Imagine the scene: the snow is softly falling outside your window and you are relaxed in your most comfortable chair reading your favorite book with your wonderful dog curled up at your feet…
Yes, we do play Frisbee in the house. One and half year old Bryn is obsessed. She comes from a long line of world class Frisbee dogs, so we encourage her to play all year round. We play with a 7" soft nylon disc in the house and practice short distance, tricks and foot work. We play with a 10" nylon disc outdoors in the snow. The nylon discs can be pricey, but if you keep your dog from playing tug and bring it in every time you play, it should last for years.
Now, for toys that your dog can play with by himself. Kongs are so versatile that in my mind they are the perfect dog toy. You can play toss and fetch games and fill them with peanut butter, cheese or canned dog food and freeze them. The girls spend lots of time trying to remove every last morsel from the Kong. I leave them with the frozen Kongs when I will be gone from home for a long time.
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On days when you can't get outside there are plenty of dog games and activities you can do indoors to keep your dog from getting bored.
We also have several different types of food dispensing toys such as the Buster Food Cube. My girls could play with these for hours. We have also tried some of the puzzle games with flaps, doors and sliders, but as soon as the treats are gone, the dog loses interest or they start flinging the puzzle much like they play with the Buster Cube. One of the biggest drawbacks to the puzzle toys is their price for just a few seconds of fun. Smart Aussies can have the treats gone in a blink of an eye.
One dog toy that Bryn particularly likes is a soft cube filled with squeaky shapes. She shakes the cube to remove the shapes and then plays with them individually. There are many such toys on the market – some with balls, farm animals and even puppies. Some manufacturers sell replacements if the squeakies get lost or destroyed. These types of toys keep Bryn very happy. Our 13 year old, Nellie, was also known to play with a ball filled with squeaky balls, so I would say that they are good for dogs of any age.
My girls especially enjoy games that make them think. I am a clicker trainer. My 10 year old, Sera, is my first dog that I totally clicker trained and she is nothing less than amazing. Just ask the folks at the healthcare center where she visits. Sera learned scent discrimination using the clicker which is used in tracking, utility obedience and search and rescue. Sera learned to retrieve using the clicker and she retrieves pretty much anything—which includes and is not limited to coins, keys, TV remote, and phones. Since this is not primarily an article about clicker training I will not go into it very deeply, but there are lot of websites and videos on clicker training and I urge a word of caution: Stick with the best – Gary Wilkes, Shirley Chong and the Queen of Clicker, Karen Pryor. Beware of imitators!
Our favorite clicker game is called "101 Things To Do With a Box". It is an exercise in creativity for you and your dog. Any box will do – something big enough for your dog to sit in, stand on, touch, etc. Laundry baskets work great. And, of course you will need lots of treats. This game sounds simple but there is a catch. The biggest temptation is to lure your dog into interacting with the box. Another problem is just seeing the big picture while missing small interactions with the box. I like to start clicking when the dog just looks at the box. The whole idea is to be creative. Click when your dog steps to the side of the box, sniffs the box, stares at you and back at the box. Sometimes I click if Bryn turns her head a certain way. Be creative! This is an exercise that helps your dog learn to think. You can also substitute a hearty "YES!" for the click if you aren't comfortable with the clicker.
Another favorite game we like to play is hide and seek. Of course you can play with humans hiding and dogs seeking, but you can also play using a plastic container filled with treats with holes punched in the top so the dog can smell the treats. Plastic deli containers work great. Have your dog stay while you hide the container and then release him to "go find". Make the game easy to begin with and then increase the difficulty by hiding the container in more inconspicuous places.
There are many more things to do with your dogs in the house. We have a tunnel set up in our living room and have had weave poles set up all winter. We practice rally and obedience. You can set up your own little agility course with household items. And you don't have to spend a lot of money. One of Bryn's favorite toys is a 5' braided fleece rope that I got from Border Collie rescue for a donation years ago. She throws it, plays tug with me and Molly and just runs through the house with it. The point is to use your imagination and have fun!
Keep warm and safe!
Sera, Molly and Bryn
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