Every family with both kids and a canine companion is presented with opportunities—and obstacles—in providing for their needs. To be sure, both can be met, many in similar ways. Dogs and kids share so much: the need to decipher the confusing world of adults, learn the complexity of language and the consequences of their actions, figure out the seemingly arbitrary limits imposed on their pleasures and interests. They can also share many activities, including hiking, chasing, napping and divvying up a sandwich.
Kids can and should be integral to the dog’s training and care. A well-trained dog gets invited into more of the family’s life, both at home and away—more of the good life that is.
On their part, kids need to be encouraged to integrate themselves into, not separate from, the full spectrum of a dog’s daily activities. Setting down the food bowl or going for a perfunctory leash walk won’t reinforce the bond or afford much joy. Kids should be fascinated by their companions, thrilled with their willingness to join in almost anything, eager to share time massaging, photographing, inventing games, learning words they can share. Make your dog a fancy collar, homemade biscuits, a tug toy from worn-out jeans! Learn the parts of your dog’s body! Calculate his ROW (rate of wagging)! Create a snowy obstacle course, a plaster cast of his paw, shrink-art dog tags for his collar—and your backpack.
Games for Kids and Dogs
In cold weather, both dogs and people tend to spend more time indoors and, as a result, get less exercise. While ice skating and snowboarding aren’t sports your dog can share, with a little planning, you can create a veritable canine winter Olympics! Here’s a sampler of activities that can also be adapted to indoor fun—indeed, the whole idea here is to improvise. Each “event” reinforces the learning successes that your dog needs.
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Leap over a pile of leaves, tunnel through a cardboard box, walk across a picnic-bench bridge, race up a leaning plank, leap into the sandbox, bound across a snowball-wall—invent a course with whatever safe options you find.
Remember to progress slowly. Make each challenge a success before adding another one. Set up the first course with only two or three objects, and build up to six or seven. An adult’s help is really worthwhile here.
Try going through the course together, leash-walking your dog over or under the obstacles. Use lots of encouragement, a few key commands, praise and some treats for good measure. You might find that UP, DOWN, COME and SIT are especially useful. Or invent new commands as needed; teach UNDER, for example, if you want your dog to crawl beneath an object. Use the same words every time, and stand just on the other side of the obstacle so that the dog is coming toward you.
Follow these guidelines to make your own fun, safe course:
• Use only sturdy, steady obstacles. Nothing should slide or wobble under the dog’s weight. Remember that when leaping, a dog’s legs push hard, and that could upset something that isn’t heavy or anchored well.
• Nothing on the course should be sharp, splintered or movable (like a swing).
• Every “landing pad” should be soft—grass, sand or snow.
• No dog should jump to or from a level that is higher than the top of his head. (Measure that distance so you can design your course accordingly.) Toy and long-backed breeds (think Dachshunds) shouldn’t jump from any height at all.
• Make the course short and easy so your dog can complete it without frustration.
• Change the course every so often. You’re improving your dog’s physical agility as well as his ability to work with you. This is rewarding work!
Search and Rescue
This is a version of the “Find It” game, in which your dog “rescues” biscuits trapped under a backyard “avalanche.” Have your dog sit. Place a bit of biscuit a few feet away and give the command FIND IT! Praise the dog the instant he snatches the treat. Say GOOD in a high, cheerful voice. After a few successes, move the treat a bit farther away. Eventually, poke it just under the snow or hide it behind a bush or tree. (Let your dog watch you hide it.) In each case, say, FIND IT!, and praise your dog the instant he does.
Gradually, bury the treat deeper and farther—when your dog isn’t watching. Always use the same command, and praise your dog when he finds it.
You can also play this game with tennis balls or toys. Or play it in the house, hiding rather than burying the objects.
Forget the uneven bars and the pommel horse—the balance beam is ideal for dogs! Find a plank that’s about one foot wide and as long as you’d like. Place it right on the ground or raise it a few inches above with packed snow, bricks or anything that provides stable support. To start, leash-walk your dog across the beam; you walk alongside. Use coaxing words such as, “Here we go,” or invent a command, such as FORWARD. Once your dog is comfortable with the plank, walk faster. Eventually, as long as you’re in a fenced-in area, your dog can walk the beam off-leash.
Make a circular racecourse in the snow by stomping a path with your boots, using a snow shovel or dragging a sled weighed down with a couple of friends. Invent a race where you make laps around your track. Pretend you’re trekking across the Arctic; each lap is one mile toward a goal of, say, 100 miles. Or use a real map and say that each lap equals a certain distance that you can chart on the map with a marker.
Photographing the canine family member is fun, but often tricky—check out this how-to on taking great pictures. These suggestions will help you snap fantastic photos that you can incorporate in greeting cards, calendars or online galleries.
Once you have some photos of your dog, you can craft some fun projects—from a doggie placemat featuring your pal’s picture to a wall calendar showcasing your best friend through the 12 months of the year. Or make a handmade window book—all you need are some printouts of your dog’s photos, some scissors and a printer to print out a handy pattern that you’ll find here. It’s simple and easy, and makes a great gift!
Your dog won’t know that you made these treats yourself, but you will, and that makes the connection between the two of you all the more significant. Each treat tidbit you offer, especially during training time, rewards the dog’s brain as well as his stomach. Here’s a simple recipe, and no baking is required.
No-bake Dog Treats
Mix up these quick, chewy biscuits in a big bowl or zip-lock bag. A small ice-cream scoop is handy for making ball-shaped treats (you can also use your hands), and you’ll want a rolling pin and cookie cutters for shaped cookies. (Dogs care about the taste—pedigreed deliciousness!—not the bone or fire-hydrant shapes.) Create a work surface with a sheet of waxed paper or foil; save it to wrap the finished treats.
- 6 cups rolled oats
- 2 cups peanut butter (sugar-free, ideally)
- 1 cup liquid (milk, soy milk, water or broth)
1. Assemble the ingredients in a large bowl. Using a sturdy utensil, mix until smooth. Add more liquid if the mixture feels too crumbly. As the treats dry, they become drier and harder.
2. Wet your hands to shape the treats: roll out logs and slice them into coins, or scoop out small balls and flatten them. For cut-out cookies, roll the slab 1/4- or 1/2-inch thick; match the treat size to your dog’s size. Dunk the cookie cutter in water between cuts to help the dough release.
3. Store the treats in the refrigerator or, for an even crunchier treat, in the freezer.