Time to go outside!

It’s finally time – spring is just around the corner and both man and his best friend are looking forward to some outdoor activities. With our tips, you and your four-legged friend will quickly get fit for spring, ready to enjoy the new season.

The sun is shining, green grass is appearing and spring is finally here! The mild temperatures boost our craving for outdoor activities, and the opportunity to discover new territory with our dogs as well as new kinds of sports and game ideas.

Discover new sports with your dog
Come springtime, most dog schools offer agility courses for beginners. Scampering over hurdles in a race against time, balancing on see-saws, creeping through tunnels and coursing through slaloms – these kinds of challenges prove to be great fun for the majority of dogs. And because their owners have to run along alongside them, this helps to keep everyone fit! Agility, like most types of dog sports, involves physical fitness that strengthens the bond between a dog and his owner.

Dummy training is another great way for your dog to burn up energy. It’s the ideal form of entertainment for dogs who love retrieving games. The sport was originally created for hunting dogs but has since developed into a dog sport in its own right. In the classic approach, the dog’s owner throws a dummy and then gives his dog the command to retrieve it. Alternatively, the owner can “lose” the dummy when out walking, so that the dog has to find it first before bringing it back. With this method the owner can help his dog by using verbal commands or hand signals to guide him to the right spot – an exercise that also helps a dog learn how to heed his owner’s orders.

Does your dog have a really good nose? Then he’d probably enjoy tracking or man trailing. Here the dog has to pick up a trail and follow it on command. It’s important that he feels a sense of achievement at the end. For example he could track down a person who rewards his achievement with a treat. You can increase the challenge by training your dog in a new or more difficult location, thereby ensuring that he’ll never get bored with playing these kinds of search games. One point to note is that you should keep your dog on a long training leash until he is able to follow the basic command “sit”. Knowing that you can take corrective measures at any time will give you a sense of security. Alternatively, you could seek out a professional trainer and enrol you and your dog for a man trailing course, as it’s even more fun to do search dog training with like-minded people. If you are looking for a sport that will give both you and your dog a good workout, then why not try your hand at dog Frisbee. “Disc dog”, as the sport is known, is basically centred on throwing a Frisbee for your dog to catch. Owners who become true masters of the art don’t stop at simple throws however – they employ special techniques that challenge their own physical control and speed as well. It may also be advisable to enrol in a course and learn the right throwing techniques to make sure that your dog doesn’t sustain an injury when playing Frisbee. Please also make sure that you only use special discuses that have been designed for dog sports. Catching a “regular” Frisbee could hurt your dog’s mouth and teeth. If you’re having trouble choosing one sport from this array of appealing options, then enquire about a trial lesson at a dog school you trust. Reputable professionals will have nothing against you trying out a sport to see if it’s right for you both. And do make sure that you and your dog don’t overexert yourselves. If you weren’t particularly active in winter you should ease into your outdoor activities slowly, be it playing a dog sport or going jogging together.

Use treats in moderation

The long winter months affect our pets’ physical condition somewhat and also have an impact on their weight. Getting active and playing together is an extremely important factor in helping your pooch loses his winter fat reserves. Nonetheless, “positive reinforcement” is an integral part of these activities and that usually means rewarding your dog with treats. You can make sure that your dog doesn’t gain any extra pounds with these new activities by deducting his treats from his daily food rations. Reduced-calorie snacks are also ideal in these situations and make the perfect guilt-free treat. Actually there is nothing to stop you making your dog “earn” his entire daily food ration. On the contrary – most dogs would find this extremely entertaining. Spontaneous training sessions can transform even your standard daily walks into exciting opportunities. And as an added benefit, your dog will learn that it pays to give you their full attention. You should avoid playing “find the treat” games outside though. Your dog would almost certainly enjoy it, but he would also learn that it’s okay to eat things that he finds on the ground, which could prove dangerous for him. Instead, it’s better to put his food in a food bag that your dog has to first retrieve before he is allowed to eat the contents from your hand.

He’s still at risk of catching a cold

When temperatures turn milder, we often want to head off to a nearby lake or river. Some dogs jump straight in as soon as the upper layer of ice has thawed. You need to prevent them from doing this though because although spring days can be nice and warm, the water is still much too cold for swimming. At these temperatures, even breeds with an affinity for water – such as Labradors that have a woolly undercoat – can still easily catch cold. Or, worse still, a bladder or lung infection. In spring, even dry land can be hazardous as this is the prime season for ticks and fleas. So it’s imperative that you reapply their tick and flea protection (more about this on page 12).

Get your moggy moving

Just like their canine neighbours, cats feel the need to move about more in spring. Kitties that have spent the past few months purring away on the couch need to get back outside. So give them the option to do this. If you can, install a cat flap so that your feline flatmate can decide for herself when she wants to go out. Before you let her back outside though, do please remember to reapply her tick and flea protection.

Even house cats who don’t go out experience a newly awakened desire for freedom at this time of year. But because they can’t, it’s down to their owners to give their pets enough entertainment, offering them new stimuli and games to play. It’s best to buy a variety of pet accessories and games. Playing together means that even stay-at-home cats can get enough exercise, and it strengthens the bond between a cat and her owner. Cat danglers and toy mice are especially popular with cats. Crinkle tunnels and products with catnip in them will get even the most listless moggies on their feet.

Shedding their winter weight

Once winter has passed, it’s particularly important that you monitor your indoor cat’s figure. Ideally, you should be able to see a distinctive waist when you look down at your cat from above. If, however, you are presented with a ball rather than an “hourglass”, this shows that your cat is definitely overweight, so it’s time to introduce a couple of extra games because this shows that your cat is definitely overweight. Our tip: try to get your kitty moving with the new trend sport, “cat agility”. Similar to the dog agility sport, your cat must make her way round an obstacle course as quickly and precisely as she can. You can build the course out of boards, cushions, books and stools, or else use the agility equipment made for very small breeds of dogs, which you can find in specialty stores. Then simply coax your kitty over the little hurdles with the help of her favourite toy or treat. It’s important to make sure that the obstacle course is stable and can’t be tipped over so that your cat won’t get injured or frightened. At the end of the day, she only needs one negative experience to completely spoil her fun with agility. You can also set up a cat agility course in your back garden or on a (cat-safe) balcony. Don’t let your small animals outside yet Rabbits and guinea pigs still have to wait a while until they can venture outside into their outdoor enclosure. In March it is usually still too cold to move your animals outside. Even when the sun keeps temperatures mild during the day, the night frost cools the ground too much and your pets can catch cold. In the meantime, you can start preparing your rabbits and guinea pigs for the outdoor season now by gradually getting them used to fresh greens again. Offer them fresh grass and herbs every day and slowly increase the amount you give them. This will help keep bloating and digestive disorders at bay. You should also use this time to check that both their outdoor enclosure and your garden are safe for small animals. Pay particular attention to possible gaps they could slip though which would allow them to get out of their enclosure or even the garden.

When all that’s done, you can finally start moving your guinea pigs and rabbits outside from mid May onwards and let them feel the wind in their fur again.

Protect breeding birds from cats. Cats go on the hunt when they’re outdoors and they pose a real danger to breeding birds and chicks in the spring. To minimise the risk facing these little birds, you should at least keep your cats indoors at dawn and dusk. It is around these times that birds are out searching for food and are therefore most at risk. Added to this, car drivers can’t see cats so well in dim evening or morning light, so it’s safest to let them out in the middle of the day.