Games to teach a dog

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Lately, we’ve been playing a lot of peek-a-boo with the dog. He loves when we pop up from behind something, and goes a little crazy, which is helpful because it’s been pouring rain non-stop and his walks are a little short. So, to fight the cabin fever, we’re keeping ourselves amused by teasing the dog. 😉

When did we become *that* couple?! (The one who, for entertainment, tortures the dog with games of peek-a-boo, I mean.)

Anyway, this got me thinking about games to teach a dog and I wanted to share one that Vance adores. We take an empty egg carton and put a treat in one of the egg spots. Then, we fill all the egg spots with old plastic Easter Eggs and let him try to find the treat. To train the game, we let him see where we put the treat, but now we hide it so that he has to take out as many plastic eggs as possible.

It’s really funny watching him try to get the slippery (especially after he’s drooled on them!) eggs out of the container, and he really enjoys that he finds yummy treats inside. Of course, this is a game that requires *careful* supervision–you don’t want your dog to crush the plastic egg and injure itself, so only play this game with dogs that are gentle and under careful watch.

What games have you taught your dog? I’d love some new ones to play with Vance to keep him busy during this *very* long winter.

How to choose the right dog for you

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This weekend, my mom and I spent some time at the local humane society.

My dad wants a big dog (like Vance–who’s 85+lbs). My mom wants a small dog that’s not too small. They’re not sure about temperament or age or really much of anything. They’ve always picked dogs in the past based on which one they fell in love with and that’s worked out really well.

So, my mom and I were looking through the photos of dogs at the humane society and fell in love with a furball named Gus who’s about 16 weeks old and part Great Pyrenees. He was the cutest little guy–who’ll be a big guy soon–racing around, pulling toys out of the box. Watching him, I thought about Vance when he was a pup and how he was such an energetic, focused baby (and has become such an energetic, focused grown up). Gus, on the other hand, seemed like he was going to be much more easy going. He wore himself out in about two minutes and collapsed in a heap at my mom’s feet. So cute!

In the end, Gus has several applications on him, and my folks would rather adopt a dog who really needs a home, so my mom met another puppy (about eight months old) who was part husky. Parker was too toy focused for my mom (he wouldn’t talk to us at all, even when we had cookies, preferring to play on his own with a stuffed animal).

It was fun meeting the puppies, though, and got me thinking about how important it is to know what you’re doing before you go to the humane society to pick a dog. After all, Gus is going to be a *big* dog. And he’s really likely to find a family exclusively because he’s adorable. Maybe he’ll get lucky and they’ll be ready to take responsibility for him fully, but it’s also really possible that as soon as he’s not fluffy and sweet any more… He’ll be back at the shelter.

So, what do you need to figure out before you go to pick out a dog?

1) Decide if size matters. If you live in a small house, a small dog is probably better. If you have a small car, same thing. What size dog will best fit into your life? Your personality? I wanted a big dog–a dog who could enjoy a full day at the beach or lake, a dog who’d take up a lot of space on the couch, a dog who’d enjoy long walks. And that’s who Vance is. You might find a small dog better suited to your life.

2) If you have other dogs (or other pets) you need to make a priority of their getting along. We actually adopted an adult dog about two years ago thinking Vance would enjoy having a companion. He didn’t, at all. (The adoption was entirely contingent on that and the rescue organization happily took the other dog back.) Usually dogs of opposite sexes will get along better than two dogs of the same sex, but it’s more important that their temperaments be compatible. And sure, if you’re confident and fully in charge, you can probably introduce another pet without worrying about conflicts, but you still want to be getting a good match for your family.

3) Don’t discount older dogs. Older dogs make excellent pets because they’re already housebroken (or easily trained). They’re usually much smarter and more interested in being a family member (as opposed to puppies who tend to be focused on exploring the world). They’re very easy to train and it’s usually pretty easy to break them of any bad habits from previous homes (though this will be easier still if you consult a great trainer from the beginning). Sure, getting a puppy is fun… But it’s also a lot of work–puppies need constant supervision, to be let out several times a night, and a very, very steady hand at training. What’s more, because they’re cute, it can be hard to keep the family on board about preventing bad habits. (Breaking bad habits in an adopted adult dog is much easier than breaking them in a dog you’ve raised from a puppy.)

4) Make sure that the dog gets along well with kids if you have any. Kids can be hard for some dogs to take–they’re noisy and active and chaotic. Make sure the dog you’re adopting has the temperament to be patient and not get anxious around your kids if you have them.

5) Take your time. Don’t feel rushed into making this decision. Adopting a dog is a lifetime commitment and you shouldn’t make it on the spur of the moment. It’s one thing to get a dog home and know right away that the situation is untenable. It’s another to bring a dog home and decide two years later that you don’t want the dog any longer. Avoid being an irresponsible pet owner by taking your time making this decision so that you make the right choice.

6) If you rent, make sure you can have a dog. ASK your landlord. Many renters just assume their landlord won’t mind (or won’t know) and wind up being sued for thousands of dollars for damages or being evicted for breaking the lease. So, pick up the phone and speak to your landlord before you adopt. If you own your home, make sure there are no HOA rules that you’d be violating by bringing a dog home. (Some HOAs have restrictions on number or size of dogs.)

By taking the time to really think through these steps before heading to your humane society or pound, you’ll be in a much better position to adopt the dog that’s right for your family. The first few weeks with a new dog are full of fun and joy–if you take your time to do things right and lay the groundwork for a fantastic relationship with your new dog from the very beginning.

What tips do you have about adopting a dog? Is there anything you’re especially glad you considered before bringing home a new companion?

Rainy weather makes dogs sad

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Does your dog get the blues when it rains? I know it sounds silly, but ours sure does! He mopes, sighs big sighs, and tends to put his head in our laps more often.

What’s funny is we take him for walks, even in the rain, so about the only thing that’s different is he doesn’t lay outside in the sun (or in the den, in front of the French doors, in the sun that streams in). So, I’m not really sure why he seems to think the rain is such a crushing blow.

We have to give him cookies and dry him off when he comes in and make a generally big deal about what a Big, Brave Boy he is to go out in the wet, wet rain. (Well, okay, so we don’t *have* to), and even then he seems to think that getting his feet wet is just about the worst thing ever.

What about your dog? Does he like it when it rains? Do you play any special games or give special treats?