Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
There seems to be a rule these last couple weeks that it rains when I am out of work and is sunny while I’m working. I can only complain a little, because we need the rain, but my dogs can complain a LOT. They don’t like thunder, they don’t love walking in the rain, and they definitely don’t love not walking.
My pets are usually pretty happy. They eat, the dogs walk, the cat plays and gets brushed, and then we sleep. What’s not to like? But the rain can ruin a lot of that. When it starts mid-walk, and it always does, they will tuck their tails and morosely walk back. I have terrible timing lately with the storms, so even if I miraculously start my walk when it’s dry, the rain is sure to come. My cat becomes furious when her sunny screened-in porch has rain blowing in instead.
Thankfully there are indoor games to make everyone happy. For my animals, these are a stopgap. They only work for a day or two, or as an addition to the short walk. But, thankfully for you guys, most dogs aren’t as high-energy as mine.
Games of fetch can be played indoors if you have a safe space without breakables. If your pets are physically able, stairs can help provide an exercise arena. Standing at the top of (safe) stairs and throwing a stuffed animal or ball down means that your dog has to run down and then back up. This can also be modified with kibble for cats or dogs. Throw one piece down the stairs and then ask them to come back up before repeating the exercise. Feed half of their meal this way (or all of it!)
Cats tend to be a little bit more elegant, but if your dog is crashing up and down and running into walls this may not be the best game for them. This game can also be played down a hallway or from one end of the room to the other. For one of my crash dogs we typically play in a safer spot, because his ACLs and my wood stairs are both at risk otherwise. It can be adapted as a chase-and-catch game in any space where you don’t mind pets running around.
On days that physical exercise is impossible, mental stimulation can help relieve some of the anxiety and excess energy. Do you ever notice that after a big project or when you had a test you were exhausted that night? Using your brain also helps tire you out. Hide and seek with an owner can be taught relatively easily to most dogs. Early on, hide in a room and call your dog then give them a reward when they find you. As they get better at this, begin to hide without calling them, which will make them use their ears/noses/dog sense to find you.
You can also teach your dog to follow scent trails in the house to stimulate their mind. This can be done with food or a piece of clothing with a strong smell (dirty socks!) and a food reward at the end. Many dogs learn to love chasing scents, and finding the clothing at the end becomes its own reward.
Splitting dogs’ meals into different rooms so they must search it out is another good mental game. Putting parts of meals into cupcake tins and covering the tops with tennis balls creates a mental game out of mealtime. They must move the ball to uncover the food. There are a few dogs that will just knock the whole tin over, but even that will keep them occupied finding the kibble. Putting their food into toys designed for slow feeding helps spread out their interest and keep them thinking.
Cats can chase feathers on strings and also learn to fetch toys like catnip mice or ping pong balls. Even if your cat only runs to get it and you must retrieve the toy, they are being stimulated. I play “chase” with my cat, where I hide around corners and doorways, then chase her. She clearly knows where I am, but she stalks to find me and then zooms away when I appear. She will happily play this for at least 20 minutes at a time. Engaging cats’ stalking and running reflexes also helps them get out some of their natural predator behaviors, which makes them happier.
I have found that the best people to invent indoor play games with pets are usually kids. Kids haven’t yet been worn down by the world, as our pets have not. They share a sense of adventure and ingenuity. This is perfect for homes with kids who are going stir crazy from the weather too.
Doggy daycare is also an option for long, rainy weeks. Most daycares have an option to wash your dog at the end, so you can get a tired AND clean canine companion back.
I’m sure we will be back in for a dry spell soon enough, but, in the meantime, keep these tricks and games in mind for your bored pets.