What To Do in a Polar Vortex

With much of the Canadian landscape under a deep and protracted polar vortex, making usual outdoor activities with our dogs much less pleasant and sustainable, now is a good time to think about indoor enrichment activities to keep our dogs entertained and active.

What is enrichment? Enrichment is the act of enhancing the quality of life. Enrichment can be any of a wide range of activities. The only criterion is that it must be something your dog enjoys. Since ‘quality of life’ is in the determination of the individual experiencing it, how will you know if something is enriching? You know your dog best and you probably have a pretty good idea of his mood. When your dog is finding something enriching, he will be eager to engage at the first sign of an opportunity. Enrichment is more than just a ‘cold day option’ – making enrichment an integral part of your dog’s life has important benefits: alleviating boredom (and eliminating undesirable behaviours resulting from boredom), enhancing your bond with your dog, enhancing curiosity and creative learning and more.

Types of enrichment:

Indoor physical activity: If your home has a good space for your dog to safely run around, there are a variety of physical activities you can do. Make sure traction is good and the area is free of obstacles that might cause injury to a dog intent on chasing something.
• Flirt poles: a flirt pole is a pole with a toy attached to a rope on one end. You can purchase commercial flirt poles (be sure to look for something appropriate for indoor use). Or – if you are into DIY, you can make your own with a length of pvc or pex pipe and rope (see url below) or a horse whip and paracord. Most DIY versions call for handles and rope / cord sections that are too long for indoor use. A rope portion of 3 feet is good for indoor use if you have at least 8-10 feet of space to work in. https://notesfromadogwalker.com/2012/04/24/flirt-pole/
On using a flirt pole for impulse control training: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZngak0ChcI
• Retrieve a ball or Frisbee: be sure your traction is good! Too much running with fast turns on slippery floors can contribute to hip issues.
Tug games: tug is a great game for strengthening your dog and keeping him busy. Be sure to tug ‘in-line’ with his body, keeping the toy low to the ground. Avoid twisting the neck from side to side or up and down as this can cause neck injury. If your dog takes the tug toy and vigorously tugs from side to side himself, that is ok – although don’t let this go on too long. Teach your dog that you initiate and end the game and reinforce him for dropping it on cue.
Treadmills: Cairn terriers are small enough to safely use human treadmills if properly supervised. Some dogs take to treadmills quickly and others take a bit more time. Do be sure to let your dog make the choice and use positive reinforcement with great treats to help make it fun for your dog.

Conditioning activities: conditioning activities are not quite as vigorous as the above activities and and can be done in small spaces. Gentle stretching and massage, dynamic stretching (active movement by your dog), balance on unstable obstacles and moving over irregular surfaces can help your dog improve strength, flexibility, and fitness. You can get a variety of useful fitness / conditioning tools from thrift stores and online marketplaces: balance balls, balance discs, inflatable peanuts etc.. A variety of things you will have around your house can also be used: couch cushions, step stools. Always consider safety first and make sure to stabilize obstacles and support your dog mounting and dismounting. Again, let your dog make the choice and support this with great positive reinforcement. If your dog has an injury – be sure to consult with your vet or veterinary physiotherapist before taking on new activities. Here are some resources to help you get started with conditioning exercises. https://www.clickertraining.com/click-to-be-fit

Mental challenges: Mental activity can be every bit as much or more tiring than physical exercise. There are many commercial puzzle toys available for dogs – or you can make your own using on line video tutorials. Often these mental challenges involve having your dog work for food rewards – but if you have a ball crazy dog, some challenges can be adapted for balls. Here are some DIY engagement toys for dogs:
Bottle spinner game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq85_kzB2SU
DIY dog engagement toys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEYUsjkZqvI
Snuffle mat: https://www.thehonestkitchen.com/blog/diy-make-your-dog-or-cat-a-snuffle-matt/
Snuffle ball: use the same procedure as for a snuffle mat – but replace the mat with a Hollee Roller ball or infant’s toy ball with holes (‘Oball’).

Training challenges: Positive reinforcement based training is a great mental exercise. You can work on your dog’s manners – polite greetings, walking on a loose leash, sit, stay etc., you can opt for ‘just for fun’ training and teach some tricks, or you can work on complex shaping exercises (see: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/training-tips-shaping/ ). Shaping exercises in particular are mentally tiring for your dog.

Work for your dinner: Wild canines spend a great deal of their time hunting and foraging for food. Domesticated canines generally wolf down their food in seconds or minutes. You can slow down meal times by using food dispensing toys, slow feeders and making your dog work for their food. You can also make mealtimes more interesting by scatter feeding or setting out food in multiple small bowls and hiding them so your dog has to work to find his food.

Scent games are especially great for indoor activities. With their vastly superior scent detecting capabilities and large area of brain occupied with reading, following and interacting with scents, most dogs find scent activities highly enriching. For a simple scent article take a small stuffed toy and stick it inside a mason jar with a tablespoonful of catnip in a teaball. Between play times, make sure the toy is 100% dry and drop it back into the jar. Start by encouraging your dog to retrieve the toy by tossing it a few feet away. Reward with something your dog loves if he brings it back to you. Gradually start tossing the toy further away – then hiding it in easy locations and then more challenging ones. Formal scentwork training is a great activity to get involved with and is enjoyable for dog and handler. Scent work classes are available in most communities and there are online scent classes through a variety of organizations.

So many options….Why not pick one and get started today?  Tell us about it or share your indoor boredom busters in the comments section.