K.J. Goldenberg - DMV

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Conquering cabin fever with your pets

I was starting to think this cold snap would never end; yet here we are acting like minus-7 is a blessing. February is the month when cabin fever really sets in, and we all need some activities to help pass the time until spring.

Hopefully you’ve followed my advice from last week and Rover is now well-equipped for a day out in the snow, because that’s exactly what we have planned!

The good news is that pets are allowed (on a leash) at most of the island’s nature parks, including Bois-de-Liesse and Mount-Royal. Pack an extra water bottle, a collapsible dog bowl and a handful of kibble snacks, and bring your pet along for some snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing or a snowball fight. Tying the leash around your waist will help you keep your centre of gravity if your pet starts pulling ahead on trails. Take frequent breaks to check all family members for signs of exhaustion or frostbite.

Instead of just tagging along for the fun, you can also teach Rover to pull his own weight (and yours)! Skijoring is a great winter activity where your pet is harnessed to you as you work your way through trails on skis or a sled; a great workout for both of you! Guides Canins in St-Lazare offers courses on using skijoring equipment and teaching basic pull commands. You can also find other courses such as fly-ball, agility and tracking to help you and your pet burn some mental and physical energy.

If you’ve had enough of being out in the cold and indoor space is too limited for physical activity, opt for mental challenges to burn off pent-up energy. Try teaching your pet one new trick a week (cats, rabbits and birds can learn tricks, too!). Get creative! Teach Sparky to grab a tissue when you sneeze or put his toys away in a bin. YouTube is a great source of inspiration for tricks to teach and how to teach them: Type “amazing/funny/creative dog tricks” into the search bar, and look for videos using free-shaping, clicker training or positive reinforcement.

One of my favourite games is “Find it”, a basic introduction to tracking. While your dog is outside or in another room, toss some empty boxes and obstacles around the room, hiding a treat inside a few of them. Beginners can start by being led up to one over-turned box with a treat underneath. Once she sits in front of the box or places a paw on it  (you can choose any “signal” for your pet), she gets the treat. Then, increase the challenge with more obstacles and fewer or more subtle treats; a biscuit is harder to sniff out than a warm slice of hotdog, for example. Your dog will love using her nose for something other than sniffing lamp posts.

Whatever activity you choose, you’ll be amazed how just 15 minutes of learning or play per day can turn your wound-up pooch into an evening-by-the-fire cuddle-bug.

How do you and your pet spend the cold days? Post your pet-friendly activity ideas in the comments below!

Dr. K.J. Goldenberg is a veterinarian at the Pierrefonds Animal Hospital.

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