Indoor Fun

Between the pandemic, rising temps, and the dust from the Sahara, our outdoor activities have been curtailed through June. In pursuit of new ways to keep Sasha entertained–and exercised–I turned to the American Kennel Club’s website and discovered cool tips and tricks for indoor fun. I compiled a few of my current favorites here. Enjoy!

Search & Snuffle

If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you may remember that the coffee bean grinder initially terrified her. (See, for example, posts here and here.) These days, she knows coffee time equals treat time and comes running in to wherever I might be to claim her prize. I usually roll a tiny treat across the oak floors so that she has to search for it. Great game for kitties, too! When I’m tossing a treat for Buddy The Wonder Cat, I make sure it lands in an open area so he can pounce and pat and knock it all about before he eats it.

Snuffle mats are another way to keep your dog mentally stimulated. As I mentioned in previous posts, snuffle mats can be a great way to distract your pup while you’re working at home. And with you close by, you’ll both enjoy the activity.  Some like to hide the breakfast kibble in a mat and let them forage for their food. There’s a rich variety of mats available online, and you can easily find sources with a quick Google search. Personally, I prefer the “use what you have” approach. I alternate between an old, loosely woven throw rug, a blanket from Sasha’s crate, and a large bath towel. This morning I used an extra-large old towel and rolled it very tight, tucking treats in at random intervals. It took her nearly ten minutes of concentrated attention to discover the treats.

Scent Games

Snuffle mats can be a great introduction to scent work. I like to give Sasha time with the Muffin Tin game (supervised by Buddy The Wonder Cat, of course.) I’ll hide a bit of hot dog or cheese in a few of the cups, while others use this as a way to make dinner time fun. Here’s a great video from YouTube showing how it works:

 

For more fun ideas, check out https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/indoor-scent-games-for-dogs/

Ready for more advanced scent work? Here’s information about the sport of Scent Work, courtesy of the AKC:

Fascinating fact: Dogs have a sense of smell that’s between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours! The sport of Scent Work celebrates the joy of sniffing, and asks a dog to sniff to their heart’s content; turning your dog’s favorite activity into a rewarding game. It is a terrific sport for all kinds of dogs, and is a wonderful way to build confidence in a shy dog.

In so many dog sports the handler is in control but this isn’t true in Scent Work. Neither the dog nor handler knows where the target odor is hidden. The handler has to rely on the dog, and follow the dog’s nose to success. In Scent Work, it is the canine who is the star of the show.

The sport of Scent Work is based on the work of professional detection dogs (such as drug dogs), employed by humans to detect a wide variety of scents and substances. In AKC Scent Work, dogs search for cotton swabs saturated with the essential oils of Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. The cotton swabs are hidden out of sight in a pre-determined search area, and the dog has to find them. Teamwork is necessary: when the dog finds the scent, he has to communicate the find to the handler, who calls it out to the judge.

Learn more online.

Shape Up!

Whatever your dog’s age, you can help them stay toned and limber with conditioning exercises. Use whatever’s handy around the house as props, and grab some yummy treats. If you’re counting calories or just not a fan of treats, use your happy voice, or reward your pup with a favorite toy you’ve tucked away and bring out only on special occasions.

Sasha and I have just begun working on the “step stool stroll.” Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The expression “Yeah, no” seems an apt description, at least for my efforts here. Give it a try and see for yourself. Here’s info from the AKC:

The idea is for your dog to walk around a step stool with their front paws on the stool and back paws on the ground. Although it may sound easy to you, dogs generally lack rear end awareness—where their front paws go, their back paws follow. This exercise really gets your dog thinking about what each paw is doing. If you have a small dog, try using a large book that has been duct-taped closed. For large dogs, an upside-down storage bin can do the trick.

Start by teaching your dog to place only the front paws on the prop. Once your dog is comfortable, encourage movement to either side while the front paws stay elevated. You can do this by luring your dog with a treat. Or you can shape the behavior by capturing any back paw movement and slowly building to a 360-degree turn around the stool.

There are more exercises and “how to” instructions available online. Check them out!

Multiply the fun with dog agility!

And finally, here’s something for the humans in the household. Learn about dog breeds and sports while strengthening math skills–a great idea for these learn-from-home days. According to the AKC:

Math Agility features fifteen playable dog breeds, as well as 60 different breed cards to unlock. To advance in the game, players solve quick math facts, with the option of focusing on addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Players take twelve tours across the game’s map to compete in different agility trials across the United States, eventually ending up at the National Championship in Perry, Georgia. Tours are available in three skill levels, appealing to students of various ages and academic levels.

 

I hope you found the information and ideas presented here useful. Whether indoors or out, there’s plenty of ways to keep you and your dog active and happy!

