Q: My dog really loves to run and have fun at the dog park, but our vet has suggested limited activity as he recovers from hip surgery. What can I do to keep my pooch entertained while he recovers?
A: Nothing says fun like a frisky, frolicking pooch on the go. But sometimes we need to curb all that infectious energy and get our dogs to sit, stay and remain calm. If your dog is recovering from an injury — or you’ve simply run out of ideas for fun on rainy days, try these low-impact suggestions to keep your pooch moving.
Tricks provide a phenomenal mental challenge for dogs. “They require your dog to troubleshoot, which requires a lot more mental energy than a sit stay,” says trainer Kate Jackson of Jabula Dog Academy in Decatur, Ga. “Dogs sit all the time without being asked.”
Start with the classics such as getting your dog to play dead. Start with a down command, followed by a treat. Then bring a treat to the dog’s left or right and very slowly move the treat in an arc toward the dog’s rear. The dog will (or should) naturally roll onto one side. Follow this motion by luring the treat toward your dog’s head and gradually add a hand motion or signal. Pawnation.com offers a handy video for those who prefer to see the steps in action.
Jackson also likes using the shake command, with both paws. Push the mental challenge by challenging your pet to shake using mirror-image paws. Offer your right hand so that your pet shakes with its left hand.
Lulu and I enjoy ideas from a book called “50 Games to Play with Your Dog” by Suellen Dainty. Lulu even pulls this book out herself on days when I’ve neglected her one-on-one time. Even after you’ve mastered a few tricks, it helps to practice them often. For overweight dogs, Jackson suggests cutting back on food and compensating with low-calorie treats such as carrots or grilled chicken during playtime.
Jackson also suggests enrolling in basic obedience or a tricks-exclusive training class, which is a popular feature at her facility. “With tricks, you can be sitting in the vet’s office with a bag of treats or in the house during pouring rain or 103-degree weather,” she says. “Tricks are so easy and portable. I cannot say enough about how awesome tricks are for dogs.”
Try a few brainteasers
Lulu has clearly established that she is no fan of interactive dog toys or puzzles, but Jackson notes that they can be great rainy-day staples. Look for options that hide treats and make your pet work for the reward, which is the part that frustrates my Lulu.
She quickly abandoned the chore of rolling her plastic treat ball to score snacks, choosing instead to wait patiently in front of the basket where her treats are stored. Learn from our mistake by attempting a few homemade hide-and-seek options before investing in pricey puzzles at pet stores. If your pet is overweight, it’s an option that may be worth the money.
“Mental exercises sometimes are more important than physical because an obese dog is not able to exert itself physically without hurting itself,” notes dog trainer Andrew Zbeeb, owner of Frogs to Dogs in Atlanta. “Mind exercises are good to help start the process, and trick balls don’t require overexertion.”
Take it slow
Zbeeb is a fan of low-impact activities such as swimming at a facility that specializes in water therapy. If your pet is reluctant to exercise due to pain from a condition such as arthritis or age, ask your vet about prescribing pain relievers, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, who works with many older dogs at Home to Heaven, an in-home pet hospice and euthanasia service in Fort Collins, Colo.
“I’ve used them in several cases to help get weight off of them, then they don’t need pain relievers,” she says. “Remember, they are just like us. If they are out of shape, start with one trip around the block with stopping to smell the flowers and gradually build from there.”
— Morieka Johnson