No doubt about it, it has been a COLD and snowy few days in Kansas City! And since outdoor activities are understandably limited for man and beast, our dogs can get cabin fever much like we do. But unlike us, they don't have the option to ward off the stir-crazies with Facebook, binge Netflix movies or reading a good book! (at least MOST of them!)
So how can you help alleviate some of the boredom and excess energy that your homebound pup may be experiencing this winter? The key is to focus on THEIR MINDS. Yep, you heard that right. Their minds. In our well-intentioned quest to make sure our dogs get plenty of physical exercise, we sometimes overlook the fact that engaging a dog's mind is also a healthy, energy-sapping activity!
And what better way to get their attention than to bring food into the picture. Too often, we feed our dogs at exactly the same time and in exactly the same way every day, which is usually by putting their food in a bowl and letting them gobble it up. But when the temperature is in the single digits, it's time to get creative. Here are some fun ways to make your dog's daily feeding a fun-filled activity that will nourish their MIND in addition to their body!
- Breakfast / Dinner Scavenger Hunt: Split up your dog's normal meal into 3 or more small containers and place them in subtle hiding places around the kitchen or other room. You may have to help your dog at first catch on to the game, but once they realize what's up, they'll have lots of fun searching for the next stash! CAUTION: I don't recommend hiding food on a table or anywhere that you have restricted your dog's access!
- DIY Food Puzzle: An old muffin pan can make a fun puzzle toy that your dog will love to solve! Put a spoonful or so of food in each cup of the tin. Cover each cup with something that will be a bit challenging for your dog to remove such as balls, upside down plastic containers or small toys. Anything that they have to nudge or pick up to get to the food can be fun, as long as it's not a choking hazard. If you have a pan that you are going to dedicate as a dog toy, a couple of strips of velcro glued to the bottom will keep the pan from sliding around on carpet. NOTE: There are also lots of fun puzzle toys on the market, so check online or at your favorite pet store for additional ideas!
- Food dispensing Toys: I haven't come up with a good DIY version of one of these toys yet, but there are a wide variety of them on the market from which to choose. One example is the "Kong Wobbler" (pictured left, red toy on the right) which is weighted on the bottom and has room for about 1/4 cup of food in the base. Snickers LOVES hers and pushes it all over the living room, gobbling up pieces of food as they fall out and then whacking at it again!
- Earn It!: Turn feeding time into an extended training / practice session by asking your dog for a known behavior to "earn" their food. "Sit", "Shake", "Stay", hand touches or puppy pushups (Sit, Down, Sit, Down, Sit, Down.....) are all quick ways to engage your dog in listening and responding to you. You can also spend a little time teaching them something new. If you're running around the house doing various chores, this method is a great way to get your dog moving with you!
These are just a few ways that you can turn your dog's feeding time into a fun, interactive session to ward off the winter boredom blues. Your dog will love the change in routine, they'll burn off some energy and the two of you will have FUN together!
Next up on Saturday's blog: Beat Cabin Fever with Nose Games!