Beat Bad Weather Blues with Indoor Games for Herding Dogs
Got Bad Weather? Try Indoor Games for Herding Breed Dogs
Bad weather doesn't always keep us from doing our jobs, but a rainy day is a total washout for our urban herding dogs. Skipping daily activities that flex their natural born mental and physical instincts can spell disaster for the pack, so whatever the weather does outside, we're still obligated to help our intelligent companions do their jobs inside. When bad weather strikes, you can exercise their bodies and brains with these fun and challenging indoor games for herding dogs.
Herding Dogs without Jobs Spell Disaster
Herding breeds occupy three spots on the AKC's list of the 10 smartest dog breeds because of their superior intelligence that developed from humans' need for a hearty working partner. When their instinct to chase, catch, carry and return objects is suppressed, our home environment is fair game. At best, a herding dog without a job will destroy our belongings. At worst, their withering brains can succumb to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, an Alzheimer-like condition affecting up to 14 percent of senior dogs. Thankfully these behaviors may be prevented with regular indoor brain games.
Food Game Fun with “Contrafreeloading”
Foul weather days are a good time to practice a feeding concept called “contrafreeloading.” This animal behavior theory essentially means that animals are happiest when they can work for their food. Our daily routine of plopping food into a bowl is boring and robs them of this important instinct.
“Think about how we usually feed our pets (in a bowl),” said animal behavior expert Ragen McGowan, PhD, a senior scientist who spoke at the 2015 Nestle Purina Better with Pets Summit. “It's done just like that!” she said while snapping her fingers for emphasis. “Then they have all this time to sit around and think.” Too much spare time can lead to destructive behavior but McGowan says it's totally preventable with daily interactive food puzzles.
“You want to give them that “Eureka!” moment,” McGowan added. How? By allowing pets to hunt and “capture” their prey. You can do this with contrafreeloading brain games like:
- scattering kibble around the house (or placing bowls of wet food in different locations)
- dispensing regular meals in food puzzles, like those from Nina Ottoson
- playing indoor hide-and-go-seek and rewarding success with daily meal portions
Hunt and Retrieve Indoor Toys
Another way to exercise your herding dog's brain is a fun indoor hunting game that safely encourages and rewards prey drive. No, don't set a squirrel loose in the kitchen! Instead you can:
- Place your dog in a sit position. Show her a toy and give it a name. Repeat the name several times.
- With your dog sitting, place the toy somewhere close by and within their sight.
- Say “Find the (Toy)!” and release her from the sit. When she makes contact, jump up and praise your pooch! Repeat several times.
- Next, ask your dog to return the object with a “Come!” request. When she does, give a treat! Try this a few times.
- The next time she returns with a toy, wait to reward and instead say “Drop It!” while pointing into a laundry basket. When the toy lands in the basket give a happy reward.
You can make this more challenging by asking your dog to find multiple toys and drop them in the basket one by one. Eventually you can work up to a single phrase like “Find Your Toys!” which serves as a signal for your dog to round everything up and fill the basket.
Brain games like these can exhaust any dog with hardly any space, effort and time. The bonus is that as your dog ages you can still play these low-impact activities. Imagine the joy of having a happy senior dog with the cognitive capabilities of a puppy! Rain or shine, these brain games for herding breeds are a fantastic way to help your dogs live up to their greatest potential.
Games People Play with their Herding Dogs