Yesterday we chatted about Passive Calming Activities (PCAs) and how they are part of the Calmness Triad by Absolute Dogs. Today we wanted to talk about a specific type, stuffed toys or Kongs. While Kong is a brand name, there are many other toys that can be stuffed with food, one of our personal favorites is the Busy Buddy line.
Kongs may be one of the biggest things that made calmness possible in our home. Its how we transitioned dogs into gated communities, increased duration on bounderies, and allowed non-stressful time away from us. Kongs keep your dog occupied, which reduces stress and anxiety when you leave them. It allows them to self soothe and relax in your absence, but please, make sure you know your dog. Never leave a dog that will chew or destroy alone with any toys.
When I first suggest Kongs I often hear from clients that their dogs are disinterested in them. In reality, this is most often because their dog has a low tolerance of frustration. The food is too difficult for them to get out because it is packed tight or frozen so they give up rather than eating - no matter how delicious or tempting the reward is. In order to reduce frustration your dog's first Kongs should be easy to eat and filled with extra tasty goodies. Just think about how easy (and fast!) they gobble up kibble from a bowl. You'll want to think of the type of dispenser you use just as much as what you want to put inside it.
You don’t need a specific toy, just anything that will hold their food. Even household items such as folded toilet paper tubes or small boxes can be used, as long as you are prepared to clean up the shredded paper. Again, take into account how frustrated your dog gets by problem-solving. One of our favorite toys is the Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat, easy to fill and you can adjust the opening as needed.
Once you have a dispenser you can decide what to fill it with. Something like the Twist 'n Treat pair great with some peanut butter (no xylitol!) or plain greek yogurt smeared on the inside. You can then add kibble, fruit, or meat for an instant reward while the peanut butter or yogurt will make the treat last longer which will build your dog's frustration tolerance.
Be creative! Switch up food and dispensers as your dog becomes more used to them. Once they are no longer frustrated, but excited by Kongs you can begin to freeze them for longer lasting treats. Blended fruit or broths can be a great choice. This will help with separation anxiety, increasing duration on boundaries, and foster rest. Often, once a dog has finished their Kong they are more than ready to take a nap. And that is a truly tired, happy dog.
Yesterday we chatted about the Rest part of the Calmness Triad by Absolute Dogs. Today I want to tackle the Passive Calming Activities (PCAs). I like to think of this section as a pacifier. Basically, a way to soothe our dogs just like you would human babies. Unlike humans though, it’s best if you can provide PCAs before your dog requires soothing. PCAs allow our dogs to decompress, relax, and destress. They are activities that use their natural senses, such as chewing, licking, or sniffing. PCAs provide endless enrichment for our dogs, working their brains and creating a truly tired and content dog.
Remember how we said a tired dog is a happy dog? Tired dogs should be tired because they were provided enriching activities not because they were exercised to exhaustion. When we over-exercise our dogs in an effort to tire them out we aren’t allowing them the opportunity to unwind. Instead we are adding more stress to a dog that can't relax. Another common side effect is creating a dog with greater stamina that needs to go farther and faster to meet the same requirements as before. In general, these dogs aren’t any happier than a dog that was given the chance to “scavenge” for a meal.
So what are PCAs? I tend to group them into two categories: Chewing and Licking or Sniffing and Hunting. The list below is by no means exhaustive, in fact PCA can be just about as creative as you want. There is an excellent group on Facebook called Beyond the Bowl that can help you get started with enrichment activities, even on a low budget.
Some of our personal favorite activities are Stuffed Kongs (and other non-Kong branded similar toys). As well as puzzle feeders, scatter feeding, and scent games. In general, my dogs have 2-3 PCA per day, which helps foster calmness, time alone, ditching the bowl, and ditching the routine. If you have a dog that is struggling with rest PCA can be the key to achieving it! They allow a dog to be occupied when you leave and often help them sleep after they are finished.
Having struggles introducing PCA? Tomorrow we'll tackle how to get started and choosing the right activity for your dog.
If there is one thing the pandemic has allowed us to do, it’s have more time with our dogs. At our house that has meant more time for tricks! We’ve spent more time trick training in the last week than probably the last few months combined. Its been nice, and a good reminder that I need to make more time for it.
Trick training is special, it takes a certain bond, finesse, and desire from both parties to succeed, especially when you get to the higher levels. It takes practice, persistence, and precision. It works your brain, and your dog’s. I’ve noticed the last few days my dogs have all been tuckered out a bit more than usual, whether they went on our little daily adventures or not. I can only assume its all that brain work.
It’s working my brain as well. For a long time, I’ve wanted to offer some unique courses online, tricks mixed with concept training games. I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to manage it. It’s difficult since I want something for all skill levels, but I think I’ve got a good outline and I’m hoping to launch something new in the next week. I can’t wait to offer this new level of bonding to both my existing and future clients
So why should you trick train? Hands down, it makes you a better trainer. You have to look at timing, adding cues, and chaining behaviors together in ways you never did before. It provides endless enrichment for you, your dogs, and anyone you share your trick performances with. It even enhances your dog’s flexibility and fitness. And I truly believe they love it. Any piece of equipment or prop I pull out they are all itching to get their paws on it! It’s a good thing we’ve been practicing a LOT of turn-taking!
Owner, Head Trainer