Alexandria, VA – The winter months can be hard on us and our dogs. It’s dark when we wake up and when we get home from work. Rain, snow, sleet, or cold are good reasons to stay inside. Although you may be content 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 may look to make their own fun. Demand barking and stealing items of value because they smell like you or food or have the right chewy texture are common problems. They’re not “bad” dogs, just going a little stir-crazy.
To prevent these unwanted behaviors, preempt them by engaging your pup in fun indoor activities and training that can work their brains and provide needed mental stimulation to tire them out so the two of you can chill on those chilly, cold, rainy, or snowy days.
Ditch the Bowl – When I look at a cup of kibble, which may be 40-50 pieces of food, I see 40-50 training opportunities that my dog would otherwise inhale in just a few minutes.
Food is a dog’s biggest motivator. Instead of feeding him two times a day out of his bowl, use some or all of your dog’s daily allotment in enrichment activities. Slow feeders, snuffle mats, food puzzles, and treat dispensing toys are great options to sharpen your dog’s problem-solving skills, slow down the speed of food intake, and give him fun, healthy, and interactive ways to get his daily nutrition.
You can also use his food to make a) frozen kongs (check out kong.com for recipes), b) stuffed non-cooked, sterile bones, and c) homemade DIY enrichment toys. Canine Enrichment is a cool FB group to get your creative juices flowing. Some of my dog’s favorites are the Bobalot and the Barnacle.
Treat Dispensing Toys – Treat or food dispensing toys are invaluable boredom busters. Have some on hand and use them to work your dog’s mind and develop their problem-solving skills. Take that classic rubber Kong and stuff it with various 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, down, eye contact, to name just a few, and reward them with the Kong and let them go at it.
Play Hide and Seek! – Hide and seek is a great way to exercise your dog’s mind and body. Grab some treats or your pup’s kibble and hide them in different places in your house. Make it easy at first so they find the treats right away. Then increase the difficulty, so they have to use their olfactory senses and brain to search. A few rounds of this will work your dog’s brain and tire them out.
The Find It Game – Find It is an easy game to play as you can’t go wrong when sniffing and food are involved. Show your dog a piece of kibble or a tiny treat. Say, “Find It!” and toss the treat low and 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 treat you throw is their reward, so there is no need to give them a treat and toss another one.
The Muffin Tin Game – Take a 6-muffin tin and put a treat in each cup. Place tennis balls on top of the treats. 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 discovering which holes have the treats!
Tug and Fetch – Tug and fetch are classic dog games that do not require a lot of room. Hallways are great for fetch games, and tug can be played virtually anywhere. Playing tug with your dog for 10 minutes can burn some good energy. The tug game also offers good impulse control and behavior training opportunities. Teach your dog to drop the tug toy on cue by offering them a treat so they drop the tug. Eventually, you won’t need the treat, as they learn the verbal drop cue. Once they drop it, wait for a calm behavior, such as sitting or standing quietly, before tugging again.
Take a Class – Look for indoor dog training classes that use positive reinforcement methods and techniques. Winter is an excellent time to brush up on manners training, learn new skills, and have fun with your dog.
Remember to give your dog a release word, such as “all done,” when you want to end the training session so they understand it’s break time. Then go back to shoveling a little more snow, or sit down and relax with a hot toddy for you and a frozen Kong for your pup, or take a nap! I promise you, your dog will be ready for one too!
You can do these activities with your dog to get them thinking and moving when you are stuck inside. And don’t forget to add a little massage at the end to help your pup relax and chill. Have fun with your dog!
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head of Training of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adolescent and adult foundation and life skills, behavior modification, agility, nose work, dog sports, and fitness, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and selection. Classes are starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound, and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/wholistichound.