5 Fun games to play on your dog walks.

Recall should never mean “if I run back to my owner, they will put me back on lead” but always, “if I run back to my owner, it’s fun fun fun time”.
Turning your recall practice into fun and games  and adding lots of variety will keep your dog coming back to you.
Remember, no matter how much your dog loves a certain food, toy or game if it is used all the time, the predictability of it will eventually reduce its value and make it less rewarding for your dog.

So, here are 5 games to play with your dog on your walks which will help strengthen their recall.

Hide and Seek.
When on a walk and  your dog is sniffing something, hide behind a nearby tree or bush, Call them “Come find me” and when they find you, get crazy happy and reward with a small handfull of treats or play one of your favourite games together such as tug or tennis ball. If your dog doesn’t head in your direction,  pop out from behind the tree so they can see you.
* Be carefull to not make the hiding place too difficult as this may cause too much stress for your dog, which will not be fun and may frighten your dog into thinking you have abandoned them.

The “This Way” Game.
This teaches your dog to watch you, as you’re unpredictable & that they may lose you if they don’t keep an eye on where you are going.
If your dog has gone further on ahead of you than you would like, call out “this way”,  before immediately changing direction. When your dog catches up, reward them by scattering a few treats on the ground. When you’ve done this a few times,  you can make the game even more fun by changing direction a few times before rewarding – so as they race up and past you, immediately change direction again calling out “this way”, repeat and then reward.
When they get really good, you can also begin to change direction without saying anything.

Two Ball Fun
Have two balls ready. Throw one ball for your dog to pick up and as they turn back towards you say your recall cue. As they they get back to you with their ball  throw a second identical ball as a reward and pick up the one they have dropped.
In time you will find you can perform your recall cue and when your dog comes to you produce your balls, play for a couple of minutes and then put the balls away and let your dog “go free”.

Drop treats and search game.
If your dog wants to go off sniffing, use it to your advantage.
If they come with you instead, you can show them where all the best treats are (drop them when they are not looking). Then when they follow you, encourage them to sniff and search close by.
The dogs will soon learn that returning to you is rewarding as together you always find the best stuff.

Orientation Game
This is a great game for dogs that like to stay at a distance from you when doing a recall or when loose on walks.
Get your dog to run in to you fast and bowl a piece of food through your legs, telling your dog to “get it” then turn round quickly and be ready for them coming back and throw another piece of food back through your legs.

An alternative to this game if you have a dog too large to fit under your legs is to toss the treat out in one direction, tell your dog to “Get it,” and then, as they get that treat and look back at you for more, mark it with a verbal cue such as “yes” and immediately toss another treat in the other direction past you. Repeat until your dog is racing back and forth.

 

Ok so I struggled to keep it to just 5 games so here are just a few more of the games we play on our enrichment walks that help them to keep their focus on me:

 

Go Back
We like to play this game with tennis balls but have also played it with a soft toy attached to a keyring.
Recall your dog back to you, then put back on their lead or have them walk off lead to heel, while you walk a few strides then drop the ball to the side of the path. Carry on walking then stop, turn around and release your dog back to find the ball. As they get good at this game you can increase the distance and hide the ball in varying levels of difficulty.

Go Around
Teaching your dog to go around objects such as a pole, tables or chairs  is a useful skill and a fun trick you can do when out on your walk by asking your dog to ‘go around’ a tree.

Natural Agility Course
We love to use the natural environment on our walks and find suitable obstacles like logs, fallen trees, tree stumps which give the dogs multiple challenges:  dog can go over, around, under, through and on top of obstacles.

Cheese Trees and Cheese Walls
Quite simply  hiding cheese or small pieces of sausage in the nooks and crannies of trees and dry stone walls for the dogs to sniff out using their olfactory skills.

 

And finally just a few more tips………..

I like to use a whistle as my recall cue as unlike your voice it doesn’t convey your emotions and is the same sound despite who is the handler.
During my time working for the Guide Dogs for the Blind, we would always whistle feed the dogs which helps to strengthen the association of the sound of whistle to good things happening.
Have your dog sit  and wait while you prepare their dinner. When ready, move a few feet away and give 3 short blasts on the whistle.  When your dog gets to you, put their dinner bowl down.

Any voluntary engagement or ‘check ins’ by your dog should always be rewarded with a tasty treat.

To begin with only call your dog to you when you are sure they will come back, there is no point in repeatedly calling when they ignore you.

Never tell your dog off for returning to you, no matter how long it has taken for them to decide to come back.

Now leave your phone at home and go out and have some fun with your dog.

 

 

So what exactly is canine enrichment?

