By Sandy Modell
Alexandria, VA – 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 boring.
When boredom sets in, dogs will often turn to behaviors to get our attention or get some action. Behaviors such as demand barking or stealing items of value because they smell like you or smell like food, or have the right chewy texture. They’re not being “bad” dogs, just going a little stir crazy and looking for some fun.
To prevent these behaviors, preempt them by engaging your pup in fun indoor activities that can work their brains, provide needed mental stimulation, and tire them out so then the two of you can chill on those chilly and rainy or snowy days.
1. Play Hide and Seek! – Hide and seek is a great way to exercise your dog’s mind and body while working on their recall skills. Each family member grabs some small treats. Hide in different rooms and one at a time, call your dog. Each time he finds someone, that person gets very excited and rewards the dog with treats. When the treats are gone, say “all done!” Then the next family member calls him.
2. Treat-Dispensing Toys – Treat dispensing toys are boredom busters. Use them to work your dog’s mind and develop problem-solving skills. Stuff a rubber Kong with treats and freeze it. Ask your pup for a good behavior, such as sit, down, or eye contact, and reward with the Kong. Food dispensers like the Kong Wobbler or the Bobalot dispense treats slowly and challenge your dog’s mind.
3. Targeting – Teach your dog to target the palm of your hand or two extended fingers with his nose. Once he learns this, ask him to target your hand from a distance. Give this behavior a verbal cue, like “touch.” Targeting can become another way to call your dog—practice targeting on walks to keep his attention on you instead of the environment.
4. The Find It Game – Find It is easy to play as you can’t go wrong when food is involved. Show your dog a tiny treat. Say “Find It!” and toss the treat low and away from you. When he comes back to you, mark it by saying “yes!” and toss a treat in another direction. The treat you toss is his reward. After you mark his return, to make the game more exciting, run away from him before tossing the next treat.
5. The Muffin Tin Game – Put a treat in each cup of a 6-cup muffin tin and put a tennis ball on top of each. Once your dog uncovers the treats, start hiding treats only under some of the tennis balls, using a 12-cup or larger muffin tin. Keep your dog working to find which holes have the treats!
6. Tug and Fetch – Tug and fetch are classic games that don’t require much room. Hallways are great for fetch games, and tug can be played virtually anywhere. Playing tug with your dog for 10 minutes can burn good energy and offers good impulse control training. To teach your dog to drop the tug toy on cue, offer him a treat. When he drops it, wait for calm behavior such as sit before tugging again. Eventually, you won’t need the treat because he’ll learn the verbal drop cue.
7. Always remember to give your dog a release word, such as “all done” when you want to end the training session, so he understands that it’s break time.
These activities will get your dog thinking and moving when you are stuck inside. Don’t forget to add a little body handling and massage at the end to help your pup relax and chill. Have fun with your dog!