Snowy winter days are a time for us to snuggle up inside with a good book and a cup of tea. Unfortunately, our dogs don’t appreciate either one and will quickly become bored when we have to cut down on their daily walks and visits to the park. Bored dogs can become destructive and start habits such as barking or chewing up furniture. Keeping them busy and out of trouble is important!
Here are our favorite ways to entertain your dog inside.
You have probably heard that mental exercise is just as (or even more) tiring than physical exercise for dogs. This is absolutely true! Challenging our dogs’ thinking and problem solving skills will be a great way to increase their attention span and focus. It is also fun for us to watch them figure out little puzzles we make up for them!
Box of Goodies
Take a cardboard box and fill it with old newspaper or packing peanuts. Hide a bunch of treats in there and let your dog figure out how to get them out! He will have to use his nose to sniff out the treats as well as his head and paws to get to them. Only do this under supervision of course to make sure your dog doesn’t snack on the packing peanuts if he becomes inpatient.
Under The Covers
Take a blanket or beach towel and spread it on the floor. Now hide some treats underneath it and let your dog work out how he can earn them! This will be tricky as your dog can smell the treats directly through the fabric, but has to find out how to access them by sticking his nose under the edge of the blanket.
If your dog every gives up while playing these games (sits down and looks at you or simply walks away), make it easier for him. Show him the treats again and hide them with less difficulty. We don’t want him to learn that the challenges are too hard and he cannot do them – instead, we want to build confidence in problem solving for him.
Tricks are a fun way to strengthen your bond and teach your dog how to think and work with you. The true value lies not so much in any single trick, but in your dog understanding how to train and learn through your guidance. The more a dog has trained in his past, the easier he will pick up new behaviors. So teaching him tricks during long winter nights will not only be fun at that moment, but also prime your dog to pick up obedience behaviors more easily down the road!
Have your dog stand in front of you. Take a cookie and hold it directly in front of your dog’s nose. Now slowly draw a big circle in the air. Don’t go so fast that your dog loses the cookie, but slow enough that he follows it the whole time. Don’t hold the cookie up too high in the air – then your dog will only turn his head but not his body. Draw a nice, big circle right at his nose. When your dog has completed the circle, give him the cookie.
Practice both directions – dogs often can turn much better to one side than the other. Over time, use less of a hand motion and rely more on your verbal cue to direct your dog. Eventually he can learn to perfectly distinguish left and right!
Stand Up Tall
Teach your dog to walk on his hind feet. Take a treat and lift it high over his head to tempt him to stand up. At first, he may only stand up on his hind feet for a second before coming back down. That’s a great start – reward him a lot! Don’t be too stingy at this stage. It is a very difficult balance act for your dog to stand on his hind feet like that. By rewarding even small efforts, you will give your dog the confidence to try harder and harder. Eventually he will learn to walk on his hind feet for several feet, and you can even combine it with the spinning trick above.
Make a little obstacle course in your living room for your dog. Get creative! A broom laid on two cardboard boxes can be a jump. A blanket between the couch and your table makes a little tunnel to crawl through, and an ottoman can be the pause table. Your dog will love to get active and navigate his little course with your help!
Winters don’t have to be boring – thankfully our dogs are always happy to do new things with us, whether inside our outside. Use the long winter evenings for bonding and training and you will forget all about the bad weather and have a great time with your dog.
Steffi Trott, founder of SpiritDog Training, is a dog trainer in Albuquerque, NM and offers local training classes, online classes and online consultation. Ask her questions in the comments below.