Winter IG Activities
Let’s pretend for a moment you are your dog. You have no job or duties besides eating, keeping someone’s lap warm and perhaps barking at a few strangers who dare pass in front of your house. Your days consist of a lot of sleeping, as do your nights. This might sound like a great vacation to us humans, but if you think about doing this everyday for your whole life, you would probably consider it very boring. Your body and brain would get no exercise. You would probably end up with some strange personality quirks like chasing your tail, licking your feet, chewing anything you can find, peeing wherever you want, and you just might get a little grouchy. Food becomes your only excitement in life, so you do everything you can to get some of that great smelling food your humans eat, instead of the same boring dry food they feed you every day.
When you bring a dog into your home, you aren’t just adding a little life to your own. You are adding a responsibility for a life that depends solely on you for everything. You know your IG makes you feel like you are their world, and that feeling isn’t too far off. As dog owners, we alone have the capacity to fill our dogs’ lives with excitement and stimulation, or leave them to be nothing more than a bored prisoner.
Dogs are domesticated wolves. We might believe we’ve bred out any needs other than eating kibble and snuggling by the fireplace, but this just isn’t the case. Many dogs are euthanized or surrendered because they did not meet their owners’ expectations, instead of the owners giving the dogs what they need. This doesn’t mean we need to let our dogs loose in a forest so they can track and hunt down their own food every day.However, we can help stimulate their brains and provide an outlet for their hereditary behaviors.
Thinking is Hard Work
The best way to tire out a dog is to make them use their brains. Winter is a great time to get back into or start an obedience class. Look for a class that uses positive rewards of treats. The trainer will be able to assess your dog and tell you which class level your dog is ready for. Obedience training will help you understand your dog, and your dog understand you, as well as strengthen the bond between you. Pooch Pedestrian offers great classes and is run by a very IG savvy instructor.
Agility classes are another great way to use up your dog’s energy and spend enjoyable time with your dog. Even if your dog is older or a little out of shape, a good agility instructor can tailor exercises to your dog’s abilities. Think Pawsitive is a great place in New Berlin for agility classes.
When taking classes, and even after classes are over, it’s always a good idea to have short 10 to 15 minutes training sessions at home as often as possible. These short sessions will work your dog’s mind, help tire him or her out, and make your dog look a lot smarter in class. Best of all, they’ll be entertained and you’ll be working towards living with a well behaved dog.
Make sure you and the dog are having fun when you’re training. Keep an upbeat attitude and always end on a positive note. If your dog doesn’t understand a maneuver you’re working on, take a break and try again tomorrow. It’s amazing how, after a break, my dogs often figure out the new trick they previously had difficulty learning.
Working for a Living
Most people’s dogs never have to work for food. Their families simply provide them with full bowls periodically. If this is the case in your home, dinner time is a prime opportunity to give your dog something to do. Instead of pouring food out for your dogs, make them work their meals out of a TreatStik™. TreatStiks™ are tubes with screw-caps on one end and small holes near the other. Fill the stick with your dogs’ dinners and let them figure out how to get all the kibble out through the hole. It might take some dogs a couple tries to really get the idea, but once they learn how, they really enjoy working the food out. And watching them is fun for you, too.
Other Puzzle Toys
There are many puzzle toys on the market these days to choose from. You can also make your own and use a muffin tin with a couple treats in each hole and a tennis ball on top of each hole. The dog has to knock off the tennis balls to get to the treats. Other puzzle toys include: Nina Ottosson, Treat Stiks, Kongs, Bob-a-lot, Linkables, Kyjen toys, etc. Watch Simon and Sophie below with their Nina Ottosson toys.
Hide and Seek
The “Where is it” game is a fun game you can play with your dog(s) anytime, anywhere. All you need is treats and an optional treat toy. Dogs love to use their noses, even IGs who are sighthounds! This game is great at keeping their minds sharp and giving a dog something to do when it’s rainy or too cold to go for a walk. The video below has instructions and a demo so you can play with your own dogs at home. Turn up the sound to hear Simon and Sophie using their noses to sniff out the hidden treats.
Most Italian Greyhounds are not natural retrievers. However, you can teach your dog to play fetch. Start with only your dog, you, and a soft ball your dog can easily pick up. Get your dog interested in the ball. Move the ball around, tease your dog with it, let him follow the ball movement and maybe even pounce. Praise any movement the dog gives toward the ball. If your dog is reluctant to go for the ball but is treat driven, you can get out treats and reward any interest in the ball. If your dog goes for the ball, the ball itself can be the reward. Once your dog is interested in the ball, toss it a couple feet. If your dog gets the ball, praise him and get silly about it.
Some trainers still tell their clients to never play tug of war, claiming it’s a game of dominance. They believe if you lost the game, your dog would start plotting ways to take over the household. However, if you watch wolves tug apart an animal, they are actually working together. You could think of tug-of-war as you and your dog cooperating together to umm… “kill” or “dismember” a stuffie. Tugging also helps build the muscles in their back legs which is a great exercise for agility. The great dog trainers of today use tug-of-war as a positive reward in training.
Dogs need to chew. Chewing exercises their jaws and since most dogs eat kibble, they don’t get to use their natural inclination to spend hours ripping flesh and meat from bones. Remember, dogs are descended from wolves! When we settle down to watch a TV show, we’ve found chewies can be great dog sitters.
There are many different chewies your dog would just love to sink his teeth into. SitStay.com has a wide variety such as Bully Sticks, Puffed Pig Snouts, Flossies and Porky Jerky Pumpers. Many pet stores carry Merrick chews, which my dogs all love. When evaluating chews, look for some that are 100% digestible and and are sold by companies that don’t use harsh chemicals when making their products. Many cheap rawhides do not meet these qualifications. If you have multiple dogs and they guard their chews from each other, you can always separate them when they have chewies by closing them into separate rooms or crating them.
Time to Think
Dogs, just as much as people, need stimulation for their minds as well as their bodies. During long cold nights, when many IG’s can’t last more than a few minutes outside, it’s important to keep them active with fun indoor games. The alternative is a dog that will do just about any naughty activity it can just to stay entertained. Hopefully you have learned a slew of games you can play with your dog indoors that will get their minds going, keep them mentally stimulated, and are enjoyable for both you and your dog.