If you live in Wisconsin like me, you are probably experiencing some extremely cold winter days right now. And if you are also like me, you probably hate the cold and want to avoid going outside at all costs. In fact, in sub-zero temperatures it isn’t safe for you or your dog to be outside. Since dogs require stimulation no matter the weather outside, I have provided some alternatives to those long walks that are made impossible by these frigid days.
- Tricks and training. Use this cold weather as an opportunity to work on tricks and obedience indoors! Teaching your dog a new trick activates his or her mind and can actually be hard work for them. (Remember how important mental stimulation is?) You will find that your dog is tired after a training session that involves learning a new trick. My favorite trick to teach Sasha was “sit pretty”, and right now we are working on “bow”. The options are endless!
- Indoor games. There are plenty of games and activities that will be fun for your dog and keep him or her occupied while also staying warm inside the house. Sasha really likes playing Hide and Seek: for this one, have someone hold your dog, then find a hiding spot for yourself in another room. When you are ready, the other person will say “Find (insert name here)!” Call your dog’s name every so often until they find you; the more you do this, the more challenging you can make it by hiding in more difficult places and calling your dog’s name less frequently. (You can also try a game called “Find It”, which is described here.)
- Puzzles. I write a lot about puzzles and food toys, but that is only because they are amazing and so useful. They are another easy way to activate your dog’s mind and make them think and figure things out. You can use a food toy that you already have, or make your own by cutting holes in a plastic water bottle and putting kibble or small treats inside. Or, you can make your own puzzle by placing treats or kibble in the compartments of a muffin tin and placing tennis balls on top. It’s easy, and effective!
- Play! This one is obvious, but playing tug or fetch inside is a great way to expend your dog’s energy inside the house. Maybe save one or two toys especially for cold days like this; if you only take the toys out once in a while, it will be that much more exciting to play with them!
- Duration vs. intensity. If you still want to exercise your dog outside, keep in mind that intensity is so much more important than duration. What that means is, basically, you don’t need to take your dog for a leisurely hour-long walk: instead, you can do a shorter session of something way more intense. For instance: find a large open space and play fetch; organize a playdate with a doggy friend; hit the dog park and let your dog run around; or go for a shorter run rather than a long walk. This morning I took my dogs (Sasha and my family dog, Joey, because I am home for Christmas right now) to a large field by my house and kicked a large Chuck-It ball for them. They loved chasing it and racing after it, and we didn’t need to do it for very long because it was so tiring for them!
Although the winter months are definitely the worst part about owning a dog (especially if you live in Wisconsin), there are so many ways to make it fun. Try a few of the suggestions above and I think it will make winter easier for everyone.