Winter Amusements: Use Up that Excess Energy

Cold, rainy days or dark, snow-filled evenings can wreak havoc with both your routine and your dog’s.

You both may find yourselves at loose ends, restless and uneasy. However, your dog’s energy level is going to remain the same no matter what the weather is like outside, and if he doesn’t get a chance to exercise both body and brain, well, who knows what can happen. Thankfully, alleviating boredom just takes a little imagination.

Practice those Obedience Skills

Obedience training can be practiced anywhere, including inside on winter days. Hopefully, you already use your dog’s skills as a part of normal day to day life, and even if you do, you can still have practice sessions inside. Practice all the obedience skills he knows, from basic to advanced, in various places around the house. Vary his distractions, from the kids playing to someone watching TV and cheering on a football game.

Combine some exercises to create something new, such as puppy push ups (sit, down, sit, down, repeat). Use lots of verbal praise to encourage your dog as he moves from one position to another. Give him a great treat afterwards as a reward. When he can do that, add another exercise, perhaps sit, stand, down, sit. Or add a trick in there, too, such as sit, stand, spin, down, sit. Don’t be afraid to challenge him; just be quick to help him if he needs it.

There is a lot you can do with obedience skills; just use your imagination, keep the training fun and the training sessions short so you both want to do it again later.

Teach New Skills

This is a great time to teach your dog some new skills. How about teaching him to pick up his toys and put them away in his toy box? Or pick up the damp towels in the bathroom and put them in the hamper? There are three parts to both of these. I ask my dog first to get the item I’m pointing to which could be a towel or a toy. Then I ask him to bring it here, which is to me as I stand next to or move towards either the toy box or the hamper. Then I ask him to drop it in the toy box or hamper. Granted, it’s easier for me to do either chore by myself but my dogs get so much joy out of helping that I continue to do this with them.

As you teach a skill such as this, break it into small training steps. I like to teach the “get that,” step first. Once my dog knows that, then I’ll teach the “drop it.” I have them drop the item in my hand first and when that skill is good, then I’ll move my hand to the toy box or hamper. Gradually as my dog learns all of the skills, I’ll put it all together.

What else can your dog do for you? If you still get the newspaper each day, you can ask him to go outside to retrieve the newspaper. On a miserable winter day you might well enjoy staying in the doorway while your dog does this for you, but what else? How about teaching him to get his toys that have rolled under the furniture? How about bringing you your slippers? One of my friends has taught her Cocker Spaniel mix, Walter, to take her shoes, one at a time, to her closet, drop the shoe there and then pick up and bring her a slipper. It takes him two trips with one shoe or slipper each trip, but they both enjoy doing this every evening. Our dogs are capable of so much, all we need to do is learn how to teach them.

©istockphoto/Nicolas McComber

©istockphoto/Nicolas McComber

A Great Time for Trick Training

Trick training is a wonderful indoor winter activity. I do a lot of trick training with my dogs because it’s still training (your dog is still doing something for you when you request his cooperation) but it’s also fun. I tend to laugh more when doing trick training and we know laughter is good for us. It’s good for our dogs too.

Start with some easy tricks like shake, spin in a circle, weave through your legs or roll over. When you and your dog have mastered that, try some more difficult tricks. Just keep your training sessions upbeat and take a break if you feel yourself getting frustrated. Break trick training into small training steps just as was explained in the previous section.

There are many resources for finding some help for learning how to teach your dog tricks, both in books and online. Choose a source whose training technique closely resembles yours so there is less chance of confusion. Then introduce one or two tricks at a time. When those are good, then introduce a couple more. Don’t overwhelm your dog with too much at once.

Food Dispensing Toys are Fun

Food dispensing toys are those created to hold some food (usually food or hard treats) and then as the dog manipulates the toy, the treats fall out. These toys can amuse the dog for quite a while, especially if he’s figuring out a new toy. On a cold winter day, toys like this can be wonderful for alleviating boredom.

There are many different food dispensing toys on the market. The Kong toys, made by the Kong Company, were some of the first commercially available food dispensing toys back before dog owners had any idea why a food dispensing toy could be of benefit. Now the Kong Company, and other toy makers, have created many different shaped toys of various sizes, for toy breed dogs to large dogs who chew hard. Just choose a food dispensing toy that is large enough that your dog isn’t going to swallow it, chew pieces off it or break it.

When using a food dispensing toy on a regular basis, keep track of how much food you’re using in it. Then subtract that amount of food from your dog’s daily diet so you can prevent overfeeding your dog.

Health Care Chores

Winter days also provide a good opportunity to work on some health care chores. Spend some time brushing and combing your dog’s coat, especially if he grows a thick winter coat. Turn on the TV or throw in a movie, sit on the floor, brush and comb your dog, and give him a gentle massage. Bonus points to you if he falls asleep while you’re working on him!

You can also clean his teeth, check his ears and wipe them out if they need it. Keep track of the state of his paws too. Keep the hair between his pads well trimmed so he doesn’t get snow or ice built up there. Wash his paws after he’s been outside if he walks where ice treatment (even salt) has been put down as these can be toxic. Trim his toenails too.

There are lots of things you can do with your dog on a blustery winter day. It might just take a change in your normal routine and some imagination.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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