When Your Work-from-Home Colleague is a Dog

Photo credit: Mirjana Zidar/Shutterstock

As this pandemic drags on, many of us still fortunate to be employed are working from home and doing our best to juggle the chaos that can result when mixing professional obligations with life at home.  Add in a dog that wants to be a part of everything you do and this is what you get:

Or this:

And then there’s the one who insists on a front row seat:

Or maybe your dog prefers to get your attention by barking. If you’re using online meeting venues, that can be downright disruptive–especially if you’re online with your boss or a colleague who might not appreciate your pup’s “contributions” to the conversation.

My dog Sasha had a habit of barking whenever I was listening to recorded presentations or whenever she heard strangers’ voices during a Zoom or Microsoft Teams session. At first I tried shutting the doors separating my home office from the rest of the house, but that didn’t solve the problem. Eventually, I realized I needed to give Sasha more physical and mental stimulation. When I focused on giving her the attention she deserves, the result was a happy, quiet dog who now naps while I’m in online meetings. If this sounds like something you might need, read on for some simple ideas to help you and your dog.

Exercise. This is good for both of you! If you can go outside, walk briskly through the neighborhood. Have an enclosed yard or other area in which you can safely take your dog off-leash? Toss a ball or Frisbee–even a stick–to get your pup running. Sasha won’t chase after a ball (although she’ll watch Buddy The Wonder Cat chase after anything we throw). Challenge your dog to a “race”across the backyard, and reward with praise and a low-calorie treat. The 10-15 minutes spent exercising will make you both happy!

Indoors, use the stairs or a treadmill if available. You can also create your own obstacle course using chairs, tables, and anything that requires you to navigate your way around objects. Put on some lively music and with your dog on-leash, weave your way around the “course” you’ve created. Vary the route and pace. You might be surprised by the energy you expend with such simple activities.

One fun way to exercise body and mind is to practice Rally Obedience activities. This is a team sport that’s fun for people–and dogs!–of all ages. With kids at home right now, this could be a great way to help them focus while bonding with the family dog. To learn more, check out  https://www.akc.org/sports/rally/.

Training time.  I’ve adapted the format common in “learn a new language” CDs. I start with a two-minute refresher of the basics (sit, stay, etc.) and then focus our energies on something new and fun. We’ll toss a stuffed squeaky toy across the room; once Sasha pounces on it we encourage her to “Bring it!” and sweeten the deal with a bit of cheese or some other special savory treat. She’s good for a half-dozen rounds before she signals “that’s enough!” with a short bark. Since each round involves a lot of running back and forth, she’s getting plenty of exercise and earning those treats!

Whatever you choose to do, mix and match activities and vary the complexity of tasks, and train in short bursts of time. Ten minutes of fun can be a terrific stress-buster!

Search-and-Find games. Put your dog in a sit/stay or down/stay. Make sure they can’t see you as you hide treats around the house, and then release them with “Find it!” (Get the kids involved and you can get work done while they’re all busy.)

Looking for something different? Hold off on the dog’s breakfast and instead let them “forage” for their meal. Use a snuffle mat to hide some/all of their morning kibble and watch them work for their meal. If you’re a crafty sort, see this site to learn how you can make a snuffle mat.  If you’d rather buy one ready-made, check out these recommendations from PetGuide and Amazon.

If you prefer something simpler, grab an old (washable) blanket and fold it multiple times to create layers in which to hide kibble or treats. Bits of cheese or hot dog work, too!

Puzzle toys are another great resource when you want your dog’s attention focused away from you and your keyboard. Kong toys stuffed with peanut butter seem to be perennial favorites, and they’re a quiet source of fun. The Dog People have a list of popular toys, and you can find more at Chewy.com or your favorite pet shop.

Need more ideas to keep your dog’s attention away from your keyboard? Check out the AKC’s Trick Dog program. Sasha earned her novice certificate after just one day’s focused training session. Give it a try–it’s fun for people and pets alike!

A closing thought: we’re living in stressful times. Take care of yourself and those you love!

“Life’s short. Let’s play!” Photo ©S. A. Holmes

 

 

 

 

The Middy Chronicles

In Dangerous Deeds (book #2 in the Waterside Kennels series) Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie initially describes him as  “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and soon claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own.

Whether real or fictional, kitties certainly make life interesting for us! Here’s an excerpt of the tale of one kitty who earlier this year joined the household of award-winning mystery author Susan Cox. Susan admits finding the new addition to be a challenge. As she says, “I’m used to poodles–and poodles are very smart–but this cat seems ‘nuclear physicist smart’ and I’m not sure I can keep up.”

