Believe it or not, we are coming to that time of year again. The weather will be getting colder; daylight hours will be at a premium. Winter is coming, and it hits hard here in Michigan. Heading outside with your dog for a training activity might be an attractive proposition in the spring or summer months, but once we start getting into the throes of December and January, it can seem like an inconvenience.
With that in mind, in this article, we’re going to take a look at some options for training your dog when the weather is less than ideal. In fact, some of these ideas would work all-year round to provide your dog with great mental and physical stimulation, which is essential for ensuring your dog doesn’t become bored. But as the sight of snow on the ground starts to become more commonplace, these are ideal ways to keep your dog active when it is too cold or wet to be outdoors.
1) Brain games
There are a number of different puzzle games available on the market specifically tailored for dogs. You can also create your own (e.g. hiding treats under cups). These games encourage your dog to use their powerful olfactory systems to sniff treats out with their noses. Typically, they work by hiding treats within the game; your pup then has to work out how to get at them. It is important to fully supervise your dog during these activities. If your dog is particularly food-motivated, this can be a great way to keep them occupied in an indoor setting.
2) Have fun in the snow
Nobody likes heading out in the rain. Snow is a different matter altogether though, right? There are a lot of fun things to do with your dog when it’s snowing. Assuming it is safe (i.e. you have a Husky as opposed to a Chihuahua, and the ground isn’t so slippery that it could cause injury), you could encourage your dog to pull your kids around in a sled – if you do choose to do this, make sure your dog is wearing an appropriate harness (not one labelled as ‘no-pull’). Alternatively, you could have the whole family contribute to building not just snowmen, but snowdogs, too!
3) Trick training
Even the most obedient dog will suffer from boredom eventually – and this is particularly true in those dark, winter months. Why not take this opportunity to work on some new skills with them? You could choose to teach them a new trick, or the American Kennel Club has several ideas for sports and skills you can work on together. Remember, you don’t need to get your dog to AKC competition-level with this new endeavor – this is all about furthering your bond and helping them to learn a new skill.
4) Scent work with your dog
Scent work can be a 100% indoor activity which teaches your dog to use its nose to discern the smell of different items or oils. This is not only fun, but could have practical applications in the future; whilst the official AKC sport involves searching for essential oils like birch, clove and anise, you could use the same principles to teach your dog how to find household items like your keys or wallet!
5) Visit a friend or family member
Traditionally, winter is a time for family get-togethers and catching up with friends you might see infrequently throughout the rest of the year. Why not take the time to schedule a puppy meetup with a friend or family member? Just as you’ll enjoy getting up to speed with everything that’s going on in your friend/family member’s life, your pup will have a similarly enjoyable experience of interacting with a playmate. Of course, for maximum benefit, it helps if the two dogs are of a similar size and temperament.
6) Indoor agility course
With a spacious, indoor area (perhaps a garage or a barn?), you could purchase agility equipment and run your dog over some jumps, up and down a small A-frame, or through a tunnel. If you’re struggling for space, use your imagination! You could set up small jumps in a hallway, or stack items for your dog to navigate through or over. This improves your dog’s confidence, keeps them physically active, and teaches them awareness of their surroundings.
7) Practice obedience
Take ten minutes out of a rainy day to work on your dog’s obedience. You can work through the sit/down/stay repertoire indoors – it takes a matter of minutes. This keeps your dog’s behaviors sharp and makes them think about what they’re doing. It also means that when the weather is brighter and you take them out in public, you’re more likely to be able to maintain control of them.
8) Hide the treat game
The ‘hide the treat’ game is one of the oldest tricks in the book to keep your dog occupied. The premise is simple; temporarily put your dog in a different room and close the door, then hide a few of their favorite treats around your home. After a couple of minutes, let them out and watch them search for the food. Just remember to keep track of how many treats you put out – and more importantly, where they are hidden – nobody wants the whiff of string cheese left behind the couch in three months’ time.
9) Groom your dog
By grooming your dog, you not only keep them looking and smelling fresh. The act of grooming also helps desensitize your dog to items like nail clippers and brushes, which can often be problematic when taking them to a veterinarian or grooming appointment. By familiarizing your dog with the grooming equipment, in addition to playing with their paws/pads/ears, you’ll make your next vet appointment far less stressful for both you and your dog.
10) Come to WalkMore!
Our WalkMore Drop-In Clinics are open all-year round, every Saturday. These sessions are a great way to brush up on your dog’s training and manners in a controlled setting. They also provide much-needed socialization opportunities for your dog. Our WalkMore clinics are open to all previous DogMore Academy clients (such as those who have been through one of our Private Lesson programs), and we also welcome prospective clients to bring their dogs along and watch the sessions to get a feel for what DogMore can offer them.
These are just a few ideas for things you can do with your pup! Rain, shine or snow, the importance of working with your dog regularly cannot be understated. Not only does it help to maintain good levels of behavior, but by working together, it also helps to forge a strong bond between owner and dog.