Celebrating Valentine's Day with your Canine Companion
Does your Valentine have four legs and give sloppy kisses? These activities will help grow your bond, add something new and challenge you to think outside the box! Give your dog some extra attention this Valentine's day (or any day!) by creating fun memories through these activities. Check out this list of fun Valentine’s Day activities and give the Bingo game a try. Complete a line? Treat both you and your dog to something you love for each line you get!
If you find something on the bingo card that your dog is not comfortable with, swap it out for something else on this list above or get creative and come up with your own ideas!
Below you will find explanations of the activities on the bingo card
Cuddle and Watch Dog Friendly TV
Navigate to YouTube and find something interesting for you and your dog to watch. This could be videos of calm animals eating, animals roaming a safari, children playing or people doing outdoor activities.
If your dog remains watching calmly, grab a snack, cuddle in together and enjoy the sights and sounds!
My Great Dane, Daisy loves watching the birds and squirrels on YouTube. She has learned the intro screen bird tweet and immediately turns to watch her favorite critters. Here are a couple of our favorites!
4k Squirrels & Birds - YouTube - this one has the intro screen tweet which has become a cue for Daisy that the show is starting!
Please note: If your dog may become reactive to the sights or sounds, start by having just the visual playing. If that is too difficult, try opening it on your phone and just play the sounds. Skip the activity and find one more suitable if any reactivity comes up. This should be a relaxing time!
Dance with your Dog
There's nothing wrong with getting a bit silly with our canine companions. Heck, it can even be a great way to strengthen your bond! Not all dogs will want to engage in dance but give it a try and see their response.
For this activity, dance near your dog. Do not physically touch them or lift them for this. The goal is to slightly change the way you are interacting together. Bound around and see how they respond. If they disengage and leave the area, this may not be the right choice for them.
My bernese poodle mix, Charlie can get a bit goofy with this one! He will sometimes jump up and get a bit too excited. I use this as an arousal regulation exercise as well as just some fun. I bring the energy up to a level I know my dog's can handle but this didn't happen on the first go. We had to work at this over time to learn what the right level of movement was.
Bake a New Cookie Together
A quick Google search will bring up numerous choices of fresh made treats to try, some don't even require baking! Here's one of my dog's favorite fresh baked recipe.
2 six oz. cans tuna. Do not drain. (Alternatively, use boneless canned salmon, canned chicken or sardines)
1 ½ cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp garlic powder - recent studies show that dog's can have garlic in small amounts (optional)
1 handful grated parmesan cheese, about ¼ cup (optional)
Mix all ingredients together using a mixer or food processor.
Spread on to a greased 9×9” pan and bake in 350° oven for 20 minutes.
Store in the refrigerator for up to three days or cut into little squares and freeze for tasty little training treats.
I cut them using a pizza cutter once baked. This allows you to get small pieces to use as training treats or bigger pieces for a tasty snack.
Pop them in the freezer for a tasty frozen snack for your pup
Stuff them in your enrichment toys!
Prepare a Special Meal Together
Eating the same food everyday gets boring. We get choice in our meals and I feel our dogs diet should vary as well. Take this opportunity to prepare a special meal for yourself and your dog.
Choose a protein that they can have - steak, chicken, pork & fish can be great choices but why not think outside the box, pop by your local butcher and see what other options are available. Pair that with a variety of roasted, steamed or pan fried vegetables.
Be sure to keep any added fats to a minimum and trim your protein of excess fat.
Do an ACE Free Work Set Up
ACE Free Work is a great way to help your dog calm and relax. It naturally uses all of your dog's senses and provides low impact exercise, sensory enrichment and the opportunity to explore and investigate. Sniffing, licking and chewing are all naturally calming activities for dogs and this exercise incorporates them all.
Start by setting up different elements including surfaces so there is a range of things to walk over; enrichment activities, such as snuffle mats, lickimats, and ball pits; and a number of stations of different heights. You also need to have water bowls, ideally more than one and one of them raised.
Add food into the setup. You will need three types of food: small, easy to eat treats; soft food that can be spread on surfaces, such as cream cheese or peanut butter; and larger crunchy but still edible chews.
Scatter the small treats on the surfaces and in the enrichment activities. Also scatter some on the ground near these so your dog does not have to step on surfaces to get the treats. Spread the soft food on lickimats and surfaces that your dog can lick. Hide a couple of the larger chews so that your dog can exercise their jaw. Always be aware of the potential for resource guarding and don't use these larger treats if this is an issue for your dog.
If it is safe, take all equipment off your dog so they are not wearing a harness or collar. Then simply allow your dog to explore. Don't direct them or encourage them in a particular direction or lure them onto any surfaces. Just allow them to explore and stand back and observe. What do you see? Do they have preferences on surfaces, food, textures or smells? This is a great way to see!
