DIY Dog Toys for a Rainy Day

It’s a rainy weekend afternoon and the last thing you want to do is take the dog for a long walk through mud and puddles, so you need to find another way to keep her occupied. It’s exactly that kind of day today so I thought I would share some ideas for fun interactive toys you can make for your dog using things you have lying around the house.

Of course you can use any interactive dog toy to keep your dog occupied, but it’s always fun to try something different and all these toys are essentially free and are a good way to recycle things you no longer need, there’s nothing to lose!

Empty milk bottlesMilk Bottle Mania

You will need:

Empty milk bottle (choose a size appropriate for your dog and throw away the cap)

Small-ish treats or your dog’s food

What to do:

1. Fill with treats and shake to get your dog interested

2. Enjoy the madness that ensues as your dog bats the milk bottle around to get the treats.

Toilet Roll Treat Toyempty toilet paper rolls

You will need:

Empty toilet roll or paper towel roll

Dog treats or chew

What to do:

1 At one end, fold two sides of the toilet roll in to seal it

2 Fill with treats or a dog chew for a longer lasting treat

3 Fold in the other end and present to your dog to destroy

empty cardboard boxBox of Doggy Delights

If you get a delivery which comes in a large box, let your dog enjoy it before you recycle it. Fill the box with treats, toys and scrunched up newspaper and help your dog rummage around to dig out its favourite treats and toys.

T-Shirt Tug and Treatdog-tugga-toy

Cut up old t-shirts or tea towels into strips to make a tug-toy with a twist. As you braid or twist your strips into a tug-toy, work in treats along the way. Your dog will have to chew and tear at the toy to get the treats out, which is great fun and will help clean its teeth. This is also great for introducing reluctant dogs to games of tug.

Puppy Piñata

Dogs love tearing up paper, and with this toy there is even a reward for them inside.

Yoneed:empty paper bag

Paper bag

Newspaper

Treats

String

What to do:

1. Stuff the paper bag with treats and torn up newspaper.

2. Twist the top of the bag closed and tie a long piece of string securely around the top.

3. Suspend the bag above the height of your dogs nose so he has to reach up and ‘catch’ the bag to get the treats.

As a variation on this game, thread string through the small hole at the top of a Kong and add a large knot to secure it. Stuff the kong well and suspend at nose level.

And finally, remember: before you throw anything away, ask yourself if it could be a dog toy!

afraid to throw things away

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Older and Wiser: Tips for Living with a Blind Dog

Most of us don’t like to think about our dogs getting older and the heartbreak which will inevitably follow. It’s easy to be in denial about a dog aging and cling to the idea that they will live forever and attempt to ignore the signs of aging. It’s also common to put stiffness, slowness and disinterest down to your dog being old and leave it at that. While it is sadly impossible to turn back the clock for your dog, by accepting that he is getting older you put yourself in a position to make changes that will make his last years as fulfilling as possible.

Age brings new difficulties and problems for dogs and owners; in these posts I will look at ways to alleviate the problems and help your dog get the most out of their golden years.

What to Do if your Dog is Going Blind

If you know your dog is going blind there are things you can do now to help him or her adjust:

03092012_Damien_speech_bubblesTrain Verbal Cues

You might think your dog knows verbal cues, after all we all teach our dogs ‘sit’ ‘stay’ and so on. But would your dog respond if he couldn’t see you? Often people train their dogs with hand signals as well as verbal cues as dogs tend to respond to these more readily. Even if you have not taught hand signals, dogs still pick up on our body language, position, facial expression and context as well as verbal cues when working out what we want them to do. If your dog is going blind he is going to lose all these visual cues so the sooner you can teach him to respond to verbal cues the better.

To retrain your dog using verbal cues simply insert a verbal command before you use the gesture or hand signal which he already knows. Try to use verbal commands which sound very distinct and alter the tone you use for each command as dogs respond well to tone of voice. Each time you ask your dog to ‘sit’ for example, give the verbal command with as little body language as you can manage, followed directly by the hand signal and a treat when he obeys.

The dog will come to learn that the sound ‘sit’ is always followed by the hand signal and will start to sit when he hears the cue. Gradually lengthen the time between the cue and the hand signal until your dog is reliably sitting after the verbal cue. At this point you can begin to phase out the signal.

Train New Commands

blind-dog

It will quickly become apparent that you can teach your dog commands to help him cope with not being able to see. ‘Stop’is important if your dog is about to get into a dangerous situation, as is a ‘down stay’ from a distance if he can achieve it. ‘Up’ and ‘down’ for steps are also very useful. The onset of blindness is also a good time to brush up on leadwalking; trying to ‘steer’ a blind dog through a busy street is not easy and if he is responsive on the lead it will be ten times easier! It might be a good idea to start using a harness, which will give you more control: you can even get harnesses that let other people know your dog is blind. If you are going to let your blind dog off the lead it should be in a safe place and he must have cast-iron recall (unless he’s so slow you can easily catch  him). Remember he doesn’t know what’s in front of him, and it could be a river, electric fence or a busy road.

