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Canine cabin fever

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By Tracie Korol

It’s another day of smothery heat. The humidity is neck and neck with the temperature and the AC runs constantly. We’re all getting a bit crabby; even a walk to the mailbox requires resolve before, and icy beverages afterward. Your dog bursts out of the house expecting his usual run but stops dead in his tracks, turns to glare at you with the dog equivalent of WTF?.

We already know the important summertime safety tips: Do not leave your dog in the car alone, even with the AC running. Save the big runs for early morning or late evening. Keep our flat-faced and heavy-coated friends indoors as they have little hope of self-cooling.  Here are a few ideas for hot-weather, boredom-relieving dog fun when it’s Too. Darn. Hot.

Bobbing for Hot Dogs: Scoring food always ranks high among favorite canine activities. With a cheap kiddie pool and a few hot dogs you can engage your dog’s brain in the lowest-key way possible.  Fill the pool in a shady spot in the yard or the garage, pull up a chair and toss hot dog pennies into the pool for Best Friend to fish out.  You could turn this game into a teaching moment with cues or command review, but it’s just too hot to think about that. Just have fun.  Remember to cut dinner rations by an equal amount of wet hot dog. And, please, hose the slimy hot dog goo out of the pool when the game is over or you’ll have to buy a new pool.

Nose Games: We have a mere five million olfactory receptors in our noses, while our dogs have upwards of 125 million. That’s why our dogs sometimes seem distracted when we think there’s nothing of interest around; they’re reading the air. Having a big smeller is also great for indoor low-energy doggy brain games. An easy one to teach is find it!  (Your dog needs to know how to stay for this game.)

Ask your BF to stay. Show her a small, high value treat — a fingernail-size piece of cheese or freeze-dried liver is perfect. Tell her, find it! and drop the treat on the ground near her. Hopefully, she’ll find it in a split second. (praise, praise, praise!) Always starting from a Stay, do several reps, tossing the treats farther away, and have her return to you and the Stay.  The challenge: Put the treat down just out of sight — around the corner of the couch, for instance, or behind a table leg. Remember to show her the treat in advance, so she knows what scent she’s hunting for and cue to find it!.

When BF’s attention begins to wander, up the ante. Park her in a Stay and hide the treat in the next room. Or put the treat in the same room but hide it under a throw pillow or a shoebox. Up the ante again: put out three empty shoe boxes with a treat under just one of them. Take the game outside when it cools off.  Hide the treat above ground level — on a chair, or windowsill. BF will keep going as long as you have snacks and as long as you praise.

The Sniffy Walk: All dogs need regular, off-leash aerobic exercise to burn off pent-up energy. But when it’s too hot to move, it’s time for the pokey, sniffy walk. Sniffy walks, an important counterpart to aerobic exercise, meet doggy behavioral needs at any age. My granddog, now an elder gent, excels at the sniffy walk, going into a trance at a rock, a can or something else seemingly uninteresting to us. His thoughtful upward gaze, the one that makes you think that dogs do understand the complexities of the world, is the pay-off. Pure satisfaction!  Half an hour of nosing around, with pauses for inspection at every bush and fire hydrant, can leave your dog refreshed and content. I think it’s comparable to how we feel after we’ve had our coffee, read the paper, and checked our email. When it’s too hot to play fetch or wrestle with other dogs, slow, sniffy walks become even more important as boredom killer.

This week I have three giant dogs with me. Normally, we’d spend hours every day on long rambling off-road walks to burn off big dog energy. But this week we’re all flattened by the heat. Today, I placed a big sheet over the carpet and everyone worked on large, frozen bones, indoors, in the AC and in front of a fan. Then, nap.  We’ll go for a short run later. Maybe.

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