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Holiday boredom busters for children and canines

Published: 3 April 2018

Keeping children and pooches entertained can be a mission, especially if the weather turns sour and you can’t head outdoors to burn energy off.

The good news is that the amazing staff at Auckland Council’s Animal Management Shelters know a thing or two about keeping dogs busy.

All the dogs cared for at the shelters are provided with daily enrichment sessions to keep boredom at bay and minds active.

In fact, our animal experts say that providing a dog with 15 minutes of mental challenge provides the same stimulation as a 5km run.

They’ve rounded up their best dog activities that you can get children making these school holidays that’ll have your dog’s tongue hanging out.

Teach a dog a new trick

There is no limit to what your dog can learn.

Tania Butler, Auckland Council Senior Kennel Attendant at the Manukau Animal Shelter says that any dog can learn new tricks and that you just have to find out what drives them.

“Don’t set up your dog to fail. Reward any attempt with love and encouragement, a juicy treat or their favorite toy.”

Tania’s recommended school holiday trick is teaching your dog to ring a bell.

"All you need is a bell that you can buy from a stationary shop and a high value reward – I use chicken because the more they love the reward, the harder they try.”

"You can also use a clicker you can get from pet shops to mark the behavior you want or you can use a marker word like ‘YES!'"

  1. Teach the dog to target your hand – if they already know how to give paw this will be easy.
  2. Have the dog target your hand several times then introduce the bell.
  3. Place the bell in your hand and ask the dog for their paw and mark (with your clicker or marker word) when the dog touches the bell or even just attempts to.
  4. When your dog is comfortable targeting the bell in your hand, place it on the ground and have the dog get into a down position. Wait for your dog to target the bell, reward for any attempt at trying.
  5. When the dog has learnt how to ring the bell, you can introduce your trick word. It can be anything simple like “Bell”, “Ring” or something clever like “Is dinner ready?” 

Remember, training sessions should always be fun and playful, keep them short and know when your dog is getting tired.

Make a food puzzle

Food puzzle toys are awesome boredom busters and can easily be made at home. Some easy food puzzle toy ideas are:

  • Grab an old muffin tin and 12 tennis balls. Hide treats under some of the balls and let your dog sniff out the food
  • An empty cereal box with treats inside
  • Cut some holes in a plastic milk or juice bottle, pop some treats inside and the lid back on.

Arrange a play date

Just like the children, dogs benefit from hanging out with other canines. It helps them socialise and tires them out enormously.

Alex Rodell-Smith, Auckland Council’s Team Leader of Animal Management for South Auckland, says you should never let your dog rush up to say hello to other dogs, even if your dog is always friendly.

“If your dog is meeting a new friend for the first time, I recommend keeping both dogs on a leash until they have had a good sniff and a chance to get to know each other better.”

If you know another family with a dog, arrange for a romp at a local off-leash dog park – just remember to keep an eye on children and dogs at all times and take care around unfamiliar dogs. Find an off-leash park in your area.

Get baking

If you’re teaching new tricks or rewarding good behaviour, you’ll definitely need treats on hand. So rather than buy a packet you could spend a productive afternoon making your own. This site has a great list of recipes to try – and particular ingredients to avoid.

Look for the signs

Just like us, dogs can become irritable in the heat and some may not cope with being over-stimulated.

If your dog turns its head away, walks away from the attention, or looks to you while getting attention from someone else, they may be asking for help. If that’s the case, calm things down a bit and give your dog a break from the excitement.

Learn about dog safety

Take your children on a virtual adventure with the free app A Dog’s Story.

Perfect for a rainy school holiday day trapped inside, A Dog’s Story is an interactive game where your children will journey through beautiful landscapes and learn real-world lessons about how to interact safely with different dogs.

Download the app for free on the Apple App Store or Google Play.