Bad Weather, Good Dog: Indoor Games for Your Outdoor-Loving Pet
Dogs have active, curious minds and need to be busy whether it’s August or February. When bad weather limits outdoor fun, no amount of belly rubbing can replace the long walks and outdoor excursions that your tailwagger enjoys in gentler weather.
Inevitably, bored dogs create their own adventures often involving the kitchen trash or your favorite pair of shoes. Gary Landsberg, DVM, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist in Toronto, Canada, says providing other options, and opportunities to socialize, will set your dog up for cold-weather success.
“Too many people focus on how to stop a dog’s undesirable behaviors,” Landsberg says. “But social play, training, exercise, and toys focus on what they should be doing, instead of what they shouldn’t.”
Home Alone. What’s a Dog to Do?
“If you leave your dog alone without enough toys, they can develop bad habits,” says Kathryn Meyer, a veterinarian in Gaithersburg, Md., who specializes in animal behavior. “This is especially true with puppies,” she says. “They are behaviorally driven to chew on or explore novel things.”
Meyer recommends rotating toys to maintain your dog’s interest. “Keep the toys in a basket in the closet, and each day or every couple of days, rotate them so they seem fresh and exciting every time you bring them out.”
She adds, “The toys you offer to your puppy will often determine the kinds of toys he or she will appreciate as an older dog. Expose your puppy to different toys of different shapes, sizes, and materials. That way, there will be a wide range of toys your dog will play with when it is older.”
Doggie daycare is another option. Many dogs spend time alone in the house no matter what the weather, but for a dog that is used to the freedom of a dog door during warmer months, a day or two at camp might be just the thing.
Shake Off the Winter Doldrums
Your dog probably isn’t the only one with cabin fever. Playing indoor games, teaching your dog a new trick, or taking a class will keep you busy too, and strengthen the bond between you and your canine pal.
Ideas from pet owners abound on the Internet. Some of the most popular are:
- Laser keep-away. Some dogs never tire of chasing what they can’t catch.
- Modified fetch. Use soft balls or plush toys, and relocate your heirlooms.
- Find it! Hide treats around the house, and watch your dog “hunt.” A word of caution: An enthusiastic dog won’t let furniture – or you – get in the way.
Meyer recommends hide-and-seek. “You can hide toys, or even yourself or members of your family,” she says. “Start out in the same room and then work your way to different parts of the house.”
Need a change of scene? Obedience, indoor agility, or dance classes will stimulate your dog’s mind and challenge both of you. Yoga classes for people and their dogs (that’s right: Doga) are also becoming more popular. (If you can’t find a class, there are books and videos available.)
“Schedule a play day with other dogs in the neighborhood,” suggests Meyer. “You want to make sure they don’t get too rambunctious and they’re in an appropriate area of the house, but this gives them social interaction that can make up for the walks that aren’t as long or as interesting.”
But no matter how far north you live, your dog will still want to brave the elements. “Don’t underestimate what your dog is capable of withstanding,” says Landsberg. “Many dogs could go out more frequently, and you might be the one with the reservations.”
He speaks from experience. Landsberg has a 6-year-old, eight-pound, recently shaved bichon frise.
“It snowed yesterday and she was romping around outside having the time of her life. In fact, it took some coaxing to get her to come back inside!”
Will Work for Food
“If your dog takes three minutes to eat, what does he do for the remaining 23 hours and 57 minutes of the day?” asks Gary Landsberg, DVM.
Landsberg suggests feeding your dog with a food dispensing toy. To get the food, your dog has to manipulate the toy, often by rolling it. These toys drop only a few pieces of food at a time.
“That takes time and energy,” notes Landsberg. “Toys with food inside them are a great way to provide both mental and physical exercise.”
Working for food means that your pet will expend time and energy, but the food you give your dog this way still needs to be counted as part of your dog’s daily total.
“If pet owners provide 80% to 90% percent of their dog’s daily requirement in food dispensing toys, the remaining 10% to 20% can be used as treats to reinforce behaviors you wish to train such as sit, stay, or come,” says Landsberg.
“There are also toys that have a chew product attached so that your dog has to work at removing the beef hide, compared to simply swallowing a rawhide-type chip,” he adds.