Keep his Environment Familiar

Blind dogs adapt surprisingly well to their surroundings and acquire a mental ‘map’ of places and routes they know well. Having said that, if your dog is already familiar with the layout of your home, changing it frequently will be stressful for him, so try to keep redecorating and new room layouts to a minimum.

Help him Navigate

plan_revised_111710Think about investing in stairgates if you dog is no longer confident navigating the stairs. You can also consider dabbing scents such as essential oils in different parts of your house such as steps, doorways and top and bottom steps of thestaircase, or use these specially designed scented stickers. (Ever since BlindDog wandered into our neighbour’s house one summer, we keep a potted herb by our door so she knows which house is hers.) You could also use plants in front of obstacles in the house and garden so the dog brushes the plants before he hits the obstacle. Putting down woodchippings would work well to indicate outdoor obstacles (trees, washing lines etc) and rugs or carpet tiles for indoor obstacles: the dog feels a different texture underfoot and learns to change direction.

Finally, try to be consistent about which doors are kept open or shut and try not to leave things lying around. It’s not fun for your dog to be constantly tripping over and walking into things (although I can’t promise never to have laughed. Sorry!)

Communicate through Sound

PONTING_1911_Dog_Listening_to_Gramophone_Antartica

Your dog is going to have to learn to navigate and communicate through sound, and you are going to have to learn not tobe embarrassed by this in public! You can train your dog to come to you or follow you by either clicking your tongue or fingers as in this video. This is also a good way to alert you dog to your presence, or to wake him up so you don’t startle him. It could also be a good idea to attach bells to other pets, small children and even yourself so your dog knows when they’re nearby.

Your dog is relying entirely on sound and smell to locate you, so using loud distinct sounds will be useful over longer distances. Try clapping to get your dog to come to you, or train him to a dog whistle. Incidently, clicker training also works well with blind dogs as they respond to the clear sound and it helps them know exactly when they’ve done the right thing.

Finally, it is important to remember that a blind dog has lost a secondary, not a primary sense and with a few adjustments and a little practice, most blind dogs can live full and happy lives.

Check back soon for more posts with advice on living with elderly dogs.

Best Toys for Blind Dogs: Noisy Toys

A lot of people have come to this blog looking for advice on living with a blind dog, and in particular toys that are  suitable for blind or partially sighted dogs. Most of the interactive toys that we review are suitable for blind dogs, deaf dogs and dogs with all 5 senses, and they have been tried and tested by BlindDog.

toss-and-shake-146

Many owners of blind dogs are worried that they will lead limited and unhappy lives as a result of their disability, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most dogs adapt very well to having reduced vision and carry on enjoying life as they did before. Having said that, there are some ways of making it easier for your blind dog to continue playing.

chuckle500Part of the reason it can be more difficult for blind dogs to play is that they have trouble finding their toys in the first place, or they losethem part way through playing, so I have collected a list of toys which make playing easier for blind and partially sighted dogs. Another reason a dog who is newly blind or gradually going blind may lose interest in playing is that they may lose confidence and become depressed. There are plenty of ways to enrich your dog, even if he can no loner see, and by encouraging your dog to engage in play you can help him gain confidence and adapt to a world of smells, sounds, and touch.

WIGGLY-GIGGLY-JACKToys that make a noise while they are being played with can keep your dog interested and make it easier to find if it gets out of reach. Try the Wiggly Giggly range of balls, jacks and dumbbells which are motion activated and make a giggling sound (plus they don’t require batteries!). Along the same lines is the Babble Ball which comes in three different sizes and has a very sensitive motion detector, so your dog can activate the toy simply by walking past. You can choose between ‘wisecrack’ and ‘animal sound’ versions. There’s also the Busy Buddy Chuckle, which is a noise-making bone and treat dispenser in one.

Various toys and balls with bells inside are also available, which are also easy for your dog to find, but you  need to keep an eye on yourdog while playing with these toys because the bell could be swallowed if it is dislodged. There’s also this lovely rattle toy from Petsatges, again for supervised play only!

1085 Orbee-tuff Whistle BallIf your dog loves playing fetch but can no longer see the ball, this whistle ball could be the answer. It makes a whistling sound when thrown so your dog can follow its direction and is vanilla scented to help your dog locate the ball using its nose.

