Admit it: sometimes you feel like a bad pet parent because you can’t spend enough time with your dog. You manage to squeeze in his daily walks, but it’s challenging to fit more than that in on a typically-busy work day.
Even if you can’t find a way to carve out significant time for your dog during the week, you can assuage those guilty feelings by engaging your dog in any of the following quick-and-easy activities. In just five minutes or so you can challenge your dog, relax him, or help him become a better canine citizen!
If you’ve only got a few minutes to connect with your dog before you head out the door for the day, why not help him get into a stress-free frame of mind before you leave? Massage is different than regular petting in that the goal is to aid in relaxation. Petting is usually staccato – think of the thump-thump-thump-style petting most people do when interacting with dogs. Mindful massage is slower, the strokes are deeper and you are completely in tune with your dog as you do it.
To start, focus on your dog’s shoulders and sides of the neck, and rub those spots with the same type of pace and pressure that you might appreciate if you were at a spa. Watch your dog closely as you work on him – you should see him settle down and give in to the pleasant sensation (if he doesn’t, reconsider your technique). At the end of five minutes of gentle massage, your pooch should be ready for a snooze.
One of the best ways to spend time your dog when you only have a couple of minutes is to play a few rounds of the “Find It” game. This game taps into your dog’s powerful sense of smell and encourages him to focus in a way that will wear him out after just a few repetitions.
To play, grab your dog’s favorite toy, put your dog in a “stay” and hide the toy in plain sight. Tell him to “find it” in an excited voice, then play a quick round of tug with him once he gets it. Repeat the process until your dog understands that the cue “find it” means “look for your hidden toy,” then take him out of the room and hide it without him seeing where you put it (make the hiding spot obvious for the first few “blind” finds.) Let him back into the room and tell him to “find it” without giving any hints. Your dog will amaze you with his sniffer skills and will enjoy the chance to show off his search-and-rescue smarts.
We often focus our attention on making sure that our dogs’ bodies are getting much needed exercise, but what about those busy brains? There are many challenging board game-style toys on the market that test your dog’s critical thinking ability by making him move levers, flaps and pegs to uncover hidden goodies. Dog puzzle toys range from straightforward to seemingly impossible, but with a little support and cheerleading from pet parents, most dogs have a blast figuring out how to get to the treat.
Even though your dog is doing all the hard work, just having you nearby to congratulate him on each success and reload the treats when they’re cleaned out is an easy way to spend some quick brain-draining time together.
Toys on Strings
Dog love to chase rapidly retreating objects (just ask any squirrel). If you want to spend a few minutes harnessing that prey drive, introduce your dog to a toy on a string. Take a favorite plush toy and attach it to a long piece of string or yarn (or better yet, elastic cording) and let your dog go wild trying to chase it down and “kill” it. This game is ideal for pet parents who are dressed and ready leave for work, because you don’t have to get down and dirty with your dog while he chases the toy. It’s the ultimate “lazy human” toy because you can stand still while your dog does all the work.
You probably went through an obedience class with your dog way back when, but aside from getting him to do “sit” and “down,” do you actually use all of the cool stuff you learned? Basic training is much more than “tricks” – those obedience exercises are the common language that you and your dog share. Putting them to work in real life scenarios for a few minutes every day is not only a great way to keep your dog’s manners fluent, it’s also a fun way to spend five minutes bonding with each other.
Brush up on the basics with your dog using positive reinforcement and treats, then start “testing” your dog’s skills by asking him do to exercises in real life scenarios. For example, ask your dog to hold a down-stay while you pretend to answer the door or load the dishwasher. Do a recall when he’s watching your neighbors out the window. Envision how you can put those obedience behaviors to work in your daily life and practice them for a few minutes every day. Positive reinforcement training is always fun for your dog, so these little challenges will seem like a game, not a chore.
Most dogs would rather do anything than have their nails clipped. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes it hurts. So why would you want to devote your precious five minutes with your dog to a nail trim? Believe it or not, five minutes a few times per week is the perfect timeframe to help your dog understand that nail trims aren’t so bad and can even be fun.
The goal is to turn the nail trimming process into a fast-as-lightening game, where your dog gets treats for letting you touch that shiny tool to his paws. To start, grab a high-value goody that your dog rarely gets, like cheese or lunch meat, and first practice just holding your dogs paw in exchange for a treat (the rhythm is touch the paw then give the treat). Then, in later sessions work up to touching the clipper to his paw in exchange for a treat, slowly working up to an actual cut. The fact that the lesson is quick and filled with awesome treats will help your dog understand that manicures ain’t so bad after all!
Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.