By Laura Dorfman CPDT-KA
Seems every other day I am having conversations with my dog training clients and friends about the lack of activity their dogs are getting in Chicagoland. Many areas across the country are experiencing “more snow” and “more ice” than ever. One friend has renamed her sweet eight-month-old French Bulldog, “Destructo Dog.” She knows her dog is bored and needs to run and play. She also knows when her dog goes outside, she can’t walk because the snow is too high and it’s freezing outside. So to my cabin fever furry friends, Rylee and Eloise, and to their human mom who has to hide her shoes again for the first time since Destructo Dog was a puppy: This is for you.
Back to Basic Training
The first thing to know or remember—even for people who have been training before —is that training is work. It’s fun, and still work. It’s a win-win situation, your dog loves it and it is energy draining. First thing I think of on a rainy day is: “Get the clicker. Get the doggie. Let’s train!” Whether you’re working on a special project with your dog or you haven’t picked up a clicker since you walked out of that last class, it’s like riding a bicycle. Your clicker-savvy dog will remember in a heartbeat and be more than willing and able to join you. Start with some sits and downs and then go back to what your dog knows and is comfortable with. If he’s a jumpy guy, put his jumps on cue. If he loves to crawl on the floor, name the movement and click and treat his crawls as he adds more distance.
Along with positive training and love, exercise is a key component to living with a healthy, easy-going, well-behaved dog. For some breeds it is extremely important to get outside and get some extreme exercise. This cold weather makes it tough for dogs and humans alike to get out and get the walks they need, the romps at the park, and playtime in their dog friend’s yard. Throwing a tennis ball with mittens makes it difficult to get the distance your dog needs for a great workout. Instead teach your dog to juggle indoors!
While watching TV at night, don’t TIVO. Those commercials which we dislike so much can now be a timer for training. Every time an ad comes on, do a small training session with your bored little guy. In those two or three minutes you can do a few sets with 10 repetitions, then end with a celebratory tug or fetch. If your buddy has trouble settling back down, then end earlier and use the last commercial to lie down and reinforce “settle” or “relax”. By the time the show comes back on, he’s calm and you can watch uninterrupted.
Make a Game of It
Incorporate the stairs if you have young, healthy dogs. Play “fetch” games sending the dog up and down stairs for a good workout. Change direction every once in awhile and send him down a hallway or into another safe area of the house. If you have an apartment where your dog can run, use the halls. Some larger dogs or apartments don’t make a good match for fetch. Use good judgment for the safety of your home and your best friend. Sometimes “Find it” is better.
If you have two people that the dog likes, start within seeing distance and have one person say to the dog, “Find MOM” (or Dad or Jim or Susie or Auntie or…you get the idea). MOM should motion for the dog to come to her; then as soon as he moves toward her, click and have a wonderful treat to offer when he gets there. Give the cue again to find the person he started with. When he gets to the person he finds, treat and praise then send him off again. As he starts to understand the “Find” cue, you can start moving further apart from each other and then out of sight. Find creative hiding places and have your dog try to find their favorite friends.
Even as just one person, you can use this approach to find favorite toys and treats. Put a good smelling treat under a blanket, towel or open piece of furniture and send your furry friend on an adventure. Don’t get too complicated until your dog has a very clear idea of what this game is. Some dogs give up if they don’t understand the task at hand. Or, if you get away from your dog, grab a treat or toy and yell “Find Me” (or whatever you call yourself to your dog). Remember, anything that your dog loves is reinforcement. Toys, games, a throw of the ball, treats, praise and a good belly rub can all be used as rewards.
Indoor agility can be a fun and creative way to exercise your dog indoors. If you have a small basement area or just get creative moving some furniture around, you can do indoor agility. A broom stick and some shoe boxes can act as jumps; the size and ability of your dog will dictate how many shoe boxes you need to stack. For dogs who are beginners or timid of new things, you can start teaching the “Over” cue just by stretching your legs out on the floor. Once the dog knows “Over,” you can move to other objects. For jumps through the hoops, a hoola hoop works great. Oversized open Frisbees work well for small dogs and are inexpensive, considering it’s a piece of agility equipment. For pause tables, you can use area rugs or carpet squares, the dog’s crate if it’s in the area. You can set up blankets draped over chairs, and tables for tunnels and shoots.
Meal time can also be a way to get some exercise. Freeze their meals inside a KONG or Buddy biscuit and let them have dinner in their crate (for cleanliness and safety if you have multiples dogs or small children). The frozen KONG meal can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to eat. I used this technique to feed my beagle who had a broken leg for six weeks and it was her best exercise of the day. She now also LOVES her crate more than any place in the house.
A good agenda and some creative ideas—even in a small area—can be a very rewarding and exhausting workout for your dog. Training sessions, indoor games and interactive toys can keep your canine friend busy. There are many new interactive toys for dogs to keep their minds busy. Check out a trusted magazine or dog groups to see which ones are most popular and fun for your dog. This way you won’t spend money on toys that aren’t getting good reviews.
So make sure your dog is fit for working and healthy for some indoor calisthenics and start those puppy-pushups. Your dog will feel better, you will feel better and your shoes and pillows will be safe from a bored chewer again.
About Clicker Training
Using a clicker, pet trainers and guardians train their dogs and other animals to associate desirable behaviors with a click followed by a reinforcement. This positive training technique shows greater results and rewards for pets and their families. It is now widely accepted by professional trainers as possibly the most effective method available. For more information about this method, visit the web site www.clickertraining.com.
About the Author
Laura Dorfman, CPDT-KA, owns kona’s touch, inc., a company dedicated to promoting peaceful, respectful relationships between dogs and their humans. She is one of a few Certified Pet Dog Trainers on the North Shore and an Affiliate of Pat Miller’s Peaceable Paws Program. Laura lives in Glencoe with her family, which includes three fabulous canine companions.