Keeping dogs busy in cold weather
I am a stay at home dog mom so fun and exercise are a big part of our day. We love our walks at the park but living in Minnesota means there are times (in winter and summer) when it just isn’t safe to take the dogs outside for any extended period of time. Because a cold snap in Minnesota can last for many days (ok, it can be weeks) I have to get creative to keep the dogs busy inside. Given we have already had an incredibly cold start to the winter it seemed like a good idea to share some of our ideas! I don’t know about your dogs but mine will only get as excited about an activity as I am …the more fun I seem to be having the more they want to participate in activities with me.
#1) We play HIDE and SEEK
This is hands down the most fun and the best exercise. Hide and Seek is also a great way to be practicing basic commands (stay and come). Because we have a four dog household right now it really takes both of us (me and husband) to play this game. One of us hides and the other seeks with the dogs. The hider always has really small size rewards for everyone when they finish a game. The one who seeks with the dogs keeps them in a “sit, stay” until the hider yells “come”. We can play just four or five rounds of hide and seek and the dogs will be pooped out. We even have one cat who always joins in when we play this. We use the whole house when we play and get them really excited – it is so fun to see their excitement when they find daddy! The dogs all crash for a nap after this game. We usually play for about 20 minutes at a time.
#2) We make dinner a game
When we have long days cooped in the house I make meal time an activity for the dogs. I use food puzzles ( pictured below) to make their dinner a physical and mental excercise. My favorite food game is the Buster Cube because it gets them moving around so much. I have used these with all of my dogs with success. Some of my dogs figure out food puzzles right away (the labs) others I have to patiently help them along until they figure it out on their own. When I give my dogs food games – I SUPERVISE. I make a cup of coffee and sit in the room to make sure no one’s food puzzle gets stuck anywhere and to manage any misunderstandings about who is supposed to playing with what game.
#3) Indoor Agility
I have agility equipment for my dogs. It is just for fun as none of them are/were competitive agility dogs. The equipment I have is inexpensive, light weight and easy to use. I bring it in the house for the winter (and in the summer heat) and we play; jumping through hoops, running through the tunnel, etc. This does require a big room and/or furniture moving but it is worth it to see them having fun. My dogs don’t interact with the equipment unless I do. I get excited and use their basic commands to achieve little things with the equipment. I try to keep the equipment in a room that is carpeted (or put down area rugs while we play) to avoid any slipping incidents on hard surface floors.
#4) Train them to do activities that give them exercise
My favorite game to get the dogs moving is called “In the basket”. I came up with this years ago when I got really tired of picking toys up after my dogs. I have a lab whose idea of fun is to just pull every toy out of the toy box and scatter it around the house for me to clean up later. Since my dogs have a lot of toys picking up after them gets old quick. To combat this I trained them to pick up their own scattered toys and place them “in the basket” (I use a laundry basket). They get a reward for putting them in the “basket”. This can go on for quite some time, I just keep re-tossing the toys out of the basket. I train my dogs with a clicker (my labs and my pom when he could still hear). To train activities like this I will use the clicker to capture a behavior that I want them to repeat, even if I have to manipulate it, in this case putting a basket right under their noses when they have a toy and marking the exact moment they drop the toy in the basket with my clicker. My Lhasa has no patience for training with a clicker (or otherwise). She figures out activities like this (eventually) by watching the other dogs.
#5) Long lasting snacks
My dogs get a snack every afternoon. When we are cooped up I prepare packed full frozen Kongs for snack time. I pack them with items like peanut butter, applesauce, bananas, mashed sweet potatoes, meatballs, cooked oatmeal, etc. and stick them in the freezer in the morning – Kongsicles can keep the dogs busy for an hour.
