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Head to the Freezer

As I sit down to write this article, we are in the midst of a heat wave in the Bay Area. Temperatures are much higher than normal, so before I sat down to write, I knew I had to two things: Feed the four dogs in my care today and find a way to safely exercise them in the heat.

It’s too hot for their usual training sessions or hikes, and I don’t have time right now to take them to the coast for a swim. I have work to do. Yet I know they have energy to burn and that they need some sort of outlet and stimulation to express their doggy selves and be content for the rest of the day/evening. But, hey, I am a professional. I’m prepared for these sort of situations. So … into the freezer I went.

I pulled out a frozen stuffed rubber Kong toy, a marrow bone, a big pork leg, and a few tubs of doggy frozen yogurt. 

I tossed the frozen stuffed Kong into a puppy playpen that’s set up next to my desk, and I plopped my adorable and fluffy puppy client down into the pen to teach her to settle down at my feet with a chew project (and her breakfast) as I work. This is a skill that’ll come in handy in her life, as her owner often works from home, but also plans to take her sweet little puppy to the office with her a few days a week. This pup needs to learn how to self entertain and just hang out and chill while the people work hard to earn the kibble. A well-stuffed frozen Kong can keep a dog busy for up to 40 minutes at a time. And even a small puppy will need at least four Kongs per day to eat its daily ration. That adds up to a lot of settle time where the pup is learning how to settle down and relax, enjoy his alone time, and to chew on appropriate, designated rubber dog toys when he needs a chew fix. Talk about efficient training. Pro tip: All puppies should eat at least half their daily allotted food ration out of hollow rubber dogs toys. 

I put my senior dog, Missy, into a crate with a comfy mat with the still-frozen marrow bone so she could lick that thing like an everlasting lollypop in peace without my younger dogs bothering her. I know she’ll lick the bone for at least 20 minutes as it thaws and then chomp away at the meaty bits for another half hour or so before falling into a deep snooze, perhaps dreaming of dancing bones in the sky or of unearthing meaty bone treasures she’s buried in the past. 

The pork leg was for my completion dog, Laz. I set him in the private side yard for his meal/project. He’s gearing up for a big trial and has been conditioning daily. He needs a lot of protein and fat right now, and gnawing on a huge, meaty bone will not only fill him with the fuel he needs, but will also exercise his jaw and neck muscles, helping to keep him fit and ready for action. When you feed supersized meaty bones, the meal becomes a workout in and of itself. 

And the yogurt tubs? I took them outside and hid them all over my back yard for my younger, working dog, Mars, who has an extremely active mind and body. Mars loves to both problem solve and to use his nose. Voila! I just created a hunting game for him that, along with eating the little tubs of fro-yo as he goes will check all the boxes for making him one happy dog indeed. 

And so, now, here I am back at my computer feeling zero guilt as my furry charges all quietly chomp, chew, tear, sniff, and lick away independently all through my house and garden. Every one of them is content to chill out on this hot day and do their thing while I write for you lovely readers, and each is thrilled with me for the special treats — that’s positive classical conditioning, folks, and it strengthens bonds. (Additionally, I snuck some training in by asking for a series of sits, downs, high fives, and nose targets before handing over the goods.)

Feed your dog mindfully, because food is love, food is training currency, and food can also be an activity or even a lesson!. Bone appétit. 

Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior, where she recruits and trains for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, SiriusPup.com, the family business.

Main article photo by: patchattack-Creative Commons