Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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January 15, 2013
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Pet column: Winter pet games to play indoors

It's too slippery to go out or too dark to be safe after work. It might be the severe cold or lack of energy from catching the flu or a cold, but many pet owners are experiencing the guilts for not providing exercise for pets this time of year. In spite of the weather, January is National Train Your Dog Month and also Walk Your Dog Month. Luckily, there are lots of indoor alternatives to outdoor excursions. Every interaction with your pet can promote good behavior and strengthen your bond.

Every time you move is an opportunity to train. "Heel" and "walk" to the kitchen, bathroom or den reinforces basic commands and get your pet in sync with you. Broom sticks elevated by chairs or piles of books provide an indoor agility jump in the smallest room. A hula hoop can be wedged in a hallway and raised as your pet's jumping skills improve. Hide and seek is an indoor treat game good for introducing or reinforcing "wait," "come," "bring" and more. Dog dancing turns any room into a ballroom. The list is almost endless. Online there are videos and articles to suggest games to play and lessons to teach. Even felines can be introduced to agility and to loose leash walking by starting indoors. In fact, according to a Petfinder.com survey, pet owners use training resources in this order: TV shows, books, websites and trainer classes equally, and videos.-

Both pets and owners have unique learning styles. Consider your pet's personality and attention span, endearing traits that can be reinforced to become tricks on command, his or her favorite treat or toy and individual tendency to stick with a challenge until succeeding. These factors determine how best to interact. In all cases, small linked steps leading to the goal combined with short sessions works best. Your pet should remain eager and you should maintain your patience and consistent direction. Even commercial TV breaks can provide opportunities long enough to play games and develop reliable tricks and behaviors in dogs, cats, birds and pocket pets.

A great place for ideas and support is dogtrickacademy.com. "Training Games to Play With Your Dog" is a featured activity on kidzworld.com. Basic commands like sit, drop it, leave it, wait, are incorporated with routines which strengthen your dog's attention to overcome distractions when you go outdoors. Treats can be substituted for meals. Measure out the amount usually fed and use the food as small spaced out rewards when you play. The pet gets exercise without gaining weight.

The games you play can be physical, mental or toy based, or a combination of all three. Just remember than Lassie wasn't trained in a day. Pets need repetition and positive reinforcement. All pets can learn to play games and perform tricks. Many of the Lassie dogs and other amazing performing pets were homeless, picked from shelters with no history and taught to become stars. Teaching yourself "pet language" and showing your pet how to play the games you choose simply requires learning more about your pet, observing and coaching to your team mates' strengths.

In addition to articles and dedicated web sites, good resources for games that eliminate boredom, stimulate pet minds, promote the behaviors you want and build your bond include Leslie McDevitt's "Control Unleashed" books and videos for creating a focused and confident dog, and "How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks" the highly rated popular classic by Dr. Ian Dunbar. The ultimate indoor game book just might be "The Dog I.Q. Test" by Melissa Miller. Subtitled "Measure your dog's brainpower and social skills and discover your strengths as an owner", the enlightening exercises can give you a whole new understanding and appreciation of your unique best friend and your relationship with him or her.

- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 15, 2013 05:08PM Published Jan 15, 2013 05:07PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.