Winter slump? Cabin fever?

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Cabin Fever is otherwise known as boredom, which (in a dog) can manifest itself in such destructive behaviors as digging, shredding things, and self-mutilation.  Your dog needs more activity.  A walk is good for you, and better than nothing for your dog, but he would much prefer a high-speed game of fetch or chase.  Exercises that involve the thinking process, and not just the limbs, are particularly good for your dog.Indoor Games:

Hide the cookie.  Even a dog with no training can play this game.  Most dogs like treats, and all dogs have a powerful sense of smell.  All you have to do is create the atmosphere, by showing the dog the treat and getting him a little excited about it.  Just hide the treat and have him search the house for it.  It’s fun to watch the dog “puzzle out” where you might have hidden the goodie (I fake him out by pretending to hide it in several places first).

Hide and seek.  Hide somewhere in your house and then call the dog.  If you hide in a closet, it will be extra tricky for him to find you.  When he looks in the room, doesn’t see you, and turns around to check the other end of the house, call his name again.  When he finds you, give him a big hug and a cookie.

Home Alone Games:

If your dog spends much of his time in your home while you are at work, you can still provide some educational toys for him to amuse himself with while you’re gone.

A Buster Cube is a hollow plastic block with baffles and chambers.  It looks like a die, with the dots representing 1 – 6 on the sides.  Treats come out of the hole in the “one” side of the die.  The dog can bat, kick or paw this toy around for quite a while, until a treat finds its way out of the hole.

A Kong Toy is a hard rubber toy with a hollowed-out center.  It has an irregular shape, so that it bounces and moves in unexpected directions.  You can fill the inside of the Kong with a variety of goodies, like cheese, peanut butter, cookies, kibble, fruit, vegetables, or anything else good for your dog.  The dog is kept interested by the changing menu emerging from his little “all day sucker.”

Another variation of the treat “exercise puzzle” is a standard brown paper bag with various kinds of treats inside.  The bad part is that the dog might shred the bag, but if you have a dog who was going to shred the curtains, anyway, cleaning up pieces of a paper bag when you arrive home would be the least of your worries.  Make sure that the bag has no staples, tape or plastic parts that your dog might ingest along with the treats.  Leave it on the kitchen floor for your dog to find, unwrap and enjoy.  If you have a dog which does not already shred your house, or one which would respectfully leave a paper bag intact, I don’t recommend this one.  You may teach him habits you don’t want to encourage.  I teach my dogs, for example, that just because there’s an open bag of treats on the floor in front of them, they are not necessarily entitled to have them.

Outdoor Games:

Most dogs love to run and race around, and if you can incorporate that into a game which also stimulates the mind, you are getting two for the price of one.

Frisbee.  Teaching a dog to catch and fetch a flying disc is “cheap” exercise.  You only have to stand in one spot for a few minutes with your dog, while he exercises every muscle in his body and has a lot of fun.

Fetch.  Many dogs will fetch sticks, balls, toys, or anything else you are willing to throw, for hours on end.  This is good exercise, and you can also add an element of problem solving to it by tossing the object into some leaves or tall grass, so that the dog will have to search for it.  Be careful with your choice of objects and their “landing area”.  If your dog is very excited, he could injure himself on gravel, a sharp stick or other debris in the area.  Always check out the ground surface of any area in which you plan to play with your dog.

Go to the park.  Many areas are developing dog parks.  These are special areas where you can go with your dog to enjoy the outdoors, and meet other dogs and owners.  Social interaction is important for your dog.  He may have been socialized as a puppy, but it is still important to practice his social skills with other dogs.  A large, fenced area, where the dogs can interact and play is ideal.  Make sure before you go that your dog is reasonably friendly with other dogs, is up on all of his vaccinations, and is free of parasites.  There may be additional local requirements for entering the park.

Buried Treasure.  If you have a dog which has access to a fenced yard all day, you can make his day much more interesting by sprinkling some dry kibble here and there for him to find later.  It’s much more interesting than eating it out of his dinner bowl, and it keeps him busy searching.  Again, I caution you, if you want to teach your dog not to pick up items from the ground, this is not a good choice.  But most of the bored, “problem dogs” have busy owners who are not going to take the time to teach that anyway, and it is a very quick way to give your dog something to do while you’re gone, and he’s home alone.  You can also teach the “eave it” command to let your dog know when it is not okay to pick up items from the ground.

There are many more activities you can engage in with your dog that will burn a lot of his pent-up energy: agility, swimming, skijoring to name a few.  These activities require more of a commitment, and possibly driving to another location to enjoy.  But, I guarantee that you and your dog will enjoy involvement in these dog sports.  It will get you out of the house, give your dog the much-needed exercise that he craves, and improve the bond that you have with each other.