Boredom is the worst. When I’m bored, I want to snack, usually on high-carb stuff that packs on the poundage. Hey, Cheetos and M&Ms are brain food, right? It’s not just us humans who fall into bad habits, though. Dogs do too. At least we can control what goes in their bowls.
One of the easiest ways to keep your dog blissfully busy is exercise. Shadow-Pup loves games of fetch, and also adores games of wrestle-and-tag with Karma-Kat. Oh, and cats get bored, too. Here are my cat enrichment tips (with even more in an on-demand webinar). And when Bravo-Dawg was alive, his Big-Ball (water-filled tug toy) brought him joy even after the loss of his leg. Big dogs and working breeds challenge us to find ways to keep them happy. My colleague Angela at Big White Dog Photography offers some great tips for her own doggy soulmate that may resonate with you, too.
While physical exercise is important for dogs, they also need to keep their brains busy too! Besides, this hot weather means outdoor fun gets limited to early morning hours before we hit triple digits here in Texas. I’ll put together a dog enrichment webinar and booklet in the coming months. Meanwhile, here are my 6 quick tips to enrich your dog’s environment to help them stay mentally and physically active – and out of trouble.
Tip # 1: Tearribles Interactive Dog Toys
Shadow-Pup absolutely loves this toy. I got this for my Magical-Dawg, and he adored it. Then Bravo-Dawg inherited the toy, and he shared it with Shadow when he joined our family. Dogs want to rip things apart–well, mine do, anyway. The Tearribles are put together with Velcro, so the dog gets to rip off the arms, ears, tail, and legs. That’s hugely satisfying for destructo-dawg, but spares the toy. You will need to supervise, and reattach all the appendages over and over and over…or the dog may go too far. But Shadow will play with this toy for hours. I have to hide it on top of the grandfather clock when I can’t supervise, and he sits and stares up at it to ask for a play session. Smart dog!
Tip #2: Hollow Bones for Stuffing
Making your dog work for their food or treats can be fun. We have all the regulars, like the Kong and Kong Wobbler. But one of Shadow’s favs includes a well-loved (and gnawed) bone. He cleaned out the marrow, leaving the rough interior. That’s perfect for a schmear of peanut butter, aerosol cheese, or other yummy. It’s a great way to to focus his energy on a rewarding pastime. Don’t forget to provide plenty of fresh water to wash treats down with. Pro tip – If you use this, consider using it with some of their regular meals, so the calories don’t go crazy.
Tip #3: Squirrel House
Puzzles really keep the brain going and challenge your dog’s mind. I really like the squirrel house puzzle because Shadow gets to “disembowel” the toy by pulling the individual squeaky squirrels out of the house. You can find several versions of hide-away toys for dogs, but Shadow likes the squirrels best. Maybe because the real-life teaser critters drive him nuts, and he gets to take out his pent up frustration on the toys. He really enjoys the squeak sounds, too, and wants to play fetch with those. The house, once empty, becomes a favorite to head-shake and kill, and he often indulges “zoomies” with the squirrel house carried proudly around …and around…and around.
Tip #4: Try a game of Flirt
Families that play together, stay together! I spend two or more hours with Shadow every day. I spread that over the day, though, with morning time “snuggle” game (he does headstands into my lap), followed by “bitey-leg” (my fingers form a bitey-mouth that “bites” his legs). Both of these games are his choice, invented by Shadow—I try to listen to what HE wants to do. His new favorite is his flirt pole—sort of a glorified cat fishing pole toy, but heavy duty for the dog.
The plush toy squeaks and rattles—Karma-Kat tries to chase it, too! We get to have fun, bond while learning new words (it took him three repeats of “flirt” to know that new word). Communication goes both ways. We want dogs to listen to us and follow instructions and commands, but to learn how to teach them, we must listen to them, too.
Tip #5: Show them the world!
Shadow adores car rides. When the weather works for us, he goes with me to check the mail, run to the bank where he gets a treat, visit the Starbucks for a puppachino, or peruse shelves at the local pet product stores. With hot weather, he doesn’t get car rides as often. I work at home, so spend most of the day with him.
When we leave, he has floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the critters. Bird feeders and bird baths bring squirrels, hummingbirds, and an assortment of feathery creatures up close. We’ve had raccoons, bunnies, and possums visit–also coyotes, which is why he never goes out unaccompanied. That’s the one time, though, that we keep him separated from his best friend, Karma-Kat. The pair love to chase and wrestle, and I worry about potential accidents if I’m not there to supervise.
Tip #6: Go high-tech!
Of course, in the modern world, leaving to go to work doesn’t have to mean a boring day for your dog anymore. The industry is exploding with high-tech tools and toys that do everything from monitoring your dog’s food intake to watch and speak to them to, yes, enrich their lives! Shadow sometimes gets frustrating trying to explain to us what he wants—he just stands in front of us, paws us, and barks. So, I just invested in Fluent Pet, a system of buttons that record words and phrases that pets can then employ to communicate with humans.
I can’t wait to get started—stay tuned for updates along the journey. Shadow-Pup already knows about 20 of the suggested words (so does Karma-Kat), and now perhaps he can better explain to me what he needs and wants. Side note: Shadow stole the batteries and scared me to death, thinking he’d swallowed one (I found it, whew!). More about that in a future first aid post. Think he’s bored? Hoo boy…
I just need to work on paw targeting to teach Shadow and Karma how to use the buttons. My colleague at GoodDogConceptTraining.com shared this AMAZING resource I plan to use, and you can, too, for other dog brain games. Be sure to visit her great website!
More Dog Enrichment Resources
Dogs that compete in various canine sports have built-in enrichment opportunities. But there are informal ways you can interact with your dog. Potential Unleashed offers a list of fun, easy to do mental games you can play with your dog. And pet photographer colleague Darlene enjoys winter games with her dog (oooh, about now I’d welcome some snow!). How about skateboarding with your dog? Darlene explains how in this fun post.
Do you have a trick up your sleeve for keeping your dog entertained? Let me know in the comments!
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!