What to Know
The right kind of toy can be a gift that keeps on giving long after the lights and decorations have been packed away.
According to a recent survey, over 95% of Americans routinely buy gifts for their pets during the holiday season. At Casa Kupkee, our dogs take great delight in tearing open their gifts from Santa on Christmas morning.
Many pet owners, however, admit to giving little thought to the types of gifts they buy. Pets are not usually picky about presents, and inclusion in the holiday fun is all they really want for Christmas. But the right kind of toy can be a gift that keeps on giving long after the lights and decorations have been packed away.
The Bane Of Boredom
Many of our pets’ behavioral problems are linked to insufficient cognitive enrichment. In other words, our pets are bored! Many of us spend long hours away from home on a daily basis. Our evenings tend to be consumed by television, computer use, and other sedentary activities.
Such diversions are no fun for our pets, and the resulting boredom can lead to all sorts of unwanted behaviors. Nuisance barking, destruction, hyperactivity, self-mutilation, and failure to use the litter box are just few of the problems I see in pets who literally have nothing better to do.
Since some such behaviors can also be linked to medical problems, the first thing to do is have your pet examined by your veterinarian. If the behavior has no underlying medical cause, it’s time to ask Fluffy to put on her thinking cap!
Interactive Pet Toys
These toys come in all varieties and price ranges, but they all have the same goal in mind: encouraging your pet to interact with the toy, and use her brain to “outsmart” it. Dogs are often intrigued by large toys stuffed with small toys which the pet must figure out how to remove. A toy that moves or makes noise when touched by the dog can also keep them entertained for hours Cats are huge fans of these types of toys as they appeal to their natural hunting instincts. Anything that bounces, wiggles, squirms, or rolls will probably be a big hit with your feline friend. And if you can find something with a timer that will entice your kitty at random intervals, even better.
If your pet is not particularly motivated by brain teasers, try tempting him with a food puzzle. These toys encourage both dogs and cats to move and manipulate the toy until a treat is dispensed. Food puzzles come in an endless variety of shapes, sizes and degrees of difficulty. Owners of especially high drive pets will often serve their entire meals in these sorts of puzzles. Such toys encourage pets to think, solve problems, and burn calories without involving any extra time or effort on behalf of their caretakers. For example, last year, our dachshunds received a Snuffle Mat, a toy which encourages pets to search through pockets and loops to find hidden treats. If you’re shopping on a budget, or looking for a fun holiday activity for the kids, there are all sorts of ways to make DIY food puzzles for cats using items you probably already have in the house.
If you have multiple dogs, and plan to leave them alone with food puzzles, be sure each dog is confined to a separate part of the house. Food puzzles can be very stimulating for dogs, and you don’t want to run the risk of a fight breaking out while you are gone.
If you have the time, why not consider treating Fido to some scheduled classes? A Certified Professional Dog Trainer can teach you how to have all sorts of fun with your dog. Whether it’s nose work, trick training, agility, or obedience, these activities are fun for both dogs and humans.
In addition to keeping Fido happy and fit, they provide him with something to think about besides which designer handbag to destroy next. Learning new behaviors not only reduces both boredom and anxiety, but provides active dogs with an outlet for burning energy.
Many trainers and behaviorists are fond of the adage, “A tired dog is a happy dog.” While I don’t disagree, I’ll take it one step further: “A cognitively enriched pet is a happy pet.” By putting a little more thought into shopping for our pets, we can create a happy holiday for the entire family.
Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.
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