Keep your dog stimulated all winter long with these indoor and outdoor games
Yes, there’s a chill in the air, the sky darkens in the late afternoon, and perhaps the snow is up to your dog’s nose. But don’t let winter prevent you from engaging your dog mentally and physically! Bears hibernate for the winter, but our four-legged friends don’t need to follow suit.
Dogs can get a little stir crazy in the colder months, and your pooch is counting on you to be his foul-weather cheerleader. So, invest in his health by treating him to purposeful play. He’ll be less likely to turn into a bored destruct-o-dog, and more apt to regard you as his cool benevolent leader who merits attention and compliance. Engaging in physical and mental stimulation can help both you and your dog plow through the cold winter months with elevated attitudes.
Participate in a game of snowball fetch. If you have a dog who can’t resist fetching tennis balls in the summer, take him to the backyard or another enclosed outdoor area, make a pile of snowballs, and encourage him to chase after each one you toss. Reward him with a healthy treat or praise when he catches a snowball.
Play a (frozen) treasure hunt game. Dogs have super noses and can sniff out a favorite toy or treat far better than we can. In an enclosed area, put your dog on a leash or in a sit and stay. Then “hide” treats and toys in snow banks and behind trees. Unleash your dog and encourage her to “go find” the treasures. Once she gets the hang of the game, you can work her mental powers by stashing the canine treasures in your backyard before you bring her outside to seek.
When the weather gets too icy or cold, stash any breakables out of paw’s reach and stage these indoor games:
I hide, you seek. Here’s a fun game to reinforce your dog’s basic obedience cues. Have your dog sit politely by your side on one end of the living room or at one end of the hallway. Throw a treat across the room. As your dog darts after it, slip around the corner out of sight and call your dog by his name. When he races to you, reward him with a treat and plenty of praise. Repeat a few times. You can step it up by having him sit and stay in one room while you hide in a bedroom or even in a bedroom closet. You are making it fun for your dog to come when he is called, and letting him release some energy, too.
Treat your dog to a little Houdini magic. Hold a small treat in one closed fist and keep your other fist empty. Extend both arms and ask your dog, “Which hand has the treat?” Let her sniff both. When she noses the fist with the treat, open it, show her, and praise her. Repeat, randomly moving the treat into your left or right hand.
Create an obstacle course. Temporarily clear a large space in your living room or basement and set up a small agility course. Line up a series of paper plates on the floor for your dog to weave in and out of—first with his leash on and then on his own, once he gets the hang of it. Position an ottoman or beanbag in the middle of the floor, and instruct your dog to leap over it or leap upon it and hold a sit. Treat and praise for a job well done.
Bring on winter. You and your dog are ready!
Arden Moore is the founder of Pet First Aid 4U, the author of two dozen pet books, and host of “Oh Behave!” on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at FourLeggedLife.com.
Channeling your dog’s mental energy into problem-solving not only gives her a release during the winter months, it’s also a whole lot of fun! Food puzzles provide dogs with the opportunity to earn their food, and studies show that they often prefer working for their meals and treats. Here are some of our favorites:
THE KIBBLE DROP // Outward Hound ($15) Treats or kibble are dropped into the center opening and then dispersed randomly among the four chambers. Dogs must determine what chamber the treat has fallen into and lift the flap to retrieve it.
GREEN SLOW FEEDER // Northmate (starting at $30) Scatter your dog’s meal among the “blades of grass.” He must push around the pieces and navigate each piece of kibble out of the feeder.
BUSY BUDDY TuUG-A-JUG // PetSafe (starting at $10) Unscrew the bottom to put treats or even a whole meal’s worth of food inside the bottle. When your dog pulls on the rope, a little bit of the food is dispensed. She’ll love swinging this colorful bottle around trying to get the rope to wiggle out food.