Let’s talk about winter, or more specifically, being shut indoors all winter. It can be very, VERY boring to stay inside all the time with nothing new to do (which is why I was trying to hibernate). But there are ways you can keep you indoor-bound companions in tip-top shape and their minds sharp as a tack. I learned long ago that mental exercise can be satisfying to bored, bounce-off-the-wall pups and cats. Most breeds of dogs were developed to work (like Corgis, Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, and Terriers to name a few), and many dogs today are not expected to fulfill that inherent trait. Giving dogs a job to do is good for them, and they like it! (much unlike cats such as I, who prefer to sleep a lot and keep to themselves).
There are many tricks that you can teach your dog to help them work for their treats, and it also reinforces discipline and good behavior. I know someone who taught their dog to balance a biscuit on his nose, then flip it into the air and catch it on command. Now that’s a heck of a parlor trick! He also knows to bark on request, shake hands and even find his plush toys and put them away. Try starting with a simple game and build on it. If your dog likes to retrieve, begin with simple in-sight fetching and then slowly make things harder. Add a “stay.” Then “hide” the toy in an easy-to-find spot, making the game a little trickier as your pet learns you want him to “find,” instead of merely “fetch.”
Every trick, whether useful or just plain fun, was born on a gloomy winter afternoon. You can also use search games, where you can hide a toy and ask your dog to find it. For even more mental stimulation, see if your dog can find the right object by name – Kong, frog, football, and so on. Such games are to dogs what the daily crossword puzzle or the latest computer game is to us. Dogs have to think, they have to learn, and when they get it right, their sense of accomplishment and joy is palpable and contagious. And as fun as these games are, with plenty of praise for a job done right, they also reinforce a dog’s place in the pack structure we humans call “family.”
If bored and lonely, many animals will develop any number of bad habits. They dig holes in the yard or carpeting, bark or cry endlessly day and night, and become chewers of furniture, shoes, or pillows. And sometimes, without the socialization all pets need, they become aggressive and moody, ready to bite or snarl at anyone who comes into their territory. So it’s important to keep up with your pet’s personal growth and socialization in winter time! Just don’t let them sit around doing nothing. You’ll all enjoy a bitter winter day better if you find your dogs something useful to do!
Now, this isn’t just a matter for the dogs in your life – birds need exercise, too! From the smallest budgie to the largest macaw, parrots are highly intelligent, active birds who need to stay mentally and physically active to stay healthy. Anything a parrot can dig into, from a toy to a challenging food that requires effort to eat, is good. One toy in particular is good for burning the calories consumed by a sedentary bird: the coiled-rope perch. This springy invention requires effort to stay on, and some birds become so enamored of it that they’ll spend hours bouncing up and down. Human interaction is a huge part of animals companions’ well being and growth, so take those birds out and let them stretch their wings, meet your visitors, watch some TV with you, or run little obstacle courses in the open!
Another thing to remember with birds is that many of the birds kept as pets are of species most comfortable in places that we would find intolerable: the steamy, hot rain forests of Central and South America. The dry air of human homes – especially in winter – is thought to be a contributing factor to feather-picking, a frustrating syndrome that can drive birds to pluck themselves bald. Many birds enjoy being dampened by water from a spray bottle or being offered the chance to take a bath in a shallow dish of clean water. How often should birds get a bath? There are no firm guidelines, but daily would be fine with many of our feathery friends.
No stimulation is “technically” necessary, though we do like a fun game of “Catch the Laser Dot” or playing with feathered devices and whatnot to keep ourselves looking svelt.
So, remember, while the winter is woeful with all its bitter cold and nasty weather, you can still enjoy the indoors with your pets and give them something fun to do to keep them healthy and social! After all, your pal Mason here would never steer your wrong…right?