 

The dictionary definition of enrichment is:

enrichment

noun

1The action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something,

2 The process of making someone wealthy or wealthier.

Here are some simple enrichment activities you could do at home with your dog.

So the goal of enrichment is to enrich our pet’s lives, not to just make it more difficult. When starting any Enrichment activity you want to start simple and easy to ensure your dogs don’t become frustrated. Make sure the dog will be successful, whether they are knocking food out of a toy or searching for hidden food/toys, etc.

Don’t completely ditch the food bowl but at times let your dog work to eat – Your dog is not biologically set up to have a bowl of dried food dumped down in front of him. He is a hunter by nature, meant to work for his food. Instead of feeding all his food from a bowl, use that food to get their mind working.

*just a note though, that although I advocate using a portion of your dogs usual food in enrichment activities, I also think it is equally important to still feed some of their meal in a bowl so that they do not get frustrated by always having to work for their food.
There may also be times that necessitate using a bowl and your dog still needs to be happy to use one.
Feeding from a food bowl can also be used for a whistle/food association which can help with recall. (Look out for more information on this in my next blog full of recall training tips)

 

Don’t throw out your recycling get creative with it instead by serving your dog’s food in a variety of ways:
Use empty plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, safe packaging materials.
Treats wrapped inside toilet roll tubes with ends folded for dissecting. These can also be hidden for searching fun. Or throw them along the floor for chasing fun.

Scentwork – Dogs have a large part of their brains dedicated to scent detection, and they just love to sniff!!   they crave it and they need it!!
It doesn’t have to be complicated –  You can just scatter treats, grated cheese or  make a kibble trail with your dogs usual food in your garden and let them hunt. On wet days, why not lay a trail around your house.

Snuffle matts, snuffle balls, activity matts – there are lots of products out there  that you can purchase in the pet shops to hide their kibble in.
It doesn’t have to be expensive though, you can use some simple household materials like folded towels or floor mops. Or why not have a go at making your own ‘interactive brain game’, I have even made one using some cheap mini plastic storage boxes.

 

 

 

 

Hide their favourite toy or even a special a cat nip scented toy.
Make it easy to start with by starting in one room of the house with few distractions, place it within sight and reward when they find it. Then begin to hide behind something, under something, in different rooms and when they get really good in the garden or even out on a walk.

On walks, stop and let them sniff, your dog sees the world through his nose, sniffing is mentally stimulating and provides them with important information about their environment, plus it gets them moving in all different directions giving them a full body and brain workout!
To quote Nancy Tucker ” going for a walk without letting him sniff is akin to going for a scenic drive but being asked to keep your eyes shut”.
So vary their walks as often as you can – take them to the woods, rivers, the beach and through fields.

Use the natural environment on your walks to set up little scentwork games and hide pieces of cheese or sausage in tree stumps or dry stone walls.

 

 

 

 

And lastly, don’t underestimate how enriching your dog finds just spending time with you having cuddles and being chatted to.

There is always something new to explore in my sessions from interactive puzzles to solve, different smells and tastes to enjoy or reject and different textured surfaces to walk over or dig in. There are objects to be explored that make noises when moved with a nose or a paw or walked over and activities that encourage foraging. There may be scent tracks to follow or scented items to find.
I will be posting more ideas and videos for you to try at home in future blogs, so don’t forget to keep coming back, but in the meantime check out  my facebook page to see lots more ideas and examples of the fun things we do in our enrichment sessions.
http://www.facebook.com/pg/sniffandwagg/photos/?tab=album&album_id=425760991200622

The Turbinates

Despite sounding like the latest indie band, The Turbinates are actually  a labyrinth of thin bones inside your dogs long nose that contribute to your dogs amazing ability to smell.

How Your Dog’s Super Nose Works…

Olfaction begins with sniffing and a dog’s nose is structured in a way to enable it to be very precise and skilful.

The dog has two nostrils  divided by a cartilaginous and bony septum. The tip of the dog’s nose – rhinarium – is typically moist and cool to touch. This moist spongy outside captures any scents in the air.

Having two nostrils means dogs can smell ‘in stereo’ which helps them determine the direction the scent is coming from. When a dog uses its nostrils to sniff, air enters the nose and is divided into two separate folds: one for breathing, and one for deciphering scent. Dogs exhale through these slits at the side of their nose which generates swirls of air that help draw in new odour molecules and allow odour concentration to build up as the dog continues to sniff.
This is why dogs will often be seen with their heads held up high repeatedly sniffing the air.

The dog’s long nose contains a labyrinth of thin bones, called turbinates. The Turbinates are bony ridges covered with mucus membranes that provide a very large surface area for the air breathed to pass over and therefore slow down the flow of air entering the nose.