#6) DIY Grooming
I do all my own dog grooming. With a seven pet household I would be broke if I had to pay a groomer. Grooming takes energy for the dogs. For my small dogs – they go what we call the “wet crazies” when they get out of the bath – sprinting around the house all crazy like – we of course egg them on and have a good time with them – but they are pooped after a bath. My pets are used to grooming enough that they don’t fuss too badly but it still takes time and energy for them. When its cold out grooming takes particularly long because they need to be dried with a pet drier. It is a nice way for them to get a lot of attention from me and they usually lay down and nap for a few hours after it’s all over. I learned grooming techniques from books and videos and by asking lots of questions at the vet. Grooming my own dogs takes a lot of patience and work on my part but it is very rewarding and I love the one on one time with each dog. I pasted pictures of the three books I used to learn about grooming, they were all still available on Amazon but are certainly not new releases. Their are also a lot of free resources available online to learn about grooming. I have a lot of links to sites and videos for grooming on my Pet Grooming Pinterest Board.
#7) Trick training or something they like
I have some dogs that love trick training and some that have absolutely no interest (my Lhasa). For those that like it, we have a blast learning silly tricks. I use a clicker to train behaviors – there are endless books available on different tricks you can teach your dogs. For my Lhasa, I play tug tug with her as she seems to see trick training as beneath her.
#8) Fetch/Keep Away
I have some dogs that love fetch and some that have no interest. In the house it can be a risk to household damage so we usually play keep away instead. My husband and I will toss the ball back and forth to each other, the dogs may get the balls but we don’t let it go uncontrolled around the house.
#9) Practice the stuff that matters
I am the type of person that likes to see my dogs just being dogs. It’s not important to me that they are perfectly groomed, are sport champs or know fancy tricks, etc. But there are a few things that are really important to me; 1) that they have solid recall (“come” command) and 2) that they know better than to walk out a door with out me. We practice these two skills a lot and I use the days we are stuck inside to take advantage of this. My dogs tend to follow me around the house all day. When I leave the room, not all the time of course but sometimes, I leave them in a “stay” until I reach another part of the house and give them the “come” command. It gives us a chance to practice the command that can save their lives and for them to do a little running around the house. The other thing we practice is doorbell etiquette. I have no problem with my dogs getting all excited when the door bell rings, in fact I like it. However, once the door is opened they need to be able to hold a “sit stay” no matter what. This keeps them from jumping on guests and more importantly from bolting out the door. I have adopted two rescues that were runners so this has been a particularly important skill for us to master. Control at the doorbell doesn’t happen by magic but only with a lot of practice (particularly when you have four dogs). I have a remote control door bell that I use for practice so I can ring the doorbell from anywhere in the house. We practice going to the door and having manners (staying in a sit) when the door is open. They get a lot of praise and a small treat for good behavior at the door. They seem to have fun and appreciate the attention and excitement.
My dogs line up for their massages. It is a good way to get them calmed down at night and it is also a good way for me to be aware of any changes; lumps and bumps or sores, that may be occurring on their body. They all have their favorite spots for a rub down.
#11) FIELD TRIP
My dogs love field trips. They know either they are going to the park or they are going to get a special treat. When I take my dogs on field trips I usually only take one of them – it’s their turn for one on one time with me. I do not leave my dogs in the car under any circumstances when I take them with me. Besides the weather risks of being too hot or too cold in a car, my dogs simply do not like to be left alone in the car so I don’t do it. So when I say I take them on a field trip it means that I am taking them somewhere that either doesn’t involve us getting out of the car – say a bank deposit (drive thru) which always means they get a treat from the teller or it means I am taking them somewhere they can go – like a friends house, park, vet clinic (a supply run) or pet stores. When the weather is inclement I make a point of taking special trips that are more for their sake then mine. A walk around the pet store is a whirl of scent stimulation for a dog- it doesn’t have to cost much (I always buy something – usually just a few treats from the treat bar or a few cans of kitty food for the shelter collection basket).
A lot of our activities in the house will include using tiny size treats for the dogs to reward them for a job well done (not always – sometimes praise is good enough) but given the increased amount of food rewards we cut down the size of their dinners a bit to compensate. Particularly with our senior dogs we try to be diligent about keeping them at a healthy weight. I hope some of these ideas are helpful for you!
On the journey,
Nancy H., The Rescue Mama