Raise your hand if your dog looks bored and unhappy when the temperatures plummet. If so, he may be suffering the winter blues. Rest assured, your dog is in good company, there are countless dogs who suffer from cabin fever from being cooped up inside with little to do. Yet, meeting a dog’s exercise requirements may be tough when there are several feet of snow on the ground and freezing temperatures. This is why many trainers deal with over-rambunctious dogs in the spring. These dogs have been kept inside all winter, and, by the time spring is around the corner, they have developed behavior issues. Dogs need exercise, mental stimulation and socialization year-round. Fortunately, there are many indoor activities that can help keep your dog mentally stimulated and happy.
Hunting for Food
Intriguing Food Puzzles
Where’s the Ball?
Indoor Agility Course
Before the invention of kibble, dogs were hunting and scavenging for food for a good part of the day. Today, food is poured into their bowls and their meal is wolfed down within minutes. What a waste! A great game to set off cabin fever is putting your dog’s nose to work and letting him hunt for his kibble. Simply keep your dog closed in a room and scatter kibble around the house. Put a few in corners, a little under the rug, on top of the windowsill, some more on his bed some under his food bowl, a few in a Kong and so forth. Afterward, let him free and tell him to go search!
Another way to get your dog to work for his food is filling up toys with kibble and letting him work the food out. There are several interactive food toys on the market nowadays. The Kong toy is one of the most popular; you simply stuff it with layers of food and your dog spends time in trying to get it out. An alternative is stuffing a Kong with broth containing no onion or garlic and letting it freeze or using special flavored Kong stuffing sprays. There are plenty of Kong-stuffing recipes available nowadays. Other interactive toys includes Buster Cubes, Kong Wobblers, Nina Ottoson puzzles and Busy Buddy toys.
If your dog knows the stay and come command, you can train him to play hide-n-seek. Put your dog in a sit and tell him to stay, while you go somewhere to hide. Then, release him and call him. It’s his job now to find you. When he does find you, praise him (and reward him if you wish) and start another game of hide-n-seek. You should start making it easy to find you initially, and then, as he gets good at it, add more challenges. Your dog doesn’t know the stay command too well? Then have a helper hold him until you are ready.
This is another type of fun hide-n-seek game, but in this case instead of you hiding, you are hiding a ball. The dynamics are quite the same. You put your dog in a sit stay, show him a ball and then let him see you hide it somewhere easy. Then you release him from the stay and tell him: “Where’s the ball?” Because he saw you hide it, it should be easy for him to find it and go get it. Then, once he gets good at this, you can start hiding it out of his sight.
Who said that agility is an outdoor sport? You can create an indoor variant that can be as much fun. Simply arrange obstacles around your home and let your dog go through them. An example? If your dog is small, you can use chairs as weave poles to walk around. If your dog is large, use your legs to train your dog to weave in and out as you walk. A hula hoop can be fun to jump. Small tunnels and other small obstacles for small dogs can also be found on sale on websites.
As seen, there are several options to keep your dog active during those cold, wintry days. If you work during the day, consider taking your dog to doggy day care a few days a week or hiring a person to walk your dog if the weather permits. The goal is keeping your dog exercised, mentally stimulated and happy despite the cold weather. And don’t forget about socialization! Your dog still needs to meet friendly faces on a regular basis. Take him along to choose a new toy in a pet store or drop by the vet’s office for a brief visit, and hopefully, a cookie from the friendly receptionist!