6 Tips for Taking Care of Your Dogs During El Nino

My dog Minjay wet and disgruntled after our walk in the rain, but not wanting to go back inside either.

Three days into this El Nino weather, and I'm already feeling challenged by getting my dog enough exercise and keeping him from getting frustrated. Let's face it, Southern California pets are not used to being stuck indoors because of rain.

That got me thinking that other dog lovers across this region may be feeling the same away. Here are some tips for taking care of your pooches and keeping them happy over the next rainy few weeks:

Get Creative Indoors
When it comes down to it, dogs need exercise and stimulation.

1. Stairs
If you live in a multiple-story home, get your dog running up and down the stairs, as suggested by Nicole Pajer on Cesarsway.com. Throw toys and treats across the staircase, in a vertical game of fetch. If you live in an apartment building, like I do, try using treats hidden in the palm of your hand to lead your dog up and down a few stories on a leash.

2. Figure Eights
One of my dog's favorite things to do is figure eight exercise. I learned this trick last spring from Dr. Gina Kwong, DVM at the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, when we had to rehabilitate Minjay's knee after surgery. Now that it isn't too hard for him to do (yay for recovery), he loves it. I use barstools as the guideposts to circle around, but you could use just about anything.

The key is making "ice cream" that helps keep him on track. He is, after all, a Labrador whose attention wanders easily. I use mini disposable 5 oz. bath cups you can find at any grocery store. Fill them almost to the rim with low fat plain yogurt, and then mix in a sprinkle of melted peanut butter (melting the peanut butter in the microwave helps you mix it in). Make sure to choose natural, ground peanut butter to avoid giving them too much sugar. (Read the ingredients. It should just say: peanuts.) One regular-sized 32 oz. tub of yogurt makes about 12 small cups. Freeze them overnight. In the morning you can use them to get your pooch to follow you around in figure eights, or any other kind of healthy exercise in your home, for as long as you want. Works like a charm.


Find Alternative Activities Outside of the House
No matter how creative you get, dogs (and you!) will get bored of staying indoors for days on end. And if all the El Nino predictions run true, we've got several weeks of storms headed our way. Another technique is to get your dog in the car for a stimulating drive and a run to the pet store. I do this with Minjay any time there's rain (i.e. about five times total since moving to the Los Angeles area over three years ago. I think we're going to be doing a lot more this winter. Thank you, Petco!) There, they can walk around freely, sniff goodies to their heart's delight, hopefully interact with other dogs, and get some treats from friendly pet store staff. If you get bored of the pet store, find other pet-friendly places you can head to, like shopping malls or bookstores, for a change of scene. I'm grateful to live in Santa Monica where most shops are dog-friendly. Make sure to support these establishments and let them know you appreciate them letting you and your dog spend time there together. Now I have one more excuse to head to the bookstore several times a week, with Minjay.

Use the Time Indoors for Training and Fun
Dr. Gina Kwong from VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital suggests taking the time to work on some basic obedience training or learning new tricks. "My own dog hates getting wet, so when the weather isn't cooperating, I spend some of our 'walk' time teaching him to 'heel' in the hallway of my apartment building. Learning new behaviors is mentally stimulating and will help keep your dog stay engaged and focused. It's a great way to actively spend time with your dog-- a win-win for you and your pet! Just remember to keep the training sessions relatively short (about 10-15min), especially if it is learning a new behavior, so that your dog doesn't become too frustrated."

Puzzle Treats
"I also love different 'puzzle toys' to keep my dog distracted. They are interactive toys that you can stuff with your pets favorite treat," says Dr. Kwong. This is a tool a lot of us have to use anyway when we leave our pooches home for several hours while at work. They become even more crucial when morning and evening walks are hampered due to the weather. They are a great distraction and keep them mentally stimulated. But giving them too many treats, and fewer walks, could lead to weight gain. "Better yet," Dr. Kwong says, "Portion out a part of their daily kibble and make them work for it!"

I personally love to prepare these puzzle toys in advance with pumpkin mixed into their kibble and frozen overnight. (I use all sorts of Kong toys). This extends both how much they have to work for it, and so stay simulated, and how long it keeps them distracted.

What are some techniques you use to keep your dogs happy when long walks outdoors aren't an option?