This article was written for Gray Ghost Stories, the newsletter of the Weimaraner Club of Northern Illinois. But the information applies to all dogs. Have fun playing with your dog!
Winter is tough on our Weims. Not because they don’t want to be outside, but because we don’t much of the time! So you have to get creative about how you are going to stimulate them mentally and physically so they don’t go stir crazy.
For those doing TRACKING, take time to strengthen your dog’s article indication and let your dog have fun in the process. Put a smear of food scent on the articles, I mostly focus on the metal and plastic articles, and hide them around your house. Send your dog to find the articles and have a party when they do.
If your dog is having trouble finding articles, you can put a tiny piece of treat on top or underneath the article when you hide it.
I made my article hides easy at first, then gradually harder.
TRICK TRAINING is another wonderful way to keep your dog busy. I love trick training, because owners have fun with it instead of getting all serious like they do with obedience training. Below are a couple trick training books that I like which are available from www.dogwise.com:
MENTAL ACTIVATION – WAYS TO STIMULATE YOUR DOG’S BRAIN AND AVOID BOREDOM
By Anders Hallgren
101 DOG TRICKS – STEP-BY-STEP ACTIVITIES TO ENGAGE, CHALLENGE, AND BOND WITH YOUR DOG By Kyra Sundance
Check out Emily Larlham’s Kikopup You Tube channel for hundreds of ideas of tricks and obedience behaviors: https://www.youtube.com/user/kikopup#g/u
K9 NOSE WORK is becoming quite popular amongst dog enthusiasts. Nose Work basically teaches your dog to become a police drug dog but without the drugs. Instead you start by having your dog search for food and eventually for three different scents, birch, clove and anise.
As a certified K9 Nose Work instructor, I have found that dogs benefit greatly from Nose Work. It gives your dog a job–let’s them use their nose for good instead of evil, builds confidence, teaches creative problem solving, helps your dog conquer their fears if they are afraid of moving things and helps build a great relationship between you and your dog. A 10 minute training session is said to be as good as a 20 minute walk!
If you are the competitive sort, you can work towards titles in Nose Work through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. There are four levels of titles. Go to their website, www.nacsw.net, to find out where to go for classes near you.
Until you can get to some Nose Work classes, start doing FIND IT.
◆ Scatter a few treats on the ground and say FIND IT. Point to the treats if necessary. Repeat several times.
◆ Once your dog understands FIND IT means there will be a treat on the ground, toss one treat on the ground, say FIND IT, and while he is looking for the first treat toss a second treat behind the dog.
◆ Start hiding the treats in plain sight, right next to the leg of a chair or table and send dog to FIND IT.
◆ Make it more difficult by putting the dog on sit or down stay. Let the dog see where you are putting the first FIND ITS. Then gradually make it harder and harder. The dog must stay while you are hiding treats all over the house. You can also stuff and then hide food puzzle toys to make the game last longer.
◆ Begin saving taller plastic or metal lids from products you use. Hide treats under these lids and let the dogs figure out how to get the treats out. The lids can be challenging to pick up for most dogs. They will have to use their brains to figure out how to get the treat out.
• Initially, play the shell game with two or three lids.
• Next begin hiding these lids all over the house and let your dogs find them and work to get the treats out.
Aerobic exercise can be a challenge for your dog in the winter. One of my favorite things is to play DOG STAIRMASTER with dogs.
To play Stairmaster, I recommend that you only play on carpeted stairs and with a dog with no joint issues. Get some yummy treats and start at the bottom of the stairs. Toss a treat to the top of the stairs and let your dog run up the stairs for the treat. Call her to come back down the stairs. Don’t give your dog the treat when she comes down, just toss another treat up the stairs again. If your dog won’t come down the stairs, just walk away and stop playing. She will quickly learn that if she wants you to toss another treat, she must come down the stairs. Repeat as often as you and your dog like. It takes the edge off a wound-up dog. You can also play by tossing toys if your dog is toy motivated, although I probably wouldn’t use a ball because it would bounce around too much and I wouldn’t want my dog leaping for a ball on the stairs.
TUG is another great physical activity to play with your dog. It is a great way to burn off stress and excess energy. When played with rules, tug can be a valuable tool for teaching your dog self control.
The desire to tug is best instilled as a puppy, by awakening your dog’s prey drive. Do this by teasing her with a toy and letting her chase it. Let her win much of the time. Gradually begin to add little tugs on the toy, very gently for young dogs, keeping the tug parallel to the ground. DO NOT move the tug upwards for your puppy as you don’t want to risk hurting her neck. Basically you are just moving the dog back and forth and not tugging hard. Do NOT play tug with your pup while she is teething. You want tug to be a good experience, and not a painful one, which can occur during teething. My tug rules are:
◆ You always control the tug toy by deciding when the game starts and stops. You store it away from the dog, and bring it out when you decide to play.
