The days may be getting longer again, but it could be a while before they get warmer! Our pups might become a little stir crazy during cold weather months because we just aren’t spending as much time outdoors, and they may even put on some weight because they (and let’s face it, WE) aren’t as active. In an earlier post, Walking in a Winter Wonderland, we talked about ways to enjoy the outdoors with your dog even during winter. There are actually quite a few INDOOR ACTIVITIES you can take up to spend quality time with your canine pal and keep both of you active, happy, and warm.
Scavenger Hunt: Most dogs have an innate instinct to hunt or scavenge, so exercises that require their sense of smell can be particularly stimulating. You can put his kibble in a box, or use his bowl if you prefer, and hide it somewhere different every time, so he’ll have to use his hunting prowess to locate it. You can scatter his kibble under a table and he’ll have an obstacle course of chair & table legs to maneuver around – or you can get creative and actually design an obstacle course he has to get through to find his food.
Play Games: Hide ‘n Seek isn’t just a game to play with the kids! Playing this with your pup will keep him moving and mentally engaged. Start by tossing a treat away from you, and when your pooch turns to get that, you run and hide. Or, if you have more than one person to participate, you can take turns distracting the pup while the other person hides. This is a great indoor activity for young dogs and active breeds, as it can really wear them out. It is also an excellent way to reinforce the “Come” command. Reward your pup with treats and/or praise when he finds you. (If you’re worried about giving too many treats, you can play around meal time and use some of the kibble you would normally feed your pooch for dinner.) Chasing bubbles is an activity many dogs enjoy (and the cat may want to get in on it, too). You can purchase pet-friendly bubbles at most pet supply stores or online. Blow the bubbles into a fan for added fun.
Training Exercises: Whether at home or in a training class, the winter months are an excellent time to practice what your pup already knows and to teach new behaviors. Training exercises not only stimulate a dogs mind, they can wear her out, helping expend some of her pent-up energy. Reinforcing the “Come” command is good to practice while indoors as your pup is off leash, which will help you gain a solid recall should your pal ever get away while outside or make an unexpected dash out the door, towards a busy street or towards another dog, etc. Another great exercise to practice indoors is Targeting, where you have your pup touch her nose to the back of your hand, which teaches focus. Targeting is then used any time you need to redirect your pups attention, for example while out on a walk and she becomes over-excited at seeing another dog. With Targeting, you pull your pups focus away from the distraction and back to you – plus she can’t bark when she’s touching her nose to your hand. In addition to teaching your pup desired behaviors, you are spending quality time together and reinforcing your bond.
Take a class: Not sure how to train your pup? Want her to have some socialization and interaction with other dogs? Sign up for a class! If you’re beyond standard behavior training classes, there are indoor agility courses, flyball, and swim classes. In addition to physical agility, your pups mental agility will get a boost by learning something new. Do you and your pup love the show Dancing with the Stars? Then get off the couch and try Canine Freestyle Dancing! (Consult with your veterinarian before doing this to confirm your pooch is physically capable.) Dancing with your furry star incorporates traditional training exercises like heeling, with added elements such as rolling, jumping, backing up – even walking on her hind legs.
Go Shopping: Many pet stores allow dogs. Your pup will love the sights and scents and will thoroughly enjoy wandering through the aisles with you. You can even work on some training exercises while you’re there (recall, not barking at other dogs, targeting/redirecting focus). Your pooch will also be happy to point out that new Kong he needs or treat he’s been wanting to try.
Enrichment Toys: There are Kongs, Buster Balls, wobble balls, and other treat dispensing toys and puzzles. These can provide a challenge to your dog and then reward him with a tiny treat when he figures it out. For toys such as a Kong, you can fill it with a substance like peanut butter or cottage cheese and freeze it overnight; this provides a longer period of activity and stimulation as it will take longer to extract the goodies frozen inside.
Brave the Elements: As previously mentioned in Walking in a Winter Wonderland, most dogs enjoy at least some amount of romping in the snow. For small dogs or short-hair breeds, the length of time spent outdoors in winter may be limited, but it needn’t be avoided. Plowing through snow can be a vigorous workout! For your Husky, Bernese Mountain Dog, Newfoundland and the like, you just bundle yourself up and let your pooch lead the way to some wonderful frolicking and trail adventures.