Posts in category Dog Enrichment Activities

We Don’t Find Time; We Make It:
Making time for doing nothing with our dogs

I was reminded just the other day of how important it is to make individual time for doing absolutely nothing with my dogs. Clover was scheduled to go to a class with me so I got Gambit out for a bit to exercise him since he wasn’t going. I let Clover sleep a bit longer. Since she is mostly blind, it takes her a lot of energy to process what is going on in her environment and class is very tiring for her.

Gambit and I played soccer outside and then we hung out for the next 40 minutes. We snuggled on the couch, we sat on the floor, we played with a toy, and he rolled over for belly rubs. We hung out.

I often schedule time to do things with Gambit individually, such as taking him for a private agility lesson, hiking with a friend and her dog, meeting up for a play session with another dog. And all of these are things Gambit and I do together and both enjoy.

But they are not the same as just hanging out together. Rolling around on the floor and just being silly together is highly underrated. And that was my favorite part of the day. We all hang out as a family but I hadn’t realized how rarely it’s just the two of us. It’s just as important to schedule time for us to just be silly together, just Gambit and I, and of course separate time for Clover too. After all, hanging out and just being silly are the best parts of having a dog.

Gambit and me on couch

Fetch is overrated! Try Soccer!
There are lots of ways to exercise your dog

Roka outside with ball

I don’t play fetch very often. I’m not against fetch. I just think soccer is often better. It takes a lot of effort for a dog to chase a ball and not all dogs find it equally rewarding to run back and give their precious ball to someone. If there is enough room to play fetch, then there should be enough room for soccer.

With soccer, there’s no conflict. I kick the ball, my dog runs and he gets to keep the ball he has. The main difference with soccer is it involves me moving around, which is probably not a bad thing. After I finished playing soccer today my phone informed me that I had walked for 12 minutes. That’s not too shabby. I walked half a mile, just walking around my back yard kicking the ball for my dog, playing soccer. My dog got exercise, I got exercise and he got to hold on to his ball. Everybody wins.

My young dog Gambit likes to run very, very fast and is not as good at deceleration. With soccer, the game is a bit more controlled and Gambit is less likely to hurt himself. I’ve trained Gambit to return the ball to my hand but soccer is still a fun activity for us.

My older dogs, Roka and Kira, are typical possessive German Shepherds and definitely prefer soccer or retrieving with 2 balls to returning and releasing one ball. My Golden Retriever, Clover, is mostly blind and playing ball is very arousing for her. She does much better when she holds the ball in her mouth and I kick a second ball that she runs toward by locating through sound.

Exercise solutions can be different for different dogs and soccer is only one solution. It just happens to be one of my favorites.

Here’s a super short video of Roka and I playing our version of soccer and Kira cheering in the background.

*Some dogs like to play goalie so be careful when kicking the ball and in some cases it may be helpful to teach your dog to back up before kicking the ball.

Gimme Paw! A Great Trick to Improve Fitness

Paw is a very cute trick that a lot of dogs are taught as puppies.

As dogs get older, paw is sometimes a trick people wish they hadn’t taught. Often dogs enjoy paw or shake a bit too much, offering it at inopportune times, such as when you are trying to watch TV or are wearing shorts.

But paw is more than just a cute or annoying trick; it is an easy way to help your dog stay fit.

When your dog is standing and lifts a front paw, he naturally offsets his weight to his opposing hind limb. This can help with building muscle and improving core strength, while at the same time helping your dog improve his sense of balance.

Teach your dog to give you paw from a stand as well as a sit to get the maximum benefit. You can have your dog offer paw before eating, before he goes outside, after a walk. Find ways to work it into your every day routine.

Here’s an example of Roka doing paw from a stand. Since he is on a platform it is more obvious when he shifts his weight. His right rear leg is a bit weaker and you can see how he moves off the platform to adjust after he has done paw with his left front paw.

Be sure to only reward paw when you’ve asked for it so you can watch TV in peace, but try to practice a few times a day. This is a great way to utilize a skill your dog may already have to improve his balance and strength. If your dog is a bit too crazy about paw, check out our training tip video on being picky:

And, if your dog doesn’t know paw or shake and you are interested in teaching him paw and other fun tricks, check out our self-paced online training class beginning September 12:

Happy Training!

Stir Crazy?

Roka at gate in snow 20160124

My dogs all like the snow but I have to be creative to keep them from getting too stir crazy.  They are used to spending a good deal of time playing outside and going for walks.  The massive amount of snow we got recently has changed our normal routine.  Outside time is shorter and they don’t have as much space to run around.

We’ve been spending more time playing in the basement. Gambit is working on discriminating between tunnel and mat and playing lots of tug and some fetch.  Roka and Clover are playing some ball and working on some conditioning.  They are all eating out of food dispensing toys and running around in the snow, as much as possible.  Kira is working on walking! And today Gambit and I worked on some crate games. He is learning to put his chin down in his crate.
Dog with chin down in crate

To provide your dog with some additional activity, you can creatively use some household items.  Empty boxes are great for nose games where your dog hunts for food in boxes and good for playing 101 things to do with a box (, including teaching get in the box.  Boxes can also be used for cavaletti where your dog steps through multiple low boxes to work on confidence and body awareness.  Large cardboard boxes can also be used to create tunnels for a home made agility course.

The muffin tin game is also a favorite where you can use a muffin tin, some kibble or treats and your dog’s toys:

If your dog likes the snow and to use his nose, you can find or make a place in the yard where the snow is low, scatter some of his kibble and let him hunt around for it. (This may not be appropriate in a multiple dog home if any of the dogs are resource guarders.)

And there are always tricks to teach!  Some favorites include figure 8s, heeling, play dead/take a nap, roll over, back up and spin.

Here are a few how-to videos from my Certified Trick Dog Instructor Application.  The figure 8 one is good for a laugh – Clover has quite a sense of humor 🙂

And make sure to do something nice for yourself!  Entertaining your dog for multiple days after a snowstorm can be quite a project!

Dog head down in snow