You can work outside in the garden or yard, inside the house or on a balcony. Start with just a few elements and keep them close together especially if your dog is easily over stimulated.
Use what you have in the house: plastic crates, cardboard boxes, bits of old carpet, mats, towels, bubble wrap, any enrichment toys your dog has got. A rolled up towel with treats hidden in it or a cardboard box with scrunched up paper and treats inside make cheap and easy enrichment activities.
If your dog is comfortable with touch, Tellington Touch or TTouch is a great way to help them to calm down and relax. It can release tension in the body, improve circulation and give your dog better awareness of their body.
TTouch is a mindful and gentle way to touch your dog which is relaxing for both you and your dog. It is very easy for anyone to learn and do.
There are many different TTouches, but a good place to start is with the Llama TTouch.
Many dogs associate a hand coming towards them with being grabbed so the Llama TTouch uses the back of the hand. This is much less threatening and can be easier for sensitive dogs.
Start with gentle strokes with the back of your hand and in an area of the body where your dog is least sensitive. Their side is often a good place to start.
Keep your fingers relaxed and curl your hand slightly so you can do light circles with the back of your hand or fingers. As you do the circles, move the skin gently under your hand, rather than sliding across the skin. Rather than doing a single circle, do about a circle and a quarter. This will feel more complete than one circle.
Start with just one or two touches, then take your hand away and see what your dog does. Do they lean in for more or move themselves away? Always listen to your dog and give them processing time when they need it.
Keep it light, relaxed and mindful. And remember to breathe yourself!
With any massage that you choose to try, be sure to keep 3 fingers on your dog to avoid pushing too hard. Also be cautious of any sensitive areas. This should be a relaxing experience for both of you.
Connect with Pattern Games
Pattern games give you and your dog a familiar structure to work within when you are in a distracting environment. They are simple, rhythmic behaviours that require very little training but provide a safe thing to do when things are potentially challenging. They all involve some movement, which is often easier for your dog than being still in these situations.
The important thing about pattern games is that they ARE simple and well practiced so they are easy for both you and your dog to do even under pressure. Many dogs will feel relieved when they get to play their game because it is safe and predictable.
Here are a couple options to try:
Up & Down Game
Begin with your dog in front of you, use a verbal marker (yes) or clicker as soon as your dog gives eye contact. Once you've said your maker, drop a treat to the ground for your dog to get. Repeat this multiple times to get them into a rhythm. This can be a great bond-building activity and gives something easy to focus on and can be a great tool to gain focus in busy environments or for reactive dogs.
Left & Right Game
For this game, prep a 5-10 bite sized treats for each hand. Offer one from the right, then left then right, then left and keep repeating. After a few repetitions they should be automatically returning to the opposite hand to keep the pattern going.
This game can be adapted in a few ways. Once in the rhythm, I like to toss the food from right to left instead of hand feeding. Alternatively, you can sit in a chair and either hand feed or toss the food.
Nose Targeting - Using Targeting to Teach a New Behaviour
Nose targeting is a multipurpose tool and can be used as a fun game, backup recall, tool to teach other behaviours or a position marker on walks.
If your dog doesn't already know this behaviour, follow these steps to begin.
Present a flat hand a few inches away from your dog's nose and wait for them to investigate.
Mark and reward any interest or interaction with your hand.
If your dog struggles initially, rub a treat on your hand or hold one firmly between your fingers to get their interest.
Next present your hand and wait for them to make contact with their nose before marking and rewarding.
Repeat until your dog is eagerly touching your hand with their nose as soon as you present it.
Next increase the distance away you hold your hand, so that your dog has to move in order to make contact.
Practice in all directions and with both hands.
At this time, you can add a cue such as ‘touch’ by saying it just before you present your hand.
Progress to having your dog follow a moving target. To do this, as your dog moves towards your hand, slowly move it so your dog follows. Mark and reward after a short distance.
When your dog has mastered the art of nose targeting, you will be able to use it in so many ways including moving your dog to a mat when visitors arrive, turning your dog’s head in the opposite direction to a trigger, or as a fun way to cue greetings with people. It will also come in handy as a great alternative for recall!
Some dogs have an aversion to hands coming near them, they should be approaching the hand vs you moving your hand towards your dog.
If they seem to be avoiding your hand, try using 1-2 fingers held out to the side or try a different object. I get my dogs to target kitchen utensils, pens, post-it notes, a fly swatter or an actual target stick.
Once you have added a verbal cue, never repeat your cue. Ask once, if they don't respond, they aren't sure what you want. Bring your hand up to your chest to reset and bring it back down for another attempt but do not say the cue again until they have successfully touched their nose to your hand.
Go at their pace!
For those who already know how to do a nose target, try getting your dog to target a new object. I like using target sticks and post-it notes as they can be used in numerous ways. This skill can then be transferred to teaching tricks like spin, turning on and off light switches or closing cabinet doors.