◆ Let the dog win a lot to prevent her from wanting to run away and “possess” the tug.
◆ Keep sessions short, 2-4 minutes or shorter (maybe even 10 seconds for some dogs), to keep arousal low.
◆ If one tooth even accidentally touches your hand the game is over.
◆ Get her excited and tugging for 10 seconds. If she becomes overly aroused more quickly, stop sooner, even after a couple seconds.
◆ You can get the toy back in one of three ways.
1. Ask for a DROP IT. A treat trade may be necessary initially.
2. Freeze the tug against your body so there is no play in the tug. Don’t tug back, just hold it. It will not be fun for the dog because you are no longer playing, and she will let go. The second your dog lets go, you can immediately re-engage her in tug. This teaches your dog not to guard or play keep-away with the tug toy because she knows she will get it back right away most of the time.
3. With one hand, gently and slowly take your dog’s collar underneath and raise her head up. Then wait until the dog opens her mouth and calmly and slowly remove the tug. If you move quickly, your dog will rebite the tug before you are ready.
◆ Wait for dog to sit spontaneously. Immediately mark the sit, pause, then praise quietly when the dog continues sitting calmly for several more seconds, then tell your dog GET IT (or something like that) and engage her in another short game of tug. Restarting the game is the reinforcement, no treats necessary.
◆ Repeat as often as you like, but if your dog’s arousal becomes too high, end the game. A little growling is OK, but not crazy over-the-top growling. That means your dog is overly aroused. If your dog growls too much, stop the game, wait for a sit, then reinforce by starting the game again. Your dog will learn that if she gets too carried away, you stop the game.
◆ Always store the tug toy out of sight.
The FLIRT POLE is another game similar to tug. It can be used to teach very good self control, give you an ON/OFF switch for your dog and give your dog a good aerobic workout in a relatively small space and in a short amount of time. Be sure to play with this on a safe surface, no slippery floors.
Here is a link to an inexpensive flirt pole which I really like:
Start by teasing the dog with the toy on the ground and getting him to chase it. When she is about to catch it, make it fly away into the air, like a bird. Repeat this several times. Eventually, your dog will stop and stand still. When she does, MR and immediately let her get the toy.
Once your dog has the toy, you have to get it back after a few seconds. Use the same techniques described in TUG to get your dog to drop the toy.
You can also play the TWO TOY GAME incorporating it with Tug.
◆ Start this game with two toys of identical or equal value. Get your dog excited about the first toy and throw it. Let her run and pick it up. When she is clearly on the way back and close to you, begin to tease her them with the second toy. Tease her with the second toy until she drops the first toy. When she drops it, immediately throw the second toy. Be careful that you don’t tease her too early or she will drop the toy too far away.
◆ As she gets good at this game, you can make it harder for her. After she drops the first toy, wait for a spontaneous sit with eye contact before throwing the second toy.
◆ The PhD level of this game is to wait for a spontaneous sit with eye contact and then require that she waits while you throw the second toy. This is tough but doable.
◆ This game teaches your dog to give up toys voluntarily to you, because she will immediately get another toy–there’s no down side for her.
If you have a human TREADMILL you can always train your dog to trot on that. You can view an old video of Maverick (R.I.P.) on the treadmill at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-Onj8Avk-w&feature=email. If you’d like to train your dog to walk on a treadmill, contact me and I’ll tell you how to get started.
When training dogs for treadmill work, be careful not to do it too often. Using the treadmill artificially shortens their stride and they can develop muscle imbalances if you do it too much. But occasional use of treadmills is fine.
Following are several different ideas:
◆ Dogs love to shred paper and cardboard. If your dog will not actually eat the cardboard, save toilet paper or paper towel cores. Put treats inside, stuff with paper and pinch the ends shut and hide around your house. Allow dog to find and destroy!
◆ Observe your dog. Watch for a cute thing that your dog offers naturally, say YEA as the behavior occurs and then treat. This is called “capturing” behavior — catching your dog in the act of doing a behavior on her own. One of my old dogs used to do a head tilt with her ears up and perked. I loved that and put it on cue. It was great for photos. Hope, my current dog rests her head on my lap or offers her paw, both of which I like and so I say YEA and treat.
◆ Play hide-and-seek with your dog. Put your dog on a down or sit stay, or have someone else hold your dog while you go hide. Then call him and let him find you.
◆ Instead of giving your dog his food in a bowl, put all his food into interactive toys and let him work to get it out. You could also hide your dog’s food toys so he has to search for them before getting to work on emptying the toys.
◆ Divide your dog’s food into 4-5 small bowls. While your dog is eating the food in one bowl, hide the others around the house so he has to hunt for and find the bowls in order to eat them. Change the hiding places each time.
You don’t have an excuse now to not be working with your Weim this winter. Try a few of my ideas and get busy having some fun with your dog!