Well, it’s definitely winter. If you’re living anywhere near me, you’re probably also experiencing this long, cold, deep freeze. I’m one of those people that gets cold when it’s 25 above zero and a slight breeze comes through, so I’m sure you can imagine exactly how much time I like to spend outdoors when it’s -30 with 8 hours of sunlight if we’re lucky. And short of the arctic and livestock guardian breeds, not too many dogs are keen to go outside in -30 either. Oh, the joys of January!
The two most common reasons people take their dogs for walks are: to keep them in shape, and to tire them out. But what if I told you that you could do all that without leaving your house? Luckily, if you and your dogs are being held hostage by nature and slowly going stir crazy, there are more options available to you than sharing a case of mutual frostbite. (Not that that’s not a wonderful shared bonding experience… #canadianproblems)
First up, we have regular training sessions. Training sessions for a dog are an incredible source of mental stimulation (aka exhausting). Brushing up on obedience training, or maybe dabbling in some trick training, are go to boredom fillers that can mentally drain your pups. Most dogs love learning and now is a great time to teach anything you can conceive of. Everything from a formal heel, to rolling over, to speak can be taught in the comfort of your living room.
There are lots of excellent trick training and obedience guides on Youtube, and if you can’t come up with anything on your own there are even trick lists you can look through and pick from. I really truly don’t enjoy the cold, so I personally teach almost all of my tricks and obedience behaviours in the winter. It works out well as you’ll end up with not just a tired dog, but a well behaved one too!
Now, just because you’re doing training doesn’t mean you have to use 3 pounds of calorie dense fancy treats every session. Feeding your dog his regular meal through training is a great way to keep the calories low during the winter season. If you’re not adding in extra physical activity to make up for lost walks, remember to be mindful of how much you’re feeding. You are solely responsible for your dog’s weight!
I love using their regular kibble as my reward during training sessions, but some dogs have a problem with working for kibble if they’re used to getting it for free. If your dog fits in that category, try cutting up a hot dog (or a cheese string/cold meat etc) and mixing it into a couple cups of kibble. Put it all in a container in the fridge the day before you train, and by the next day you’ll have enticingly smelling kibble with a small amount of real hot dog pieces as an extra reward. Alternatively, if you truly can’t fathom feeding your dog ‘people food’, try buying a small bag of a different kind of kibble. It’s just different enough to be worth working for, while still low enough on the calorie scale to be able to get a solid training session in.
Another great way of using your dog’s regular meal to tire them out is to feed through food games. I love food dispenser toys of all shapes and sizes, but they can be expensive. Simple DIY and inexpensive games are all over the place (here’s a list) and could include something as simple as throwing the kibbles out piece by piece and having your dog chase each piece down. Also, throwing some kibble in their toy box, or an empty cardboard box filled with crumpled newspaper and letting them dig it all out can be a fun game. Leaving food “trails” or hiding small piles of food in your home and letting your dog find it can also be a great beginner game for many dogs.
Now hopefully the above can help mentally tire your dog out, but don’t forget about that lack of regular physical exercise! Walks are so last year anyway, this is a great opportunity to build up that summer six pack. Core drills, such as working on “sit pretty” are great to build up muscle and balance. Increasing your requirements for both position and duration can make the trick more difficult and build more muscle. For example, if your dog can only hold a 2 second “beg”, ask for 2-3 days of multiple 2 second holds, then start asking for 3-5 seconds. Bump up your requirements every few
days. Already have a good 30 sec beg? Ask them to give a paw, or stand slightly to the
side and ask them to turn their head and look without falling over! I personally
really enjoy balance work and body awareness drills, so we tend to do a lot of that year round. Balancing on things is a super hard focus and core drill for most dogs and can be as easy or difficult as you create the situation to be. Balancing on a flipped over Rubbermaid is pretty easy, but ask your dog to climb onto an office swivel chair or balance on a 5 gallon pail and they may have to work for it.
Last but not least, a more classical solution to the lack of winter exercise is to treadmill train your dog. If you happen to have one collecting dust (or drying laundry) somewhere, now is the perfect time to take up treadmilling. Some dogs take to it like a duck to water while others require a bit more training, but as ludicrous as it might sound to some, treadmilling is an excellent way to keep your pup in shape. There are TONS of Youtube videos that can teach you how to treadmill train at home, find one that works for you and give it a shot!
And if you happen to be one of those rare and insane individuals who enjoys when the air hurts their face, make sure you and your dog bundle up. They make great cold weather gear for dogs if you have a shorter coated companion (check out Hurtta gear) and make sure you know the signs of Hypothermia in dogs.
TL;DR – It’s super cold. There are lots of ways to keep your dog tired and fit while staying indoors and not freezing to death. Stay active!