Monday, Apr. 2nd 2012

Fun things to do with your pets

Veterinary Alternatives April 2012 newsletter

This month I thought it would be fun to list a bunch of ways to entertain your pet (and you as well). Some are for dogs or cats only, others can be done with both. The mental health of your pet is just as important as its physical health. Balance in all things!


1. “SPOT”—This works for dogs or cats and is not only a “trick” but also a help around the house when you are cooking, painting, or have house-guests. Pick an area for your pet to sit that will keep them out of the way but allow them to see what’s going on. I use a doormat at my back door in the kitchen—having something moveable allows you to do this in other rooms by moving the mat or rug. Teach your pet that they only get treats when they are sitting or lying on their “spot”. Start by just putting little treats on it. Then hold the treat and see if they go to the mat, and give them a treat when they do. Work up to tossing the treats at them from a short distance, then longer. My dog sits on his mat while I cook and I make sure I occasionally flip a piece of food his way (which he catches in mid-air) to reinforce this.

2. Laser chase—many people know cats love to chase the spot from a laser pointer, but many dogs do as well. This is great exercise, can even be used to reward behaviors or get a pet to go where you want them to, and is sometimes hysterical to watch, especially if they get a bit dizzy. Just make sure you never ever point a laser at anyone’s eyes, as it can damage the retina. So not a great toy for kids.  Please note, some dogs may get obsessed with this toy to the point of looking for it excessively or chasing other light sources, shadows, etc.  If you feel your dog may do this, or it starts to look for the pointer excessively after playtime, you should find a different activity and not use the laser pointer for that dog.  This is more likely in hunting breeds and small terriers.

3. Manipulative toys or puzzles—these can be found on the web, such as Amazon and other sites, and exist for dogs or cats. Look up dog mazes or cat puzzles. Find one that’s sized and built appropriately for the size and toughness of your pet so it doesn’t get damaged or parts swallowed. This is especially great for highly food-motivated pets and can be a weight loss aid by putting part of their meal inside one and make them work to get their dinner.

4. Dog trick training—see for more information. This is a REALLY cool site even if you don’t want to get heavily into earning titles for achieving different levels of trick performance—information on how to train, some good blogs, stuff about behavior problems—check it out! Training tricks using positive reinforcement training is a terrific way to bond with your dog plus it makes them a lot of fun at parties. The same techniques can be used on cats if you find the right motivator for them.

5. Performance events—again mainly for dogs. Including but not limited to agility (our fave!), obedience, lure coursing, rally obedience (like dancing with your dog), freestyle (even more like dancing with your dog), dock diving, hunting trials, tracking, herding, flyball, Frisbee competitions, and many more. Check out UKC (United Kennel Club), AKC(American Kennel Club), NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council), CPE (Canine Performance Events), and more. (I’d put links, but Google will work fine). There’s a sport for pretty much every breed, and many of these allow mixed breeds (or All-Americans ). There’s even a registry for AMBOR’s (American Mixed Breed Registry) so you can earn titles that way. There are clubs in the Kansas City area involved in most of these—a little research will undoubtedly turn them up.

6. Runs/Walks/5K’s—athletic dogs can go for long walks or runs with you and there are even paid-entry type runs intended for those with dogs. Just make sure you work up to the distance—don’t suddenly take your fat 5 year old Lab out for a 10 mile run. You may want to get a check-up for your dog before beginning running with them to make sure they can handle it, then start them off slowly. Some breeds are not well suited to this, but many hunting and herding breeds, and some working breeds, are designed to travel long distances. And just about any dog can enjoy a walk with you as long as you tailor it to their abilities. Cats, well, good luck with that. I’m told it’s possible to leash-train them using a harness. I’ve tried that. Like I said, good luck.

7. Joy Rides—No, not stealing a car. But many dogs, and some cats, just like to get out and travel someplace with you. Starting while they are young gets them used to car travel. Dogs in particular are often welcome on-leash in many parks and tour sites, but check the rules before you go. Make sure if you are traveling with your pet that they are properly collared and ID’d, and you have proof of their vaccinations with you. A microchip is great, but they should also have a visible tag with contact information for you. Take them for a hike, do a photo-shoot in front of an attraction, go to the dog-park, or just go for ice cream. Have a great time! Be sure your pet is properly secured while you drive, to avoid distraction or injury.

8. Therapy Work—Dogs and cats may both enjoy this if they enjoy meeting new people and have a calm disposition. Check out Delta Society and other organizations to see what requirements they have as far as training, disposition, and health testing that needs to be done. Therapy can vary from visits to hospitals or nursing homes to visiting schools where children read to the pet. Many animals love this and sometimes it’s amazing how people respond to them. This can be a very rewarding activity to do with your pet. Even more unusual pets can participate, such as birds, rabbits, and miniature horses!

9. Breed Appropriate activities—Do you have a dog bred for water retrieves? Try throwing sticks into a lake for them to swim to. Cats like small toys that move like mice or swing in the air like flying bugs. Is your dog a large mastiff type? How about carting, or pulling a wagon? Scent hounds like long walks in fields where they can use their noses. Do a little research and find something your breed was meant for and give it a try—it’s sometimes amazing to see your dog come alive when introduced to something that’s in their genes to do.

10. Companions—sometimes the best way to entertain your pet is to have more than one. Watching dogs romp together in a field, or cats stalking and chasing each other is entertaining for us, good exercise for them, and helps make everyone happy. That, of course, assumes the companion you choose is one that blends well with your family. There are some unlikely companions out there—Youtube is full of videos about cats who pal with bearded dragons, an elephant whose best friend was a dog, and the ever-famous baby hippo and Galapagos tortoise. If you go shopping for a companion, it helps to take your pet along or arrange a trial period to be sure they suit each other.


I hope this has given you some ideas, now I hope you go have some fun with your pets! Enjoy this beautiful spring weather!

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