Fun with Fido When it’s Frigid
For many of us in the Midwest, cabin fever sets in after the thrill of the holidays is past, presents are put away, and the tree is out by the curb. With our mushy, sometimes muddy, cloudy and generally unpredictable weather, even activities like skiing and sledding can be limited. We are bound to spend more time indoors and that means our pets do too. In my house, boredom = TROUBLE with a capital T. The dog tears around the house with a lone sock in her mouth, a lego brick, or something straight out of the garbage can. “Keep away” is fun, but only if we play by my rules! So how do we beat the winter blahs for our dogs? With a little creativity and exploration, you can find lots of ways to bond with your dog, increase their social skills, and work on training through playful activities. Best of all, when you get their mental gears turning, that expended energy results in a pooped pooch by day’s end!
One of my favorite indoor games to play is “Hide and Seek”. This game also helps reinforce the command “Come”. Start by having your dog “Stay” in a room or have another person restrain them. Hide behind a door, under a blanket, or if outside, behind a tree. Tell your dog to “Come” or “Find Me”. When your hiding place is discovered, enthusiastically praise your dog, offer an awesome treat (beef jerky… mmmm), or reward them with their favorite toy. By repeating the game in different surroundings and intermittently, the recall command can be consistently reinforced.
We also like to play “hide the treat” or kibble. This game is fun for young kids who can be tasked with hiding bits of kibble or even the full meal in areas accessible to your dog while the dog is restrained in another room. By using their strongest sense, their nose, they can “hunt” for food after all the bits are hidden. You can make the most out of snowy weather by hiding treats in empty water bottles and then planting them in the snow so just the tops are exposed. Your dog will love finding the bottles filled with delicious bites! Chasing laser pointers isn’t just for cats; stop by an office supply store and see if you dog like to “hunt” the elusive beam. If you have an unfinished basement, some dogs like catching bubbles. This is another fun activity to keep kids and pets busy in the winter!
Now may be a good time to explore classes outside of your home. Keeping your dog active in winter can be as simple as signing up for a park district obedience class to refresh some skills! Not only are you bonding with your dog, but they get a chance to engage with other canines and do a little rear-sniffing meet and greet. Other classes that can be a ton of fun are agility which involves fast-paced running over A-frames, diving through tunnels, and jumping over poles. If your canine doesn’t like other companions or is easily distracted, set up an obstacle course in the basement and lure them with a treat or a ball.
Nose work courses are suitable for every breed and age dog; while your pup isn’t likely to get on the TSA payroll, they can learn to find a scent hidden among boxes or containers. Dogs love jobs whether it be retrieving a ball or digging up a buried treasure in the yard! You can start teaching basic nose work at home if you can identify a smell your dog LOVES. Mine go crazy for a small piece of bacon or cheese. I hide the treat in a plastic container with holes poked through the lid. Next find 4-6 identical boxes (shoeboxes, postal mailing boxes) and place the plastic container in one. Now it’s time for the shell game! Mix up the boxes without your dog present then casually stroll the room with your friend. You can casually investigate the boxes, avoiding the loaded box, and reward your dog with a treat or praise AT the box when they show an interest in the correct container. This mentally stimulating and confidence building exercise should be FUN. Limit obedience commands and enjoy your dog’s enthusiasm and success. Because your dog’s nose goes wherever they go, you can take this game to the park, the car, or to Grandma’s house.
Enrolling in dog day care, heading to a dog park, or finding an indoor swimming pool may be options if you have a social dog who likes to exercise with others. It’s important to receive a behind-the-scenes tour of any facility where you are considering taking your dog to play. Cleanliness, supervision, and careful screening of canine companions is vital for safety. We love our local dog park during the less crowded weekdays and have met responsible, like-minded owners. Because we can stroll off-leash, my dogs can investigate every shrub and divot. Some store like Bass Pro Shop welcome pets and you can search for post-holiday deals. Win-win!
Clearly, there are lots of ways to keep your pet entertained during the winter months. If all else fails, throw on a warm coat, some boots (for your dog too), and take a walk. Spring will be here before we know it!