Cabin Fever

With winter on our doorstep we start to live more indoors due to unpleasant weather and daylight becoming shorter. We don’t go out as much and we seem to get under everybody’s feet. Not having enough space around and routine summer activities coming to a halt seem to be creating frustration in our dogs. During winter months I see more resident aggression cases than any other time. This is usually due to redirected energy towards the wrong activity, object, dog or person.

Invest in some puzzle toys i.e. Kongs, treat balls, Tug-a-Jugs or think of new interesting stuffings for your dispensing toys. There are so many new ones on the market, you just have to ask your vetshops to get them, or buy a few over the internet.

If your dog does not mind the drizzle or rain and you don’t mind drying your dog, then throw a ball for him, while you stand in the door or on the stoep.

You could teach him some foraging games where he has to sniff out treats or a family member.

Laying treat trails could help and is also something you can leave him with when you go out.

If the sun pops out for a few minutes, or there is a break in the weather, take them for a quick walk, even if it not as long as usual. You’d probably have the park to yourself as most dogs don’t get walked.

Spend a few minutes each morning and evening doing some kind of brain work – like teaching him new behaviours or a few tricks, or refine some old behaviours, that you are not 100% happy with.

I have recently pick up the clicker again to teach my two dogs – who is definitely getting frustrated with each other  – new things like closing a cupboard and to look left or right on cue. “Why would you want that?” someone asked me. No reason really, I answered, but it keeps them entertained and thus less frustrated. They usually have a good snooze afterwards.

Just because they are old dogs, aged 13 and 9, does not mean they cannot learn anymore. Clicker training is good for older dogs, it keeps the mind young and active, instead of just wanting to sleep and be ‘lazy’.

Teach him to play the ‘shell game’. Where one treat is hidden under one of three cups and he has to sniff and then indicate somehow (bark, lie down, touch with his nose or paw tap) under which cup the treat is in, which he may then have as reward.  You can also do that in your two closed fists and when successfully you can incorporate your children to also hold out their fists – so that he has more fists to sniff out.

If you have a shredder at home (or at the office) stuff a box full of shredded paper and sprinkle some treats inside. The dog then has to dig and/or rip the shredding out to get to the treat.

Recall-tennis game will also increase your recall response. Have family members in different rooms (and they can swop during the game) and call your dog – if he comes to the right person, reward him. Make sure your dog has enough traction and is not running on tiles or slippery surfaces.

Tug of war does not require much space – just ensure good traction and that anything breakable is put away. Remember to keep the rules of the game. (See ‘To tug or not to tug’ on the articles page to playing safely)

Investigate if your area has a reputable puppy day care for puppies, a day care for older sociable dogs or organize play groups with friends or neighbours.

If you are going to the café, video store or getting take-away, have another family member drive with so that they can stay in the car with your dog. Going for a drive is fun for a lot of dogs.

© 2010 Claire Grobbelaar