OffOn_bone-700x700

Finally, try getting your dog to play with any toy with a squeaker; you can add a scent to help your dog find these toys. Movement and high pitched sound are two things which can activate a dogs prey (and play) drive, so if your dog can’t see one, give them the other. If your nerves can’t stand the sound, try this great squeaky toy from Kong – it has an off button!

For more ideas have a look at the great reviews over on www.blinddogtoys.com and look out for our post on Scented Toys.

5 Easy Ways to Give Old Dogs a New Lease of Life

Has your senior dog lost interest in playing and spending time with you? Does he sleep all day and want to turn around to go home when you take him on walks? You probably think that these are just signs of old age, that your elderly dog is slowing down as he gets older.

Age may have something to do with it, but the chances are that your dog is stuck in a rut and his inactivity is because he is bored; he could even be depressed. Age, disability and health problems might mean your dog can’t do all the things he could when he was younger, but there are still ways to make his life more interesting.

Plus, keeping your dog mentally and physically active will help keep him fit and happy for longer and could help stave off canine cognitive dysfuntion.

bb_dogwalking1. Go Somewhere New

Walking isn’t just about exercising your dog, it also gives them a chance to explore and discover new places, new smells and new people. If your dogs regular exercise is a potter in the garden or a walk round the block then you can improve their day by varying where you walk or going somewhere new at the weekend.

 

 

10_Nina_Ottosson_Plastic_Dog_Brick

2. Give him a Puzzle Feeder

You can’t get your dog to do the crossword but you can give his brain a workout by giving him treats or his meal in an interactive dog toy. Try the Buster Cube, or Nina Ottosson’s dog puzzles, or make your own out of an empty milk carton or toilet roll. For dogs who no longer play as much as they used to, toys which dispense food are a great way of getting them interested.

 

3. Teach your Old Dog New Tricks

Training doesn’t stop being important just because your dog is no longer a puppy, or because he knows the basic commands. Training is a great way to bond with your dog and keep him mentally active. Start by giving your dog a refresher course in the commands he already knows and then gradually introduce new tricks. How about teaching your dog to push the door closed? Or to balance a treat on his nose? It’s also a good idea to check that your dog can respond both to voice commands and visual signals in case he is losing his hearing or eyesight.

 

Treat game

4. Play a Game

Your dog may no longer be up for fetch and tug games, but why not teach him one of the variations on ‘find the treat’, or play hide and seek with him, or teach him to find your keys? Once you put your mind to it the possibilities for rainy day activities are endless!

 

 

Dog ice lolly

5. Try New Treats

Giving your dog treats is an easy way to make him happy, but it’s also a good way of adding some variety to his day. It’s easy to get into the habit of giving your dog the same treats at the same time of day, but why not mix things up by buying a new flavour or type of treat, or giving him small amount of human food to try? This doesn’t have to be unhealthy, lots of dogs like fruit and vegetables: try pieces of carrot or apple. Why not give your dog a frozen treat or an ice cube so they can experience a new temperature and texture? Also giving your dog something to chew on regularly can help clean his teeth, relieve stress and give his jaw some exercise. Bear in mind that older dogs have weaker jaws and teeth when looking for chews and chew toys.

Bake your own Dog Treats: Salmon and Parsley Bites

As mentioned previously I have just dipped my toe into the strange world that is cooking for your dog. It probably won’t be a regular thing, but I thought I should share the recipe here, along with our verdict, in case any body else wants to try their hand at baking dog treats.

I have adapted the recipe from Henrietta Morrison’s book Dinner for Dogs.  I chose salmon because it contains high levels of omega-3 which promotes a healthy skin and coat as well as brain function.  I added parsley because it contains vitamin C, is supposed to help with bad breath and makes the end result look more interesting.  The original recipe called for plain flour, but many dogs are wheat intolerant and it can make others itchy, I have gone with spelt flour because if you’re going to the trouble of cooking for your dog, you might as well make it hypoallergenic.

Ingredients

200g tin of salmon or tuna in oil

(1 tbs olive oil. If, like me, you could only get salmon in water)

Handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

100g spelt flour (or plain flour)

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C.

2. Tip the salmon with it’s oil (or drained salmon with olive oil) into a bowl and use a fork to break into small flakes. If you find any pieces of bone either remove them or crush them into small pieces with the fork.

3. Add  the parsley and the beaten egg and mix well.

4. Add the spelt flour and mix until it comes together in a dough.  If you are using spelt flour rather than plain flour you may find the dough is quite wet and you need to add a little more flour until it is easy to work with.

5. Knead the dough and roll it out on the work surface until it is around half a centimetre thick.  Use a small cutter to cut out shapes, or cut into small squares with a knife. Place the treats on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

6. Leave to cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Our Verdict

The treats were fun and easy to make and BlindDog was in the kitchen looking hopeful the whole time I was cooking.  The treats looked pretty good when they were finished and given Henrietta Morrison’s mantra of never feeding her dog something she wouldn’t eat, I felt obliged to try one. It was actually quite good, especially with the addition of the parsley, although the idea of a fish flavoured biscuit was a bit strange.

