Training Time: Try These Activities For Your Four-Legged Pals This Winter

Make sure your winter goes to the dogs in a fun way!

Pulling like this is not good for the human or for a dog’s sensitive neck area. (Courtesy photo)

By Sandy Modell

There’s no doubt about it, friends: Winter is here. The days have gotten steadily shorter, leaving less time for outdoor activities. Cold, rainy, or snowy days are good reasons to stay inside. But while you may be able to lie around the shanty and read a good book or watch TV, your dog could find these activities boring.

When boredom sets in, dogs may resort to “behaviors” to get our attention or because they just want some action. Their attention-seeking could take the form of demand barking, whining, or stealing items of value to you. They’re not being bad dogs, just going a little stir crazy and looking for something fun to do. To prevent these unwanted behaviors, preempt them by engaging your pup in fun indoor activities and training that works their mind and provides mental stimulation that can actually tire them out.

A tired dog is a good dog!

Try These Activities With Your Dogs: 

1. Play Hide and Seek: Hide and seek is a great way to exercise your dog’s mind, body, and recall skills. Each family member stocks up on some tasty treats and takes turns calling your dog, rewarding him each time he comes running to whoever called him.

2. Treat Dispensing Toys: Treat or food dispensing toys and puzzles are invaluable boredom busters. 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 of plain yogurt, canned pumpkin puree, kibble, apple, or other tidbits, and freeze it. Ask your pup for a good behavior, such as sit, down, eye contact (to name just a few) and reward him with the Kong.

Food dispensers include the Kong Wobbler or my dog’s favorite, the Bobalot.

3. 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 her to target your hand from a distance. Make a game out of it. Targeting can also become a backup way to call your dog to you.

4. The Find It Game: This is an easy game to play because you can’t go wrong when sniffing and food are involved. Show your dog 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. This game builds focus and attention on you, which is always a good thing.

5. Nose Games: Teaching your dog to use her natural scent abilities to find tasty treats involves lots of mental stimulation. Ask your dog to sit or stay in a down, while you hide a few treats around the room. Release your dog to find the treat and praise each time she gets it right. Make it easy at first until she gets the game, then make it progressively harder.

6. Let’s Dance! Put on some music with a good beat and teach your dog dance moves. To teach him 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, then 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 have a different cue such as spin for going around to the left and twirl for going around to the right.

7. 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; tug can be played virtually anywhere. Playing tug with your dog for 10 minutes can really burn some good energy. The tug game also teaches 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.

8. Take a Class: Training classes using science-based positive methods can be a great way for you and your dog to learn new skills while having fun. What better way to bond with your dog on a cold winter day or evening than to take a class or workshop? Wholistic Hound offers a variety of classes that can teach you and your dog new skills while having great fun with your canine companion.

OK, now you’re ready to sit down and relax with a hot toddy (for you) and a frozen Kong (for your pup). Or maybe take a nap! I promise you, after some fun and mentally stimulating indoor activities, your dog will be ready for a nap too!

Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder and CEO of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound.