Making the Most out of Long Winter Nights with Your Dog
Exercising our dogs in winter (both physically and mentally) comes with a lot of challenges. Dark nights, low temperatures, snow storms and slippery ice make evening trips to the park a thing of the past. In my job as a dog trainer I actually see an increase in behavioral problems and dog reactivity in winter, which I believe in parts stems from the lack of exercise that can make some dogs stir-crazy. Here are some ideas to keep your dog’s mind and body busy inside.
Let’s teach your dog to hop up on a variety of objects around your house. You would be surprised how many different things you can find. From cardboard boxes over pillows to chairs, stepping stools or your own lap – hopping up will strengthen your dog’s hips and hind legs and increase his balance and coordination. Simply lure him up with a cookie. If he is hesitant at first, you can give him a treat for just putting his front feet on the object before going for all feet.
When the weather gets better again you can take your new skill outside and take great pictures of your dog who can now perch on anything.
Jump The Leg
Sit on the ground and extend one leg so that it touches the wall. Toss a cookie over your leg to make your dog step over it – ok, that was easy! Now sit a little higher, in a chair or on a stepping stool. Do the same thing – now your dog has to jump. Make him jump back and forth over your leg. This bouncing motion is quite tiring for dogs (like jumping jacks for us) and can get out their energy in just a few minutes. Make sure to only do this on a non-slip surface so your dog doesn’t get hurt. If you have tile or hardwood floor, out down a blanket before attempting this trick.
Wash Your Feet
Winter is a perfect time to teach your dog how to wash his feet himself, and it will come in handy right away with all the mud around. Take an empty plastic storage box with a low rim and teach your dog to step inside by luring him in with cookies. When he can do that well, start to very gradually add some water. I recommend to take a watering can and go as slowly as you can as to not surprise your dog by a sudden flood. Have him step in and out with 0.5 inches of water, 1 inch of water, 3 inches of water and so on. Eventually you can fill the box all the way and have your dog voluntarily and happily step in and out to clean his feet – no more struggling to get the mud off!
Take a yoga mat or bath towel. Put it in front of you on the floor and put a treat at the very end. Now you fold over the towel (just as if you would roll it up), but just do one rotation and then put another treat on it. Another roll, and another treat. Do this until you have rolled up the towel completely, with a lot of treats in the process. Show your dog the towel and treat roll. He will probably nudge it with his nose and unroll it just enough to see the first treat. He will eat and it nudge the roll again, finding the second treat and so on. Eventually he will have unrolled the whole roll.
Now it is time to advance the trick! Make it harder and harder by putting fewer and fewer treats in there, until there is only one treat at the end and your dog is unrolling the whole blanket in one go.
Make an indoor agility course for your dog! Be creative – a pool noodle between two chairs can be a jump, a blanket draped between the couch table and couch is a tunnel and a big pillow the pause table. Make up your own course, and see how many obstacles in a row your dog can complete before having a reward. Dogs get quite skilled at this in quite a short time. After you have practiced at home for a bit, you can even join an agility club in your city.
Hide and Seek
Have your dog either in a sit stay, or ask a family member to hold him for you. Hide a few treats. Your dog is allowed to watch you hide them – he can know that one is in the hallway, one in the corner etc. Now release him to find all the treats – has he remembered exactly where they are or does he need to sniff and search for a while? This is not so easy for your dog – he needs to train his short term memory in order to remember all hiding spaces.
Hide and Seek for Masters
Again, have your dog sit stay or ask someone to hold him. Let him see you hide some cookies. Then, before he is allowed to find the cookies, ask him to do a simple trick such as lie down or spin left or right.
Now he is allowed to find the cookies! You will find that this makes it a lot harder for him to remember where the treats are, as the short term memory that your dog used to store that information was in the meantime filled with doing the trick. Over time though you can train his mind to get better and better at this. See how many tricks your dog can do before still successfully finding all hidden treats!
Long and dark winter nights do not have to mean that your dog is bored. With the above ideas, you can keep him busy and happy until spring time comes around and you can venture to the park again after work. You will find that training your dog’s mind and body inside will be beneficial even for his behavior outside, as every interaction with you will improve your bond and mutual understanding.
Have fun, and enjoy the nights with your four-legged friend.