Have you noticed that your dog seems to be more unruly than ever? It is common to see him pacing the hallway, counter surfing and dropping toys at your feet? This is a common time of year that has people picking up the phone to make that inevitable call to their trainer. It starts with the same lament, ”my dog used to be so good, and recently all his training has gone out the window”.
This is a fairly common problem, but still one that will frustrate most dog owners. It is very likely that there has not been enough stimulation, physical or mental exercise, for your particular dog. While this is an issue all year round, it is more evident during the winter months, when there are days we can’t get out with our dogs. Not to worry, there are lots of indoor activities to keep them active.
There are lots of dog training schools that provide classes in dog sports, which are ideal to build the bond we have with our dogs. Dog sports, such as Agility, will provide great exercise for dogs…and their people. Consider enrolling in a dog sport this winter. Of course, there are situations that prohibit attendance at classes, so devising a plan to keep your dog working at home is essential.
Teaching and practicing a trick is one of the first activities that comes to mind. It is great fun and can have multiple benefits. It doesn’t matter the actual trick you teach. Try paw, wave, spin and take a bow. You can get more advanced by grouping a number of trick together and soon your dog will understand how to pick up the kids’ toys or laundry and place them in the proper receptacle.
If you think that tricks are not for you, then practice all of your obedience words around the house. You can put the leash on and go for a heeling lesson around the living room. Sound crazy? Not really. In fact, you will soon find out that having to maneuver around the coffee table will focus both you and your dog on the task at hand. How about some sit/stays while you are watching TV. This will give your dog something to think about, and at the same time, keep him out of mischief.
A fun activity to do with your dog is Hide and Seek. This is especially fun if you have children to share this game with. Hold your dog in one room and have your child hide in a designated hiding spot elsewhere in the house. Have the child call his dog and as you release him, tell him to “go and find Billy”. You can increase the fun by using different rooms. As your dog catches on to the game, have your child stop calling his name and just give the find command to your dog.
If you live by yourself, or as an alternative, you can teach your dog to “find it”. First, take a piece of cardboard and fold it in half, like a tent. Hold your dog’s collar while you place a tasty treat under the tent. Guide your dog a few feet away and encourage him to find the treat. This should only take a few seconds. Start to increase the distance and then start to hide the tent in different areas of the house. The tent will draw his attention to the area of the treat. Your dog will have tons of fun hunting for his biscuit and it will certainly help to tire him out.
Using his favorite toy rather than a treat under the cardboard tent is a modification of this game. Soon you could be asking Sparky to go and find his bone or his ball by name. By teaching him to think while he plays, you will be mentally challenging him at the same time as giving him some fun playtime. This is also a great excuse to get him some new toys and treats. As if we need one!
By keeping your dog active over these long months, you will decrease his stress and add to his mental well-being. The benefits of that are many, including living with a dog that is not out to chew your rug or continue to pester you for attention. The bonus might be that you would become interested in a new sport, or a new trick, which could open up a whole new world for both of you. Have a fun winter!
K9 COACH GILLIAN RIDGEWAY
is the Director of Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres in Toronto and Ajax, Ontario. She has been featured on many radio and television programs and penned a monthly column in Dogs in Canada Magazine for nine years. Gillian is also a guest lecturer at the University of Toronto, using dogs to shed light on learning theory to psychology students. She shares her home with two dogs, and is involved in dog sports and canine performance teams.