Read on to learn the latest in The Middy Chronicles.  (Middy, by the way, is short for Midnight.)

I can’t sleep tonight (although Middy’s sleeping just fine, thanks), so I thought I’d let you know how Middy and I are doing as we spend more time in each other’s company due to social distancing and lockdown and such. Short form spoiler–we’re doing fine.

Photo ©Susan Cox

INDOOR/OUTDOOR:
For a cat who was an outdoor cat until a few weeks ago, scrounging for bugs on the driveway and drinking from sprinklers, Middy has entered wholeheartedly into indoor life. When I open the door to offer her an outing she dithers in the doorway (the better to let in as many mosquitoes as possible) and then declines my invitation. I’m not sure why, but outdoors has been crossed off her list of acceptable places to visit. Indoors however, preferably in a patch of sunshine, is the bomb.

THE RED DOT LASER THINGY:
She’s figured out I’m responsible for the red dot laser thingy, and stares at the pen in my pencil pot when she feels like chasing it. I of course immediately leap to do her bidding which is how it should be, she tells me. The red dot laser thingy was cheap, so I found I had money left over to spend on other things.

TABLE SETTINGS:
I bought her two new dishes because…I have no idea why. I have a bunch of little bowls that have been working just fine, but they don’t match and they’re not cute. The impulse to buy the matching pair of very cute square bowls (they were $59 each, btw) was something to do with the availability of one-click ordering, and a fairly large helping of guilt about the mis-matched bowls. Not that she’s ever said anything about them, but a person knows, somehow.

MENU ITEMS:
So far the things she likes to eat include tomatoes, apples, canned chili (with sour cream), Havarti cheese, roast beef, yellow mustard, mashed potatoes, tomato soup and Pepperidge Farm coconut cake. She likes her tea with milk, and lemonade holds a strange fascination for her. I hasten to add, before you call the SPCA, that these are mere morsels and licks, not huge helpings. The things she doesn’t like to eat include milk, ice cream and chocolate.

THE NECESSARIUM:
This week I bought her a chic new litter box because, while the other one was fine, it didn’t have much in the way of panache. And panache, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a critical component of one’s litter box. The new one is a top entry one and it looks nicer in the guest bathroom. After worrying that she would find switching to the new litter box stressful, I watched her hop in and use it before I could do any of the things Google recommends as helpful to the transition. I may use the old one–although “old” is stretching it when describing something that’s only a few weeks old–for raising seedlings in the garden. So there’s that.

FASHION:
I found her a cute black collar with gold moons on it and a tiny bell and a half moon charm with a little cat on it. The collar looks so incredibly cute I may buy her a couple more in different colors. For the first few hours she found the bell distracting, sure it was chasing her and not too happy about it, but we persevered and now she seems to appreciate being fashion forward. She looks completely adorable.

TOYS:
I’ve been trying to get some writing done on my laptop, which I suspect Middy is unhappy about, because she tends to stamp around on my keyboard a lot. So I’ve been tearing out pages of my notebook and crumpling them up for her to chase. I’ve also made her a couple of “enrichment” toys by cutting holes in my Tupperware and filling them with small balls, and I made her some pompoms on strings to hang from the dining room chairs. I found a packet of shiny gold and silver plastic coins in the kitchen junk drawer and I toss them around for her to chase and kick the crap out of. She likes that. The house seems a bit like a Traveller’s encampment, but we’re both happy with the stylin’ Boho look of the place.

Catnip fish –looks like a new favorite! Photo ©Susan Cox

SLEEPING:
Even though tonight it’s eluding me, I do generally sleep quite well until about 5:30 every morning. FYI, this is about three hours before my preferred time for getting out of bed. For a cat who doesn’t even weigh five pounds, Middy has extraordinary strength and powers of hypnosis or something. She purrs so loudly I can’t possibly sleep through it, insists on head rubs and ear scratches, and then drags me into the kitchen to prepare her breakfast. So, I do that and then, if she doesn’t want to play with the red dot laser thingy, I sometimes go back to bed for an hour.

In short, Middy and I are learning to give and take. She is taking pretty much everything she wants; while I’d give nearly anything for a couple of extra hours sleep in the morning.

***

Note: Middy’s story and photographs are the exclusive property of Susan Cox and may not be used without the author’s express written permission.

Susan Cox is the author of The Man on the Washing Machine which earned the winning place in the First Crime Novel competition jointly sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America and Minotaur Books. Watch for The Man in the Microwave Oven (next in the Theo Bogart Mysteries) scheduled for publication this year. In the meantime, you can keep up with Susan (and Middy!) on her website and via Facebook.

If you like complex characters, strong plots, and a touch of humor, be sure to check out Susan’s work!