Once they understand the game, it becomes quite easy to teach a new behaviour!
How many uses can you think of?
Go on an Adventure - Focus on Connection vs Obedience
All too often, pet parents want the perfect canine companion which to them means a dog that walks perfectly on leash, never misbehaves, recalls perfectly and has focus on them 100% of the time, even when in distracting environments.
Most human's don't have that level of focus, especially in busy environments so why do we expect this of our dogs?
Take time to find a quiet space to explore and connect with your dog. If they pull, speed up and follow them (as long as it is safe to do so!), if they sniff, encourage it! Better yet, bring a variety of activities to do while out.
Load up a backpack of goodies - a picnic blanket, likki mat, snuffle mat, a variety of tasty treats, a chew, water and a water bowl.
Put your dog on a long line and stroll towards your destination. Let them check everything out, sniff and mark and reinforce for any check ins.
Find a quiet spot to stop and put the blanket down. Spread some soft food onto the likki mat and let them work on it. Next, offer the snuffle mat. Draw some attention by saying "what's this?" and drop some treats into it. After that, give them their special chew to work on.
Enjoy some relaxation and quiet time with your dog before calmly packing up and heading home.
Box Search Games
Nose work is one of the more popular dog sports these days. It is beneficial for most dogs and can be a great outlet for reactive dogs who tend to live a bit more of a sheltered life.
Start by having your dog nearby but unable to access the search area.
Get 5-10 boxes or containers and allow your dog to see you place food in some of them. Be sure to keep flaps tucked back and lids away.
You can choose how many boxes contain food but be sure to start with more to ensure they don't get frustrated and give up.
Allow them to go into the search area and sniff out the food. Do not help them, do not walk towards the containers that contain food. They should be using their noses to sniff it out and investigate. You can, however, point out the search area and ask them to keep searching if you know they didn't find all the food.
Repeat this a few times before moving to the next level.
Now that your dog knows to find food in the boxes, start with around 5 boxes but this time, only put food in one. They can be watching as you place the food then released to the search area.
Note: if your dog struggles at any point, make the game easier by adding more food to the one box or giving a couple choices.
Repeat this step a few times before moving to the next level.
Blind searches - hide the food while your dog is out of sight. They no longer get to see where the food might be and have to rely solely on their nose.
Move the boxes or containers around to increase the challenge.
Over time, you will be able to stack containers, switch to new types of hides and even work towards teaching them to find odour!
Hide n Seek
This game can be played in a few different ways. The easiest way is to piggyback off the box searches and teach them to find food in a specific room. Some dogs are more inclined to search for their favorite toy. See what your dog prefers and go with it!
Hide treats or their favorite toys around the room. Keep in mind where you have hidden them in case any are missed.
Give them a cue like search or find it and let them explore the room.
If they are struggling, you can help be pointing near an area of interest but try your best not to show exactly where they are.
Another variation is for them to find you!
If there are multiple people in the home, one can hide while the other occupies your dog.
Release them to find "mom", "dad" etc. and watch them search.
The person hiding can make small noises to help if your dog is struggling.
*Some dogs may panic if they can't find you. This is not a fun game for them so please stop and try something else if that is the case! Panic is not cute or funny for anyone.
Arrange a Play Date with a Favorite Dog or Person
It is common as dogs age that they also become more selective with who they interact with. Oftentimes, dogs who met as young puppies remain friends for life. however, this is not always the case.
Choose a dog friend your dog has a solid relationship with. Don't just hit up the dog park and expect to make a new friend. You may come home with a traumatized dog!
Your dog may also be learning how to be in close proximity to other dogs. In this case, a safe walk with their parallel pals is another great option.
If your dog isn't one to enjoy interacting with other dogs, have a friend, family member over for a play date. Have the friend use some of the ideas listed here to change things up!
Try a New Type of Enrichment
Oftentimes, we get stuck in the same routine, using the same types of enrichment which usually involve food and forget to think outside the box. Enrichment comes in many forms! Here's some ideas to try out.
These are items that you will fill with various types of food. Here are some of our favorite ideas.
Treat ball, kong wobbler, Nina Ottosson puzzles, burrito roll (towel with treats rolled in), snuffle mat, west paw rubber toys, kong rubber toys, scatter feed, frozen food, likimat and snuffle ball.
Without your dog, gather items from various environments and put them in individual zipper seal baggies or clean reusable containers. If you use baggies, you can open the bag and hold it for your dog. If using containers, make sure they can be reserved specifically for this activity as you may need to put holes in them. There is always the chance your dog may pick an item up and chew the container as well so I recommend using zipper bags then put them in a container with holes. This allows more control over the activity as you choose which bags to open.
Lay the items out and allow them to sniff and explore them or hold one in your hand if you feel they will pick it up and run off.
Some dogs may require items to be in bags, inside containers wh