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Canine Cabin Fever

January 25, 2015

Here in the 'Burgh the Winter season has finally kicked in and cabin fever is rearing its ugly head. I am at a client's home, and we just got a few inches of snow. The dogs are enjoying it, but I don't relish being outside for too long. What can I do to keep them from being too bored? I realized that many of you dog parents are probably facing the same challenge, so I hope a couple of these suggestions help you.

Mini break. Short outings to the yard several times a day is a good and easy start. This helps break up the monotony with a change of scenery, not to mention a breath of fresh air.

Play with them. I cannot advise this enough. Dogs need you to interact with them directly. Play fetch, or tug, or hide and seek. One elderly dog I used to pet sit many moons ago, who was blind and deaf, insisted on playing hide and seek every evening for at least 15 minutes. This was the highlight of her day. With her great sense of smell and the vibrations she felt through the floor when I walked, she found me every time. I still miss those play sessions with sweet little Noel.

Treat toys. These can be wonderful, when used wisely. Rather than filling them with treats, I recommend using dog food, either their normal food or another one they really savor. If you use an open end toy like a Kong™, you can seal the end with peanut butter, spreadable cheese or pure pumpkin and freeze them. This can keep your dogs busy for quite a while as they lick the frozen spread to get to the yummies inside. Use multiple toys so you can have some freezing while your dogs enjoy the ones they are working on. If you have multiple dogs, you may need to supervise this toy time to prevent stealing and potential fights. One thing to keep in mind, whatever you are putting inside the toy has calories. You must reduce their regular food intake to compensate for the contents of the toy. This is why I recommend food rather than treats, which generally have higher calories and less nutrition.

Talk to them. Did you ever notice that, when you are on the phone, your dogs are suddenly more active and attentive, maybe even grabbing their toys? This is because they think you are talking to them, and they are listening. Tell your dogs about your day, its stresses and funny events. Tell them about what happened on your favorite TV show or what work project has you baffled. This helps you de-stress from your worries, bond with your dog and stimulate your dogs' brain.

A bird feeder. Yes, a bird feeder. We usually think of this for cats, but many dogs enjoy watching birds, chipmunks and squirrels at work. Place the bird feeder outside a window where your dog can easily view it. This can provide hours of entertainment, however, if your dog prefers to bark endlessly at furry visitors, you may want to skip this suggestion.

Small bits of new food. Find a dog food that your dog finds irresistible. While your dog is distracted, hide a couple kibbles in different places throughout your home, then help your dog search for them. You can do this a couple times a week. Over time your dog will continue to search for these delights, which will help him be more active. Consider your locations carefully before placing the food, though, because you may not want your dog digging up the couch cushions every day.

Teach them new tricks using positive-based training. Dogs, just like us, get bored. Learning something new stimulates their brain. When their brains have been stimulated, they are happier, less restless, and sleep more soundly. Plus you get the bonus of dogs who are more attentive to your instructions.

Let them smell. When you are cooking, come home from work or grocery store or gym, finish mowing the lawn, etc., let your dogs smell your hands and/or shoes. They smell similar to the way we read, and this is one of their favorite pastimes.

Groom them. If your dog likes to be brushed, take a few minutes every other day, and give them a light brushing, or in-depth grooming if that is their preference. Besides relaxing your dog, this will help lessen fur floating around your home. Double bonus!

Get them a massage. Massage is great for almost all dogs. It can help lessen stiffness for the arthritic dog, but it is also relaxing for the high-energy pooch that is climbing the walls during inclement weather. If you are in the Greater Pittsburgh area, give us a call at 724-448-7330 to schedule one.

Change the bedding where your dog sleeps. Something as simple as the fresh scent of newly washed or purchased bedding is an easy distraction for your dogs, as well as a pleasurable change.

A trip to the pet store. If you have a sociable, friendly dog, take it for a ride to the pet store. All of the delicious aromas and sensory overload of sights and sounds will tire out your restless buddy.

DOGTV. If you have DIRECTV™ and a dog that will not attack your television when it sees another animal, check out DOGTV. There are a variety of shows designed for stimulation, relaxation and exposure just for your dogs.

These are not all my own ideas. They are ones I have learned over the years. I hope that you, our readers, will share with us your thoughts on entertaining your cooped up pooch. Also, check back next week for our post about Kitty Cabin Fever.

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