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Dog Tips: Play with your dog. Harder!

Updated on May 30, 2014

Zoos use enrichment programs

Are you (and your dog) stuck in a rut?

Every once in a while the local news features a story about the local zoo animals getting a special treat: ginormous pumpkins for the elephants; an huge ice block filled with treats for the polar bears; pine cones smeared with peanut butter for the primates.

These goodies are part of "enrichment programs" that modern zoo and animal facilities implement to enhance the lives of the animals in their care. Enrichment programs keep the animals engaged, interested, and happy.

What can you do to enhance your dog's life? Without a break in your normal routine, your dog can become lethargic, uninterested, and bored. Chances are if you're stuck in a daily routine, your dog is, too.

Enrichment doesn't have to take long, cost much, or require any special equipment. And it's fun for both of you. When was the last time you saw that doggy smile - that happy gleam in your dog's eyes?


Shake up the routine

Does your dog like apples? Do you even know?

Next time you're getting ready to wash the kitchen floor, play "fetch" with your dog with an apple before you do. You don't have to worry about making a mess - you were going to wash the floor anyway.

Catch the look on your dog's face when she grabs her new "ball" and crunches into the fruit! Is she confused, happy, excited? Does she love it, hate it, doesn't know what to make of it?

If your dog's on a special diet or shouldn't eat apples - how about playing "hockey" with an ice cube across the floor?

These games take just a couple of minutes, no special equipment, and will make your dog's day - giving her the one thing she craves more than any other - your time and attention.

How about playing "The Shell Game"

Everybody wins with the "Shell Game"

All you need to play is three cups and a good, small treat. Hide the treat under one of the cups and let your dog find it. Then you can start mixing it up - vary the number of treats, the placement of the treats, the room where you play.

Use what you find

A quick trip to the dollar store turned up these finds.

A back-scrubber, with or without a little bit of peanut butter rubbed on it, can be a great chase and tug toy. And if the dog destroys it after a single session - it was only $1.

Coasters can be used as training "targets." A treat placed on the coaster will teach your dog to touch the "target" after just a few tries. Which can lead to tricks like bow, or pray, or "think about it."

Small containers with lids, like this inexpensive soap-holder, can also hold treats. Your dog can have fun finding the container, fetching it, and getting the rewards inside.

Or you can use containers from the deli or carry-out restaurant for either treats or small toys.

You can be creative with treats as well - baby carrots, banana chips, or many other fruits and vegetables are fine for dogs. One of my dogs even enjoyed "tugging" with stalks of celery.

Are you having fun with your dog?

How much time do you spend enriching your dog's life?

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Teddy has a great selection of toys to enrich his life - but he doesn't get them all at once.
Teddy has a great selection of toys to enrich his life - but he doesn't get them all at once. | Source

Little changes can enliven your dog

Most dogs have lots of toys.

As part of your enrichment program - take them away!

"Hide" most of your dog's toys, only letting him have two or three available at any time. It gives you a chance to get all the others cleaned up and "refreshed." An old toy that's just come out of the dryer or dishwasher is a brand-new toy to your dog. It smells new, so it is new.

Dogs live in the moment - they're always present in the "now." He won't be devastated if the toy he loved last week disappears for a short time - he'll play with the exciting almost-new toy you just pulled out of his toy bucket/chest/box.

Around our house our dogs love their interactive plush toys, like the Zippy Burrows. Even these can get old if we don't think of new ways to use them. So we put surprises inside once in a while - a carrot, a ball, something our dogs know doesn't "belong" there.

© 2014 HopeS

How do you vary your dog's routine?

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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 3 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Many evenings I will take my dogs for long "smellathons" instead of their regular walk. It is boring for me, so I usually take my MP3, but the dogs take a long time stopping and smelling every branch and tree that has been marked by other dogs. They must love it.

      We played the shell game a lot when my Pitbull was a puppy but I am going to try it again with chunks of raw food, since they smell so strong.

      Great article, as there is always a lot more for us to do.