By Sandy Modell
Spring may be around the corner but it is not here yet. Rain, snow, sleet, or hail are good reasons to stay inside. Although you may be able to sit around the shanty and relax, read a good book, or watch TV, your dog may find these activities kind of boring. When boredom sets in, dogs may turn to behaviors to get our attention or because they just want some action, such as demand barking or stealing items of value to you because they smells like you or smell like food, or just have the right chewy texture. They’re not being “bad” dogs, just going a little stir crazy and looking for something fun to do. To prevent unwanted behaviors, preempt them by doing some fun indoor activities and training that can work their mind, provide needed mental stimulation that can actually tire them out so the two of you can just chill on those chilly cold and rain or snowy days.
- Play Hide and Seek! – Hide and seek is a great way to exercise your dog’s mind and body and recall skills. Each family member stocks up on some tasty treats. Small softer treats that you can break apart to the size of half of your thumb nail are best. Or you can use some of their kibble that you would normally put in a bowl and they would devour in five seconds flat. Reward generously when they find you. When the treats are finished, say “all done!” which is the cue for the next family member to call him.
- Treat Dispensing Toys – Treat or food dispensing toys are invaluable boredom busters. Get some and use them as a way to work your dog’s mind and problem solve. Take that classic rubber Kong and stuff it with a variety of treats or a mash made with plain yogurt, canned pumpkin, kibble, apple, or other tidbits and freeze it. Ask your pup for a good behavior, such as sit or down and give them the Kong and let them go at it. Other options include: Kong Wobbler or my dog’s favorite, the Bobalot.
- Targeting – teach your dog to target the palm of your hand or two extended fingers with his nose. Once your dog gets this behavior you can ask for them to target your hand from a distance. Targeting can also become a backup way to call your dog to you.
- The Find It Game – An easy game to play as you can’t go wrong when sniffing and food are involved. Show your dog a piece of dry food or a tiny treat. Say “Find it!” and toss the treat away from you. When they turn back to you mark it with a yes! or a click and toss a treat in the other direction.
- The Muffin Tin Game – Take a 6-muffin tin and put a treat in each cup. Place tennis balls in about half the cups. Once a dog has found the uncovered treats, you can start hiding treats under only some of the tennis balls and using a 12-muffin or 24-muffin tin. Keep your dog hard at work!
- Let’s Dance! – Put on some music with a good beat and teach your dog dance moves. To teach them to weave between your legs, put a treat in each hand and put one hand behind and through your leg and lure your dog through one leg and around to the side of you. Reward at your side. Repeat with the opposite leg. You can also teach your dog to spin around in one direction and twirl around in the other direction. Each direction should a different cue such as spin for going around to the left and twirl for going around to the right.
- Tug and Fetch – Tug and fetch are classic dog games that do not require a lot of room. Hallways tend to be great for fetch games, and tug can be played virtually anywhere. Playing tug with your dog for 10 minutes can really burn some good energy. The tug game can offer good training opportunities in impulse control and good behaviors. Teach your dog to give you the tug toy on cue and then wait for a calm behavior such as sit or stand quietly before tugging again.
Remember to give your dog a release word, such as “all done” when you want to end the training session, so they understand that it’s break time. Then go back to shoveling a little more snow or sit down and relax with a hot toddy, and a frozen Kong (for your pup), or take a nap! I promise you, your dog will be ready for one too!
These are just a few activities that you can do with your dog to get them thinking and moving when you are stuck inside. And don’t forget to do a little body handling and massage to really help your pup relax and just chill. Have fun with your dog!
Sandy Modell, B.S., CPDT-KA is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Wholistic Hound Training and Behavior Services, “Where training is fun!” She can be reached at www.wholistichound.com, 571-238-9145.