Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
April showers bring May flowers, but what do May showers bring? Grumpy pets. At least, this is the experience in my house currently. Sure, we have had a couple (literally, two?) days of sun this month, but overall it has been a very wet experience. So what are pet owners to do when every day brings rain, wind and grey? I will talk about some indoor play solutions and ways to keep your pets busy and dry.
My pets do not tend to be grumpy. They are wild, they are loud, and they like routine; but grumpy isn’t a typical descriptor. However, there is no other way to describe our recent days. While my dogs weather summer rain and winter snow, they are struggling with the windy, cold rain lately. When it starts mid-walk, and it always does when we are at the farthest-away point, they will tuck their tails and morosely walk back. My cat yells at me when she tries to embark to the screened-in porch, to be greeted by wind and rain blowing in. My horses have become mud colored, and the mud doesn’t even dry enough to get brushed off before it gets liberally reapplied.
I am not going to discuss keeping horses occupied or clean, but I will give you a couple indoor games for cats and dogs to help stave off boredom.
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 or all of their meal this way.
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. 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. 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 senses 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 (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 another mental game out of mealtime. 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. 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 shoots away when I appear. She will happily play this for at least 20 minutes at a time.
I have found that the best people to invent indoor play games with pets are usually kids. Somewhere along the way, we lose our inventiveness. This is perfect for homes with kids who are going stir crazy from the weather too.
In situations where we have 20 straight days of rain, some dogs benefit even more from going to active doggie day care. Training day cares can still help stimulate, but for social dogs, the days when they can play all day get us a lot farther. They get to wrestle and play all day with other dogs, and while they will likely be covered in mud, simply choose a day care that will wash your dog before they come home. Mud isn’t so bad, as long as it is someone else’s problem!
I have stopped looking at the forecast, since it either lets me down or gets me optimistic simply to turn to rain. However, I know two things. First, we are bound to get some more sunny days soon. Second, these games can be utilized all year long for when bad stretches of weather appear. And we know that they will!