No matter where you are, the February weather is likely less pleasant for outdoor activities. Perhaps you have 4 feet of snow with below-zero temperatures, or maybe it’s just raining a lot. Like humans, dogs need to be mentally stimulated and get physical exercise daily, which can be hard when the weather cuts short daily walks or dog park visits. If you aren’t someone who enjoys outdoor winter sports you can do with your dog, then there are many things you can do inside to keep your dog’s mind occupied and get some movement too. Try one of these games or training drills to keep your dog’s mind sharp and have fun too.
There are lots of indoor games you can play with your dog that are mentally stimulating, increase your bond with your pup, and are fun too! Here are some of our favorites.
Hide high value treats in various places throughout your home. Show your dog 1 or 2 with the command ‘Find’. When they find the treat, reward with a ‘Yes’. Soon your dog will get the idea and use his or her nose to look all over the house for treats. After the first round, make sure to hide fewer treats in more challenging to find places to increase the length of time it takes and really work your dog’s brain.
HIDE & SEEK
If your dog has a high need to be with you all the time, have your partner distract them. Then stash yourself somewhere out of sight. Give them some verbal cues or have your partner encourage them to find ‘Your Name.’ When they find you, reward them with a lot of praise and excitement, and cuddles.
Does your dog love digging? Pile up blankets or pillows and hide some high value treats in between the folds. Show your dog one of them as you place it in the pile, so they get the idea. Encourage them with ‘dig.’ Alternatively, pick a pillow, dog bed, or blanket. Put your hand underneath and make it move as if there’s an animal underneath. My dogs love that and will dig and try to get the creature for at least ½ an hour. Just be sure your dog understands digging is a game you play together or you may find your beds in disarray!
There are tons of dog puzzle toys on the market that can keep your dog mentally stimulated. They can include low tech ones like a Snuffle mat where you hide treats between pieces of fabric which mainly just slow your dog down in eating them. More complicated ones, like Nina Ottoson by Outward Hound, are like board games with pieces your dog has to move to open boxes or reveal treats. More advanced versions require pieces to be moved in sequence and can challenge even the most intelligent dog. Read our dog puzzle toys post about this topic for more ideas.
With a few inexpensive items, you can create an obstacle course for your dog inside. Those big Amazon boxes you were going to recycle can make great tunnels. Or buy a children's fabric tunnel for your pup. A short footstool, box, or broom across two piles of books can make a good hurdle to jump over. Place smaller boxes or shoes in a zig-zag pattern and show your dog how to weave around them. You can even pick up some traffic cones at Home Depot to make it more official. Once they get the hang of it, encourage them to go faster and see if they can beat their time. If our dog seems to love it, seek out local agility training courses you can attend for a great hobby for both you and your dog.
WORK ON TRAINING SKILLS
Whose dog couldn’t stand to learn some new skills or reinforce the ones they sort of know already? New skills are best started indoors anyway since there are fewer distractions, and if the dog runs away, there’s no danger.
Has your dog been Place trained yet? Place training is a foundational skill that helps get your dog’s focus on you and stops them from doing unwanted behaviors. Place is essential for your dog to be a good house guest when visiting others or a good house host when receiving others. You’ll need an item like a towel, mat, or raised bed that has defined boundaries. This is their ‘place.’ You set it down in a low distraction area for training. You begin by leading your dog to the item, saying ‘place,’ and getting all four paws on it. When they do that, you give them a reinforcing ‘Yes’ followed by a treat. Next, you pull out their mastery of Stay to have them stay in Place for short durations until you release them. Repeat until your dog understands Place. This Place Training guide provides more details on training for this skill.
If your dog has not mastered Stay, then work on this before place training. Inside you may not have to use a leash for this training. But the idea would be to begin by asking your dog to Sit. Then ask to Stay until you release them with a release word such as ‘Ok’ or ‘Free’ or ‘Go.’ Review this set of 4 videos that help you train your dog to Stay reliably.
Has your dog mastered Fetch yet? Fetch would be a great skill to work on and can be done indoors with a favorite toy or small ball. To start, use a narrow hallway. Get your dog interested in the ball or toy you are going to use for the game. Roll or throw the toy a short distance. Most dogs will chase the item. Use the word ‘Fetch’ with your arms outstretched and a treat in your hand. Keep repeating the command.
Seeing the treat, most dogs will come to you. When the dog approaches you, command them to sit. Put your hand and treat under their chin and say ‘Drop.’ Most dogs will gladly exchange the toy for a treat. Do not pull the item from the dog’s mouth. Just keep repeating the phrase. When they drop, give them the treat plus lots of praise. Keep throwing further and further until your dog understands the game and consistently retrieves. Now your pup is ready to try this in wide-open spaces.
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean your dog has to be bored. Give them some fun by trying one of these games, and you will be amazed at how much better behaved they are in general. Plus, you might end up with a better-trained dog in the end. Do you have any favorite indoor games we missed? Share them in the comments below.
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