Help your dog beat the heat
It happens almost every summer here in Chicago. Soaring temperatures. Heat indices through the roof. Excessive heat warnings. Air quality alerts. These heat waves can last several days or even longer. What do we do with our doggies during this oppressive heat? There are loads of enrichment activities our dogs can enjoy while staying cool and safe.
First things first. Safety is paramount. Heat wave conditions are just as serious for dogs as they are for humans. Heat stroke in dogs can develop very quickly and can be life-threatening. Keep in mind the following safety tips during periods of extreme heat.
Walk only in the early morning or evening when temperatures are on the cooler side. Keep walks short in any case.
Walk in the grass and on the shadier side of the street as much as possible. Consider using Musher's Secret dog paw wax for some paw protection.
If your dog enjoys it, gently wet your dog before starting a walk. Use the gentle mist setting on your hose or wet your dog by hand.
Stay indoors most of the day. Do not walk or exercise your dog during the mid-day heat.
Provide lots of fresh, clean water throughout the day. Plan on more than usual.
Do not shave your dog's coat close to the skin. Dogs need their coat for sunburn protection, among other things.
Never ever leave your dog in a car in hot weather like this. Not even for a minute with the window cracked. Just don't do it.
OK, let's get into the fun enrichment activities! First up is box games. Box games are one of my favorite indoor activities. So easy and so fun! To prepare, save some package delivery boxes of a few different sizes. Save some clean packing paper too. These are the main supplies you'll need.
Now let's play! Start out easy. Then gradually make it more difficult and more interesting. Here are a few variations in increasing difficulty.
Put some smelly food or treats in a few boxes with the open part facing out, not up. We're just getting warmed up with this super easy first step.
Same thing, but now turn the boxes so the open part faces up. A little harder, but still pretty easy for most dogs.
Start adding some crumpled up packing paper to the box among the food bits. This will make it a little harder to find the food.
Now the real fun begins. Put one piece of food in a small piece of packing paper, crumple it into a ball, toss it in the box. Make a bunch of these. Include some food-less crumples too.
Same thing, but now place the boxes within one another. Do this without any crumpled paper first. Then gradually add more and more crumpled paper. The following video shows this level. Don't start here if this is new to your dog! My Sadie was already a pro when we recorded this.
There are hundreds, probably thousands, of different food-dispensing and scavenging toys on the market. The options are limitless. Here are my top 3 to start with.
Frozen stuffed Kong and Topl toys
An oldie but a goodie. Try freezing a Classic Kong or West Paw Topl with a combination of healthy-ish fillings like plain pumpkin puree, plain Greek or goat's milk yogurt, cream cheese, butter, meat baby food, liverwurst (gross, I know), a carrot stick, a freeze dried goodie, a little smashed banana, a few blueberries, and some super-food bone broth to fill up the empty spaces. Freeze a few at a time so you easily have them on hand. The combinations are endless!
Snuffle mat and nose work blanket
This is one of my all-time favorites. Awaken your dog's inner scavenger with a sniffing and food-scavenging snuffle mat. It's simple. Just toss some of your dog's meal portion and/or smelly treats onto the mat, spread them around so the food is nice and hidden, and watch your dog happily "find" the food like the scavenger she was born to be. Repeat, and watch (and hear) your dog have a blast! For even more fun, try a nose work blanket too!
Perfect for wet food, raw food, plain yogurt, cream cheese, meat baby food, or anything spreadable. Just spread some goodies on a LickiMat and let your dog lick the goodness out. The maze and texture requires your dog to really work through it. For even more of a challenge, freeze it first. A nice boredom buster!
Hide and seek
Another favorite indoor activity of mine is hide and seek. No special toys required! Here's how to play:
Ask your dog to "Wait." If you haven't trained a "Wait" cue yet, have a helper occupy your dog for a few seconds.
Hide in another room. Start with the closest room to make it easy at first.
Call your dog to you, using a special cue for this game (example: "Where am I?" or "Find Me"), or your regular recall cue ("Doggie Come!", "Doggie Here!", or whatever word you've been training for recall). You can also use a fun sound instead of a word if you like.
When your dog finds you, throw a party! Give her a treat and praise her like crazy.
Repeat in different locations, gradually making it harder with farther rooms and less calling.
For a variation, you can play with a helper and have the helper be the person who gives the cues while you hide silently. Then both of you throw a party at the location you were hiding. Not only is this a blast for your dog (and the humans), it's great practice for your wait and recall cues too!
Cool car ride
Enrichment isn't always about scavenging for food. Taking in new smells, sights, and sounds can be an enriching experience too. If your dog is comfortable with car rides, how about a slow drive through a shady forest preserve. A/C on, windows open. So many smells! Do your best to find the shadiest routes. If your A/C is on the fritz, go later in the day as the sun is getting low. A shady, forest-y drive might be a wonderful break for both your dog and you!
Since you're already in the car, how about a visit to a large, dog-friendly store for an air-conditioned walk? Many home improvement stores are dog-friendly and large enough to get in some good exploring and sniffs! If your dog doesn't enjoy meeting strangers or is nervous about new environments, this activity isn't for you. That's OK! You and your dog have plenty of other options to choose from.
Teach a new trick
Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Not me! Being stuck inside is a perfect opportunity for a dog of any age to learn a new skill or a fun trick. Does your dog know how to put her paws on an object? Does he know how to spin? Can she roll over? So many possibilities! Check out this Big Book of Tricks for the Best Dog Ever for some ideas and step-by-step instructions. If you've got kiddos in the house, you might also like 101 Dog Tricks, Kids Edition. Here's my Sadie learning a "paws up" trick at the age of 12! Old dogs sure can learn new tricks. And love doing it.
There are many other options for indoor enrichment activities to beat the heat. Here are a few resources you might explore for more ideas:
Canine Enrichment Facebook group
Canine Enrichment for the Real World by Allie Bender and Emily Strong
The Nosey Nose kit for scent work games
Stay cool and enjoy the fun!