her head (we’re quite proud of the award and the trick!)
The best part about all of this? None of it has to be limited to hot days! You can do this fun stuff on cold winter days, rainy days or anytime you are looking to have a little fun with your dog or give her a little something to do to expend some energy!
We’d love to hear some of your ideas and how you enrich your dog’s life! Please share with us some of the things you do with your dog to keep things interesting, either in the comments here or on our Facebook page!