Recently a client asked how they can keep their high-energy dog exercised during these short, dark days of winter. I sent them several suggestions, and they were really excited to try them out.
TIP: Physical exercise is important, but don’t discount mental exercise, too. A mental workout can really wear your dog out! Use both for the ultimate in a well-behaved dog.
Here are a few fun ways to work your dog’s body and mind when the weather is lousy and the evenings are dark. Different ones will work for different dogs and households:
- Hide and seek in the house – version 1 — find the human: Put your dog in a Sit-Stay or Down-Stay — or if they don’t know that yet, have another member of the family hold them — then go and hide. Call your dog once and wait for him to find you. Give him praise, petting, and treats when he finds you. This is also great for training coming when called.
- Will work for food. Don’t put your dog’s meals in a bowl that only takes a minute for them to eat! Get a feeder toy — see my favorites in my post on enrichment to make your dog work for their meals. It keeps your dog occupied for a lot longer, engages their body and mind, and they love it!
- Hide and seek in the house – version 2 — find the food: Put your dog in a Sit-Stay or Down-Stay — or if they don’t know that yet, have another member of the family hold them — and hide a little pile of food or your dog’s feeder toy. She has to find it. Nose work can be very tiring. You can hide several piles of food or feeder toys all over the house!
- Similarly, if the ground is not covered in snow, you can add foraging and nosework to your dog’s routine by tossing her kibble into the yard (as long as she is inside a gate or tethered). She has to use her nose to find every kibble! A great way to work for meals!
- A flirt pole is like a cat dancer for dogs. It’s a stick with a rope and a toy attached to it. You can either buy one here or buy one here or make one (video instruction) or make one (easy how-to article). This does need to be played outside, but it’s a way you can get some pretty intense exercise in a small space, like a yard, and it does not require going for a walk, etc. If you have floodlights, you can even do it after dark.
- Play ball with a glow-in-the-dark ball. I’ve heard good things about the Chuckit! Max Glow Pro Launcher.
- If you do want to walk your dog safely in the dark, check out Whole Dog Journal’s great review of nighttime safety gear.
- If you have carpeted stairs in your home, and your dog is confident on the stairs, young, healthy, and nimble, you can give your dog a lot of exercise in a short period by calling him up and down the stairs between two people (and also, again, good recall training!). If there is only one person in the home, you can play fetch up and down the stairs by standing at the bottom and tossing a toy to the top. You can even toss treats up and down the stairs. Just make sure your dog is not so excited that he’s not being careful enough. You don’t want your dog to get injured. Don’t do this if stairs are open in the back, wood, slippery, etc.
- If you have a treadmill, you can train your dog to walk on the treadmill. (If you don’t have one, you can usually get one free or cheap from Freecycle or Craigslist.) Take it slow and train it positively like this or treadmill train positively like this. Some dogs learn to love this!
These are just a few options. The possibilities are endless. What about you? How do you keep your dog exercised over the winter?