Search This Blog

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Having fun in the snow

Winter is still dragging on here in central Illinois.  It has been one of the snowiest winters for us in a while.  I know there are areas out east getting a whole lot more white stuff than us, but many dogs are getting tired of limited play time outside.  Bella, our family dog is one of those restless canines.  She will play inside but the call of the great outdoors has her pining for fetch and running around.
How can I get into the scarves now???
At our home, we do not have a fenced in back yard. So, for safe play  we use a stake out base with a cable for Bella to play on.  Now, the typical 20 foot length of cable is not really enough for Bella to get a good head of steam running about in the yard. We have devised a long horse lunge line connected to the stake out to give her more length.   The yard has about 80 feet or so of open space for her to play fetch with a willing human.  Bella really needs her running around, sniffing where all the bunnies and squirrels have been.  Sniffing every bush and tree is what keeps Bella happy.  My whole family knows this about her.  Having a safe outlet for this is what keeps her behaving best.  So for summer play in between long walks, we will take the Frisbee or tennis balls out and play with her. Thirty minutes of constant running around really poops her out and that gives us all a better evening.  

A few days into the first snow, I realized she was acting so naughty because she was not getting all the aerobic play she would usually get.  Walks were challenging due to the  ice and snow. What to do?  It dawned on me that she could still play on the line and that would be a great way for her to get short bursts of play especially when it is bitter cold. As her feet became cold, we could go inside quickly for a warm up and then go out again 15 minutes later.  She would overall get the running and sniffing in and be a happier dog.  So, Bella has been going on the line with me or my daughter for a rousing game of fetch at least a few times a week.

So if your dog is going stir crazy, and you do not have a fenced in yard, here is a way to help your pet get a lot of active play outside.  

Tie the end over the back not the chest
I purchased a horse lunge line to attach to Bella's harness. You can get these at Rural King, or check online for a horse supply source.   The harness will prevent Bella from hurting her neck if she suddenly ( as she does!) runs out after a squirrel and gets to the end of the line.  Most lunge lines are about 30 feet and made of a wide canvas webbing with a latch end.  If you have a Houdini that can twist the latch to spring free, use the latch end at the stake out part and tie the handle end to the harness with 2 or 3 throws to keep things secure.  You can connect 2 lunge lines together to get more length.  Tie this to a strong post on a porch or somewhere if you do not have a secure stake out in the ground. 

Now get 3 or 4 tennis balls, Frisbee or what ever your pet really likes to chase.  Throw the ball in one direction.  As soon as your dog gets the one ball call their name and throw the next ball in the opposite direction.  As they get that ball, throw the third ball in a third direction.   Keep this up.  Now your dog is going to be literally running all over the yard non stop.  Most dogs will carry the ball and drop it somewhere near you as they are on  the way to the next one.  Keep your dog running around until they slow down  or are spending a lot of time sniffing around.  This means they are getting tired .  That is a good thing!!!!  All that aerobic activity does help increase the calming chemicals in the brain.  Even though the ground is frozen, dogs can still smell all the scents in the yard which is also very stimulating for their heads.  Actually when everything is frozen it smells a bit different so your dog may be very intrigued.  Just bundle yourself up well and if you get too cold, then bring your pooch inside for a break. 

If you know your dog really needs a lot of active play, try this fun in the snow technique for a better behaved pet.  Winter won't be over for a while!

Bella chewing peacefully after her outside play

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

cabin fever crazy!

Winter is here and my dog and cat are going nuts!  

It's even too cold for the birds!

  When the weather gets horribly cold, it is really difficult to give our pets as much exercise and  play outside. Both dogs and cats will  act up due to boredom.  Feet freeze, making it painful to walk  or run much.  It is harder to find the ball in the snow or chase mice and birds that are hunkering down in the shrubbery.   Sometimes dogs may have accidents in the house because it is too hard on their feet to get “in position” to potty .  Their toilet area may  be covered with snow or just frozen, making it hard to smell the area.    Accidents are forgivable; they are also very aggravating.   Other ways that pets may act up in the winter is being more mischievous in the home. Cats may be knocking more items off your dresser or getting on the counters.  Dogs may be pulling things off shelves to get your attention .  You may hear more barking at squirrels out the window, or your cats may be swatting at each other more.

Bella likes her Buster cube food puzzle
What to do?  First of all, try to understand why your pets are behaving badly.  The house is no where nearly as fun as the great outdoors.  There are not as many places to sniff out, dig out or climb on top of.  So, to help cure cabin fever, make the indoors more interesting.  First be sure to keep the routines regular such as feeding and going outside. When you do feed make feeding time more interesting by using food puzzles rather than just feeding out of a bowl.  Both dogs and cats get a lot of mental stimulation figuring out how the heck to get the food out of the toy.  Meals in the puzzle, not just treats. You can see some videos starring Bella and Ranger using  food puzzles on my website
 To avoid accidents in the house,  take your dog out for short but  frequent breaks and praise praise praise when they get it right!     You may give them the first chance to eliminate, come in for 5 minutes (keeping them confined) then go on out again to finish up.  Outside cats may still demand to toilet outside.  If you let them out, give them some super yummy canned food just inside the house door to reward them for coming home. 
Offering a potty pad in the home may be another way to help out the toy breeds.  Reward the dog when they use the pad. Shoveling off some snow or making a path can also help the small dog go outside.   For the housebound cat, reward them after using the box and keep the box absolutely clean.  As soon as it is used, scoop it. 
Tom and Yodler enjoy Meadowbrook
Increasing exercise cuts down on boredom and can help pets get along.   Walking, even limited, is still good in the cold.  3 -5 minute walks are as good as one 15 minute walk, and more tolerable when it is below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.   Head halters and front attaching harnesses can make walking easier and safer for the humans as well.  Booties and coats do help and are not going to affect how your dog is used to the weather.   
Lastly, find ways to play and get exercise in the house.   Games of chase up and down the stairs, review obedience commands or teach them a new trick. This will decrease naughty behaviors that come from boredom.

Ranger with a modified window sill bed
  For cats use laser pointers they can chase, stuffed toys they can pounce on or boxes they can investigate. Cats really need to have their toys rotated every day to keep it interesting.  You don’t need many; just keep most up taking one or 2 down a day.   Be sure you have enough places for the cats to lay and perch on.  A step ladder set up with towels on the tread can increase the space to the cats.  Placing this near a window can relieve much boredom.
Make the home mischief proof at this time.  Remember that both cats and dogs can smell much better than us.  So even though you put the chocolate brownies way back on the counter, your dog or cat will be very interested in getting to them.  Be sure your garbage has a closing lid as well. 
So I hope everyone is warm, happy and not going too crazy this January.  Let me know what helps your pets avoid cabin fever crazy!  You can see videos featuring Bella and Ranger  at my website or our face book page.  Thanks!

Dr. Sally J. Foote DVM

Dr. Sally J. Foote