Hot Dogs and Hot Cats - Prevent Summer Boredom
This summer has had hotter and very humid days than what we typically see in Central Illinois. Even with air conditioning, pets are stressed by the heat. Luckily people are better educated about limiting walks for their dogs to the mornings and evenings, and to provide shaded area for them outdoors or taking them inside where there is air conditioning for them. For outside cats, be sure there is a porch they can get under, or a shaded area with a dog house they can get shelter in. Beware that cats go under cars during the heat so watch out for them there. What makes things stressful is the decrease in activity that dogs and cats get because they can't get as much exercise. It is about as difficult as when the cold winter winds blow in January.
So, a usually active dog is now bored with less time outside and the time that is outside is a bit hard on them. Often these dogs will start getting naughty due to boredom. You may find a usually calm, well mannered pet is now pulling pillows off the couch, barking more at people or cars going by outside, or extra exuberant when you come home. What to do? Life has to be more interesting and challenging on the inside now (even in a garage or basement if that is where your pet is) to keep them from getting bored. First of all you can buy a food puzzle/toy. This is kind of a big word for a toy that will have the food fall out of it as the dog or cat bats the object around to release the food. It is not mean, or punishing to do this. Actually this is exactly what an animal wants is to have to investigate or figure out how to get something good (food) out of some object. This is part of the reason pets chew to get the squeaker out of toys, or the stuffing out of pillows. You can find these food puzzles at some of the pet stores. We do have a few at our office as well. One by PetSafe is shaped like a flying saucer made of durable rubber. Other food puzzles made by Kong look like a buoy that keeps wobbling around. There puzzles are a great way to get kitty fit. They are also good for keeping an old dog's brain sharp. A second thing to do is have your dog earn its food by doing sits, downs and come when called for kibble. This may take a little time with you, but that is exactly what is going to save you time on getting your shoes back from your dog, or straightening out the couch 4 times a day. This "will work for food" program has your dog thinking and working which is what they want to do. When your dog is beginning to bark at things outside, call them to you and reward for that recall. This is how you interrupt that barking out of boredom. It also helps them to be a better canine citizen. Cats can also be taught tricks and use kibble or praise as a reward. Whatever play games are acceptable in your home set up at least 2 -10 minute play sessions with your cat or dog a day. Get them tired in the home. So throw the toys up and down the stairs in a 2 story home to use the stairs for exercise. Teach them to jump through a hula hoop or over a swim noodle. Have play time, then some training time, and then play time. If your pet is not a big one on play, or is not co operative then ignore any uncooperative behavior (like not releasing a ball during fetch). When play stops because they are not following the rules they will drop the ball. When that happens, give them praise and start again. It may be frustrating at first, but remind yourself that you can wait for them to do right. Be patient. When the days do get better, get back into walking and other play outside. Even if it may be one day here or there it is really refreshing for dogs especially to get on those walks to check their "pee mail" and see all the sights and smells about town. You may have to work them back up a bit to high activity as the weather is more consistent, but do take advantage of any weather breaks we do get. For more boredom breaking ideas, check out our other behavior articles or our facebook page. PetSafe company and Kong company have great websites also with good uses for food puzzles.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote