It was a dark and stormy night.
And another night.
Which was followed by approximately three months of spectacularly cruddy weather. Jeff and I wondered if we could swing a month in Florida… on retirement income … with five dogs.
Lilly, our Jack Russell mix, is the latest edition to our pack (discounting the foster dog Oliver - an adorable senior poodle if anyone is looking). Lilly likes socks. She likes taking money out of wallets. She likes pens and erasers. She likes mini-pumpkins, bottle caps, toilet brushes and everything she is quite sure she isn’t supposed to be squirreling away under our bed.
But especially socks.
If Lilly is not walked within five minutes after her breakfast, she goes on the hunt for unsanctioned toys. She is not a dog with patience to spare — and if she had any at all it would be shredded under our bed amongst the rest of her eclectic gathering. Lilly is the main reason we have to figure out winter fun when the snow is too deep for her to bounce in. Yes, the older dogs also get wintertime blues, but they do not turn household objects into confetti over it. They do not turn their depression into an excuse for evil instead of good.
They would rather give me a guilt trip. Instead of acting out, they look accusingly at me. For surely, the thermostat control for the great outdoors is in my hands, and I am using it willy nilly. For some inexplicable reason I have chosen another blizzard in a three week stretch of blizzards - and have the gall to look sad about it.
Just to clear any worries, I do walk the dogs in all kinds of weather. I let them decided when it is too cold, or too rainy. Most of the time they will opt for outside, but during those days when it’s raining horizontally, or when they are certain they will freeze their furry knickers off, we throw up our paws and stay inside.
That’s when the trouble starts. That’s when Lilly strikes. (Think of the screaming refrain of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. That’s Lilly’s theme song.).
I’d like to share a couple ideas I’ve used to keep dogs occupied when going outside isn’t an option. But mostly this blog post is purely mercenary. Truthfully, I’m hoping you will share with me what kind of fun you have inside when you are scraping the bottom of the fun barrel with your own Lillys during foul weather.
Enrichment toys are fun. And in my house they last all of five minutes. Little Lilly, as luck would have it, is the first one to figure out how to get the treats out of the toys. Unsupervised, she will simply abscond with everyone else’s toys to add to the chaos under the bed. This causes deep consternation among the larger dogs who cannot follow her there, and among the smaller dogs who are too smart to try. In five minutes, Lilly emerges from under the bed with a look that says, “That was fun. What are we going to do for the next 10 hours?”
For this reason, I begin to save boxes in the fall. I put treats into small boxes, then nest them inside larger ones like matryoshka dolls. I toss a few piles of these boxes on the living room floor then let the dogs have at them. “Where are the cookies?” I ask with great mystery. Depending on the dog, this can be fun for about 10-20 minutes.
When we are really bored, we do indoor training. This only works if the rest of the dogs are elsewhere - shut into the bedroom, for example. Otherwise, all five of them will simply follow me around the house as if they were unusually sized rodents and I had a magical flute. But brushing up on sit, lay down, stay, roll over, shake and heel is a good way to pass a bit of time.
Then there is our all time favorite, Slobber Ball. To play this, you will need several balls, at least two bored humans, and some equally bored dogs. Jeff and I like to sit on couches, hide a few balls under us, and throw them back and forth. (Yes. We play ball indoors. We like to live dangerously). The dogs love the constant movement and activity. They get very excited trying to intercept the balls. We are always careful to make sure each dog catches the balls several times. We only play keep-away in as much as to build excitement. When a dog catches a ball, either by chance or design, we make a big deal out of it. “YAY! Augie caught the ball!” Clap. Clap. Clap. “Good JOB Augie!”
Slobber Ball is a lot of fun with more than two people. We have played this with a group of my family sitting in a large circle during the holidays. It’s a bit of a wild rumpus, but you can’t go away from a good game of Slobber Ball unsmiling.
But enough about us. Please do tell us what you do to keep your dogs entertained indoors. We are going into our second winter with Lilly. Our sanity depends on it.