As a dog trainer, spring is often my busiest time of year. I see lots of dogs who have been kept inside all winter and have developed behavior issues because of under-met exercise and socialization needs. A dog’s exercise needs remain consistent year-round; when these needs are met with inconsistent opportunities to exercise, behavior problems often occur.
Lack of exercise can cause various issues, including hyperactive greetings, chewing on valuable items, raiding the garbage, and increased anxiety and aggression. If a dog is predisposed to aggression, the increased anxiety from lack of exercise can exacerbate the problem.
Like people, dogs get cabin fever of sorts and go stir crazy when kept inside. But when the weather is uninviting, it’s easy to slack on your dog’s regular exercise routine. To prevent your dog from becoming one of my clients, keep him appropriately entertained this winter even when daily walks aren’t possible. My rule of thumb is to provide your dog with at least two interactive activities per day along with several socialization opportunities throughout the week. Before you decide that this sounds like too much work, read on — these requirements are not only easy to meet, they're fun as well!
Here are five simple ways to meet your dog's exercise needs, even in the worst weather conditions.
Experiment With Inside Games
Vary the games you play and regularly rotate toys to keep your dog interested. Tug can be an excellent game for teaching self-control when played with the proper rules. Fetch can be done inside using soft toys. Increase the fetch challenge by tossing the toy up stairs with carpeting or runners to prevent slipping. For dogs that like to chase, attach a stuffed animal to the end of a rope to simulate a predatory chase. More rambunctious or large dogs can be exercised safely in open areas, such as a basement or garage with the car pulled out.
Dogs are scavengers by nature, meaning they are programmed to spend many of their waking hours in search of food. Use this to your advantage by getting your dog hunting for his meals with a few inventive practices. Instead of a food bowl, feed your dog kibble out of a food puzzle (a hollow toy with openings for kibble to fall out). For a long-lasting challenge, stuff a hollow toy, like a Kong, with canned dog food and freeze. Exercise your dog by tossing a treat piece by piece across the room and telling him to “find it,” so he can chase after it and hunt it out with his nose.
Carve Out Some Quality Time
Rather than cooping up your dog all winter, take him on outings with you during the week. A date with your canine can be as easy as taking him to a dog-friendly pet store to choose a chew or toy. Pooch-friendly coffee shops welcome dogs with treats. Give the treat to your canine while he is secured in the backseat of your car with a seatbelt or inside a crate. Drop by your veterinary office for a social visit and have the receptionist give your dog a cookie. Arrange a visit to a friend’s front door for a treat, or invite friends to your home to interact with your dog. Consider having a dog walker come exercise your pooch if you can’t safely do it yourself. Most dogs can comfortably be walked outside for short periods when the right precautions are made, such as wiping paws off after walks.
Schedule Play Dates
Dog-friendly canines benefit from play dates. Consider arranging play dates with your dog’s favorite friends, which can be done right in your backyard or at pet-friendly parks. Even when the weather outside is frightful, dog park loyalists are still braving the cold. Dog parks can give your dog both off-leash exercise and interaction with other canines. Doggy day cares are another way to give your dog interaction while you’re away from home or when you just need a break.
Create an Indoor Agility Course
Never underestimate the power of the homemade agility course. