There are many ways to keep your dog busy this winter, but it isn't just about tiring out their body! Really, when you tire their minds, that can be even more effective than hours of exercise.
Dogs sleep a lot- usually 16-20 hours a day depending on their age, breed and size.
But they certainly still need a fair amount of exercise (hey, you do too!) and mental stimulation to stay healthy. Just like people they can become bored, depressed, their muscles can atrophy and they can start to show their age sooner than their time if you don't provide some regular physical exercise.
Young dogs and certain breeds are going to need a lot more exercise than others which can involve jogs or walks around the neighborhood and that will be ok- though for some you may need a bit more intensity to the activity such as hiking or games of fetch.
These are the dogs that it will be especially beneficial to add brain games to the routine as a way to tire them out in a way physical activity can't.
All dogs can benefit from brain games- and you'd be surprised that 10 minutes of active thinking can really wear a dog out as much, if not more, than hours of fetch at the park. This is especially good for inclement weather, because you can do brain games with simple things you have around the house- or you can certainly get fancy with purchased toys and tools.
One great game is the shell game.
1. Take a few plastic cups and some of your dog's food and put a kibble or two under one of the cups.
2. Let your dog sniff around and eventually he or she will tip over the one with the food and be rewarded.
3. Praise them and then try again.
You can make this more complicated with more cups, or start hiding the cups around the house and have them go on a scavenger hunt for the food (and the cups will prevent you forgetting where you left random food around).
There are other things like wobble toys that dispense treats- feeding your dog that way, rather than just from a bowl can be a fun game and give them some extra stimulation. As well, there are puzzle toys where the dogs must slide things around to find the treat inside some of the compartments. There are beginner to advanced ones and many dogs really like these games.
Other things you can do is play find the "thing"- whatever their favorite thing is. Maybe it's a ball or toy but hiding it for them and having the dog find it.
1. Start first where the dog can see you hide it, then tell them to go for it
2. Work up to leaving the room while they sit (helps practice obedience too!), and then
3. Send them to find.
This one will be some exercise for you too getting up and hiding something over and over so you can hit your step goal in no time!
A snuffle mat is another fun thing, maybe more for puppies or older dogs who you want to stimulate but maybe you need them to be supervised and or they can't get up and down a lot.
This is a shaggy mat (which you can improvise and make as well as buy), that has ruffles and folds, pockets and pouches and you hide the threats and food inside the lumps, basically. Then the dog nudges their nose around in the fabric and tries to find the treats.
There is another way to work with higher energy dogs: a treadmill. This can actually be a great way to help exercise a high energy dog when you really can't go out as much.
You will need to go slow and supervise them on the learning process, but in our experience with our rescue and daycare dog, it only takes about 10 minutes to get them walking well and without too much intervention on your part. Standing straddled over the dog helps keep them centered and wrapping the leash over the hand rail for leverage helps keep them situated in the sweet spot on the belt- all without you breaking a sweat or needing to man handle your pup to try to get them to cooperate.
You do not want to force them at all- but with a little trial and error and maybe some treats on the belt when it's off, will help them take more of an interest if they are resisting initially. As well as never forcing them you can never leave them alone on the treadmill either.
This is a tool for use only when you can participate. While they are doing their thing, you might even be able to do some jumping jacks, sit ups or push ups once they get the hang of staying on the belt without your constant direction!
You can get creative with ways to stimulate your dog- and you don't have to go further than your living room- or their nose- to wind up with a tired, happy dog!
What have you tried that has worked for your dog and why? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.