BlindDog chomped on the treats with relish so it was definitely a thumbs up from her.  The recipe does make a lot of treats, easily more that BlindDog should eat in two weeks, so I have put half of them in the freezer.

If anyone else has tried cooking for their dog, we’d be keen to know how you got on!

Interactive Dog Toys: Unlocking your Dog’s Potential

chess gameLate in life, BlindDog has become a convert to the concept of the interactive dog toy, and she’s converted me along the way. Let me tell you why.

An interactive dog toy is any toy where the dog has to engage its brain to work out how to get treats or food out of the toy. Arguably the dog has to interact with any dog toy, but truly interactive dog toys require a lot more thought (and usually a yummy reward).

The main reason BlindDog has embraced the trend at the ripe old age of ten, is that she is what experts call food motivated, and what I call greedy.  She will do anything for food.

Secondly, as she was a rescue dog, she never really learned to play when she was younger (with the exception of one specific squeaky toy, now long since lost), which is a shame as Bichons are usually very playful. So wrestling and chasing with toys that give her FOOD is a good replacement.

Also, as she can’t see very well any more, it’s great for her to have toys which smell of food and rattle from the dog biscuits inside so she can easily find them. I make no apologies for the fact that most of her toys were chosen to be as noisy as possible!

The reason I’m a die-hard fan of interactive toys is that I know when she plays with them she’s getting a great physical work-out, and its important for older dogs to have frequent gentle exercise throughout the day so as not to put to much strain on their joints.

Its also really easy to use interactive toys to feed your dog’s daily ration and keep them occupied at the same time.  This is great if your dog is on a low calorie or prescription diet and has to avoid other chews and treats that you might otherwise give them to keep them out from under your feet.  Your dog is having fun, using up energy and not eating anything ‘bad’.

Yorkie with mini buster cube

Finally, interactive toys are great for exercising dogs’ brains, something that is so important when your dog’s main ‘job’ is snoozing onthe sofa! People often forget that small dogs need a brain work-out too, not just bored border collies and labradors. I had always thought BlindDog leant more towards cute than clever, but she has been so quick to work out some of her puzzle toys that she’s clearly not just a pretty face!

Interactive toys can be expensive compared to other toys and for the uninitiated it can be difficult to know what to buy. But the enjoyment they bring to your dog (the break they give you) are priceless!  There’s also nothing to stop you using your imagination and making your own.  To help you chose what to buy, BlindDog and I will review some of the best interactive dog toys.

Are Small Dogs Bored Dogs?

A lot of attention has been given to dog behaviour recently, and specifically to the ways our dogs see the world (in our case, not too well!).  I’m thinking of programs such as Victoria’s Stilwell’s ‘It’s Me or the Dog’, Cesar Millan’s ‘The Dog Whisperer’ (although the less attention paid to him the better) and Dr John Bradshaw’s fantastic book, ‘In Defence of Dogs’.

We seem to be slowly catching on to the fact that dogs, descended from wolves and domesticated in order to work with us, get bored if they have nothing to do. A ‘naughty’ dog is usually a bored dog who chews the furniture, barks himself hoarse at the smallest noise and shoves his nose into everything simply because he hasn’t got anything better to do.

In all of these discussions the spotlight is on burly, boisterous BIG dogs.  In part this is because large breeds were bred to spend all day herding sheep, retrieving game or guarding homes and so they require a lot of mental as well as physical exercise. But its also big bored dogs cause big damage and destruction.

Little dogs tend to get overlooked and I have a feeling that as a result many owners are failing to adequately enrich their small dogs.  Perhaps because they don’t realize how important it is to stimulate their dog’s brains. Or maybe because if their dog is bored it’s just the dog that suffers and not their table legs?

I won’t deny that BlindDog is a lapdog and was bred to be expert at receiving cuddles, getting tummy rubs and sleeping on the sofa.  And believe me, she excels at all of these jobs.

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But BlindDog also has Water Dog and Poodle in her long ancestry, both dogs which were bred to retrieve waterfowl and assist sailors.  When BlindDog is splashing through puddles, racing over snow or following a scent through the undergrowth, you can really see the big, working dog behind the fluffy, teddy bear haircut.

When small dogs are bored they can turn into attention seeking, noisy, destructive (and sometimes aggressive) brats. They might be able to do limited damage, but there’s no limit on the damage being bored can do to them.

On this blog you’ll find lots of ideas for ways to keep any dog (big or small) enriched, engaged and entertained.