Beyond the Backyard

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By Kat Martin

Simply put, we love our dogs. We pamper them with yummy treats and belly rubs. We walk them, and toss the ball, and play chase in the yard. And that’s just the beginning! There are so many ways in which you can enrich your dog’s daily life while strengthening the bond you share and having fun to boot! Here are some of my favorite ways to offer health and happiness to your pooch pal.

Give Bowser a brain booster

You cannot underestimate the importance of exercising your dog’s mind. Dogs need mental stimulation just as much as physical exercise. Why? Because giving your pup a new challenge that requires him to think makes him more adept at learning things he needs to learn—such as obedience commands. It also helps tire out your pooch pal, and as you have likely experienced, a tired dog is a happy dog (and guardian)! Spark your dog’s intellect with these great brain boosting games and toys:

• Kong Wobbler: While the classic Kong toy is wonderful, it is not that challenging for most pups. However, the Wobbler is weighted on the bottom and has a small opening on the side. Fill it with some tasty treats or kibble, set it on the ground and let your dog have at it. Your pal can smell the food and then has to determine how to get said yummies out of the toy. The toy tips to the side then rights itself due to the weighted bottom. Hours of fun!

• Kong Canine Genius: Another awesome Kong creation, these durable rubber toys come in three shapes and feature cross shaped holes that can be used one at a time or attached to other shaped toys in the Canine Genius line. Once your dog is familiar with the first toy, you attach a second toy to make it more challenging. They’re bouncy, too, making for lots of physical fun.

• Nina Ottoson Games: These games were created to really challenge your dog’s IQ! Offering various levels of difficulty, these toys are created to be simple in the beginning (as your dog learns the game) and then to become harder as she figures out how to get to the treats hidden within them. Some have tops that your pooch pal must slide over to uncover the treats, some have covers that must be picked up or pawed away, and others have drawers that must be slid open and/or pegs that must be pulled in order to get the hidden treat treasures. My dogs adore these games. Each of my three pups plays each new game differently. It’s fascinating to watch how each pup approaches the game from a unique angle and to see their individual intellects at work!

• Premier Busy Buddy Toys: Some of my longtime favorites include Waggle, Bouncy Bone, Tug-A-Jug and the Kibble Nibble. Some are more challenging than others but most of these toys are fairly simple yet highly interactive, and most dogs really enjoy them. So get to playing!

Explore your world together

There are many exciting things you can do with your dog outside of your everyday routine. Approach new experiences slowly with your pooch, and never force her to do something she is too afraid to try. The goal is for both of you to have fun!

Take a hike. Percy Warner Park, Shelby Bottoms Greenway, Radnor Lake and many other natural areas throughout Nashville welcome your canine companions as long as they are on a six-foot leash. Even if your pooch is off-leash trained, keeping her on lead while hiking and walking is important not only to other park users but to prevent dogs from scaring and chasing after wildlife. If you’re up to venturing out a little farther, Bowie Park in Fairview has very nice trails, and if you’re looking for a challenge, Fiery Gizzard Trail near Monteagle Mountain offers twelve miles of scenic hiking.

Take a swim. Many dogs really enjoy swimming, particularly water-loving breeds such as spaniels, setters and retrievers—but keep in mind that some breeds (such as English Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Greyhounds and Corgis) cannot swim or do so with much difficulty. If you’re unsure, outfit your pup with a canine lifejacket and stay close by. Take to the lake and start in shallow water to see if it’s something your dog in interested in or afraid of. If she seems to enjoy the water, you can gradually swim out for her to follow you. Keep swim session short and slowly build over time to avoid exhausting your pup pal—and always be careful to avoid extreme heat and to provide plenty of fresh drinking water.

Try a new experience with your dog

Are you and Precious in a rut? Does that nightly walk around the block seem a little dull these days? Spice up your pet’s life with a new activity! Depending on her age, temperament, breed tendencies and overall health, there are several things you may want to try. And while choosing activities that are typically best for your breed or mix of breeds is a good way to start, you may also want to try one of the others out just to see. You never know which one your dog may really love!

Be sure to always check with your veterinarian before beginning any new activity to make sure your pet is healthy enough for the exercise regimen. Also, do your homework on any trainers you’ll be working with ahead of time to ensure that they have great references and do not use any type of punishment or force during training. Force and punishment are absolutely not necessary in dog training and the majority of veterinary and canine behavioral experts in the country have made statements to this effect. You can train just as successfully with positive reinforcement, love and patience… and it’s much better for your friendship!

Agility: The fastest growing dog sport in the country, agility involves training your dog to perform a series of obstacles set up on a course—such as jumps, tunnels, seesaws, A-frames and more. I have found agility to be an amazing bonding exercise for pups and their people. In addition, it is an incredible confidence builder for shy or nervous dogs. Plus, it really helps to teach your dog to focus on you and listen to what you are asking of them and is lots of fun!

Rally: Rally is another dog activity that is quickly gaining popularity. You guide your dog through a course comprised of various stations, each posted with a sign indicating what task your dog must complete there. Your pup must heel throughout the entire course but also will do things like slalom through cones, do automatic sits, lie down while you walk around him, perform concise U-turns and more. Rally is extremely helpful in teaching a dog to walk nicely on a leash. And, like agility, it’s fun!

Schutzhund: This type of training is typically done with the working breeds that have a good temperament for doing guard dog work. However, other breeds can do this as well. It is a type of protection training and is wonderful for teaching a dog to listen well and respond reliably to you and your cues.

Canine Freestyle: Dance with your dog! While this activity may seem odd to some folks, I personally find that dogs that do freestyle tend to be some of the best-trained dogs I’ve ever seen. It’s challenging, but offers fun for all ages and experience levels. Best of all, nearly all breeds of dogs absolutely adore it. 

Carting: Carting is an activity that involves having your dog pull a cart with varying degrees of weight in it. It’s the perfect way to give a “job” to a dog belonging to the larger working breeds, such as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Swiss Mountain Dogs and Rottweilers. They will love having a task to perform and it helps burn off excess energy. Other dogs, such as pit bull breeds, may enjoy it as well.

Tracking: Let your dog put his nose to work! Since canines generally come with an excellent sense of smell, this is an activity that almost any dog can do and enjoy, although hound breeds certainly excel at it. The idea is to give your pup a sniff of a particular scent, and then head out together on the trail to track it.

With all these ideas in hand, there’s no reason not to try something new and fun with your pooch pal today! Add some excitement to your dog’s life and experience a new level of fun together. Your dog will thank you for it, and your time spent bonding will enrich both of your lives a million times over. Have fun!

Kat Martin is the owner of Dogs & Kat Training and Behavioral Counseling and See Spot Eat: A Doggie Bakery. 

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