Over the years, I’ve made many New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, get organized, read more, and hundreds of other goals that became part of my never ending “To Do” list. But this year, I had a revelation and decided to do something different and so I made my resolution to find more ways of engaging with my dogs. Don’t misunderstand, I take great care of them, but sometimes, I’m so busy that I’ll give them a puzzle toy as a way of providing enrichment. Puzzles, are after all, great fun and stimulating, however, it takes me out of the equation because the dogs can problem solve without me. So as a way to be part of the activities, I came up with a list of fun games, using household items and a little imagination to provide lots of entertainment and exercise for you and for your dog.
Zen Walking: Here’s a fun indoor activity that can strengthen the “heel” exercise. Take three or four folding chairs or bar stools and line them up, say 6’ apart. With your treat bag filled with a variety of tasty food, put your dog on your left side (without his leash) and entice him to follow you as you weave through and around the chairs. Reinforce frequently in the beginning to get him in the game and use a variety of paces to hold his attention. So walk fast and then slow down; accelerate, halt, perhaps alter the path so instead of weaving, try circling around the chairs and then do a figure 8 to change directions. Your dog will think you’re VERY interesting and will want to keep up with you to see what you’ll do next and when you’ll offer a tasty treat!
Catch Me: This is a great way to strengthen the recall as well as good exercise for you and your dog! Take several plastic containers with tasty treat and put them in different rooms throughout your house (or fenced yard). With your dog nearby, call out “Fido catch me!” and take off running to any of the rooms with the food containers. When Fido catches you, reach for a treat and deliver to him. Wait for a second, and when he’s not expecting anything, call him again, “Fido catch me!” and take off running to another room!
Find It: This is a great brain game that taps into your dog’s superb sense of smell. Begin by allowing your dog to smell a tasty treat. Say, “Find it” and then toss it a few feet away for your dog to “find”. Repeat several times. Now put Fido in another room, and put the food in a small bowl and hide it in plain sight. Bring Fido back and cue, “Find it!” When he finds the food, make a fuss and offer more food right in the bowl. Once he catches on, you can raise the level of difficulty by hiding the bowl with food behind something. If you see that he’s having difficulty, remove Fido from the room while you put the food in an easier location for him to find. Remember it’s good to challenge him, but if things are too difficult in the beginning, he won’t want to play the game. After Fido becomes a master “Sherlock Bones”, you can teach him to find other things, such as tea bags, for example. Just have him sniff the new object, give a piece of tasty food, sniff and treat, sniff and treat and now you’re ready to put Fido in another room while you hide in plain sight, the tea bag. Cue, “Fido, find it!” Be sure to treat him generously when he finds the “treasure”.
Obstacle Course: Fun way to practice basic behaviors and to spark your creativity in finding a variety of household items to use as props. Here are some of the things you can use: Large cardboard box open both ends-use for a tunnel, chairs for weave poles, hula hoop for jump (prop between 2 chairs), yoga mat for pause area, ottoman or sturdy low table-for tricks (make sure you cover with a non-slip material).
Here’s a sample course: Walk forward to tunnel, cue “Through” and meet dog at other side. Continue to hula hoop, cue, “Jump”; now run to yoga mat; cue, “Down” (reinforce for pausing a few seconds); cue, “Heel” and walk forward while weaving together through chairs; walk to “table”, cue, “Up”. Now end with a paw trick (High 5) or spin.
Platform Fun: Great way to practice the stay behavior. Find a few different sturdy platforms. Look for fitness equipment such as Reebok Steps, or a child’s table. (Cover the table with a non-slip surface before starting.) This is especially fun with 2 dogs, as you can cue one dog to stay while working with the other dog, and then switch off, making sure that while you’re working with one dog, that the dog on the platform is getting reinforced frequently for staying! You can also cue your dog to stay while running circles around the platform or do some jumping jacks before releasing your dog to run with you!
The ideas are endless and your dog will think you’re magic. Sure you could just set a goal to get fit, but think of the possibilities when your best friend is part of the plan!
Happy New Year!