Dogs possess another olfactory chamber called Jacobson’s organ, or, vomeronasal organ. Tucked at the bottom of the nasal cavity, it has two fluid-filled sacs that enable dogs to smell and taste simultaneously.

The posterior part of the dog’s nose is lined with epithelium which contains the scent receptors. To gain maximum contact, with the air containing the odour the neurones have hair-like projections (cilia). Mucus helps to trap and absorb the scent particles inside the nasal chambers and diffuses them to the cilia of the scent receptors. This interaction generates nerve impulses that send messages by the olfactory nerves to the fore- brain area. The area dedicated to olfaction – The Olfactory Bulb.  It is responsible for processing scents detected by the cells in the nasal cavity and is approximately 40 times larger in dogs than in humans.

“We might notice if our coffee’s been sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar; a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water: two Olympic-sized pools full.” Alexandra Horowitz, ‘Inside of a Dog”

 

Scent information travels from the Olfactory bulb to the limbic system which then interprets the odours in combination with other specialised areas of the brain.

As different scents are transported to different parts of the brain, different regions of the brain are responsible for making sense of the information, such as emotions and memories. The information travels to the cerebral cortex and onto the Hypothalamus Amygdala (limbic system) which is responsible for emotion. The amygdala passes emotional experiences to other structures that gather memories and these are passed onto the cortex.

When a scent and memory are paired an emotion is usually recalled and that will be remembered for future reference. If a dog has already smelt that scent before, the emotion it associates with it will be displayed.

For scent training, when perception of an odour is associated with a positive reward, this contributes to the motivation of the dog to find the odour.

 

 

Why give your dog a Kong?

One of a dogs instinctive behaviours is to hunt and forage for food. We can help to fulfil this instinct by using a Kong toy and by filling it with food, it provides dogs with a healthy outlet for their natural desire to chew and lick.
The effort dogs make to get their food from these toys can help to ease boredom, reduces destructive behaviours and can help to relieve any anxiety when you leave them for short periods.

How to use a Kong

Dogs need to learn how to get their food out of a Kong so if your dog has not used one before, start off easy otherwise they will become frustrated and give up. To begin with use small pieces of kibble that fall out easy then gradually make it harder by mixing in larger pieces or by adding cubes of cheese or chunks of vegetables.

Once your dog has got the hang of it, you can use any variety of your dog’s favourite foods. Just remember to ensure you do not use any foods that are harmful to dogs and if you use peanut butter, ensure you check the ingredients for Xylitol. Xylitol is an increasingly common sugar-replacement sweetener that’s in including some brands of peanut butter. It’s a natural sugar substitute that’s fine for people, but it’s extremely poisonous to dogs.
If you’re unsure about what’s safe to feed your dog, contact your veterinarian for advice.

If you are worried about weight gain or your dog has allergies, you can also feed your dog’s usual dinner in a Kong. You can put it in dry or soak it in water first then spoon into the Kong and freeze.

 

Sniff and Wagg weekly menu

After our walks, with owners consent, we continue the enrichment by leaving them with a tasty Kong, helping to keep them occupied for longer.

Here is a sample of our weekly menu:

Monday Morning Blues

Ingredients - Natural yoghurt with mashed banana, blackberries and blueberries.
Ingredients – Natural yoghurt with mashed banana, blackberries and blueberries.

Mash a banana and mix in a bowl with a few spoons of natural yoghurt, blackberries and/or blueberries.

 

Teeth-tastic Tuesday

Ingredients - Coconut oil, parsley, banana, cucumber plus a few sprigs of mint.Ingredients – Coconut oil, parsley, banana, cucumber plus a few sprigs of mint.
Blend the coconut oil with the mint and parsley and banana then stir through the diced cucumber.

 

Tail Wagging Wednesday

Ingredients - Scrambled egg, ham slices, peas.Ingredients – Scrambled egg, ham slices, peas.
Mix the scrambled egg with the chopped ham and peas.

 

 

Tongue Tingling Thursday

Ingredients - Carrot, chicken, grated courgette, low fat cottage cheese.
Ingredients – Carrot, chicken, grated courgette, low fat cottage cheese.

Grate a carrot and mix in a bowl with the low fat cottage cheese, grated courgette and strips of cooked chicken. Spoon into your Kong and for some added crunchiness place a full carrot in the end of the Kong.

 

Fishtastic Friday

Ingredients - Sardines, mashed sweet potato, broccoli, fish skins.Ingredients – Sardines, mashed sweet potato, broccoli, fish skins.
Steam the sweet potato and broccoli, then chop into chunks. Stir through the sardines and spoon into a Kong. Place a fish skin sticking out of the end of the Kong.

 

All these recipes can be served at room temperature or frozen for an extra special treat!