Shortened hours of daylight and bad weather often combine during the winter months to prompt (or at least, tempt) us to avoid activities with our dogs. The long, blissful hikes, days at the beach and other outdoor activities that we enjoy with our canine companions during the months of finer weather don’t appeal so much when there is cold, wet bluster in the forecast. The lack of mental stimulation and physical activity can be crazy-making for both humans and pooches but there are simple ways to keep you both engaged.
Here are some activity suggestions that will keep everyone on an even keel during the long, dark winter months:
- Treats – One of the simplest remedies for your dog’s boredom is a strong rubber Kong or similar toy that can be stuffed with treats, kibble or peanut butter. Trying to get at the goodies inside the toy will keep your canine buddy occupied for long periods.
- Obedience Training – Teach your dog basic obedience commands. If he already knows those, work at teaching him hand signals for those commands. These activities will make for an engaged mind for your dog and a more pleasurable pet for you.
- Vocabulary Training – Take the time to teach your dog the names of his toys. Depending on how many he has, this could occupy anywhere from a few hours to several days. Dogs can develop much larger vocabularies than most people credit them for and are capable of learning many words, so don’t short-change your buddy on this one.
- Hide and Seek – Play hide and seek with your dog’s favourite toy – which will be a lot easier if he knows the name of the toy he is looking for (see suggestion number three, above).
- Scent Games – Hide strong-smelling treats in various places in a room while your dog watches, and encourage him to find them all. Once he has the idea of what to do, isolate your dog in another area out of sight while you hide the treats, then encourage him to find them.
- Tricks – Teach your dog some tricks – there are many sources on-line for training suggestions
- Sports – Enroll in indoor dog activities that you can attend with your pooch – agility, obedience, flyball, scent detection work – there are many fun activities that will keep both you and your dog engaged, as well as giving you something to work on at home.
- Puzzles – Take a muffin tin, put treats in several of the muffin cups and top all cups with a tennis ball. Encourage your dog to find the cups that have the treats in them.
- Massage – You know how good a massage feels, and the same goes for your pooch. Get him to lie down and relax, and give him a nice rub-down that will loosen unused muscles and take the edge off any pent-up energy.
- Neighbourhood Watch – Sometimes a dog will be perfectly happy indoors if he can just see the outdoors. Some dogs will spend hours sitting or lying next to a window simply watching the world and wildlife go by. If you don’t have a low enough window, consider installing a special raised dog bed if your canine pal seems to enjoy this type of ‘activity’.
- Tug of War – As long as you set some ground rules, and your dog has no dental concerns, a game of tug with your canine buddy can be a great exercise for both of you. In addition to the mental stimulation, tug of war can be a pretty good physical workout as well, helping to compensate for at least some of the exercise you both may be lacking because of harsh winter weather.
- Indoor Fetch – If you have a long hallway in your home play a game of fetch using a lightweight ball or toy. Even just a few minutes with this activity will help to alleviate the winter doldrums.
- Playdates – Invite a doggie friend over for a playdate. Having a dog that your pet gets along with over for a visit and some indoor play will be good both mentally and physically for your pooch. Guaranteed, you will have one tired and contented dog at the end of it all.
Truth be known, keeping your dog happy and out of trouble during the winter months is limited only by your imagination. There are so many good interactive toys available now, so many games and indoor activities that you can pursue, that all you need is a little bit of time and dedication to keep your dog happy and to strengthen your relationship with him.
By: Shirley Culpin
Shirley has been involved with the purebred dog world for 45 years. Her Irish Setters have won many Best in Show awards, top obedience accolades, field titles and advanced agility titles. She remains active in dog volunteer work and through her ‘Home Away from Home’ dog sitting service.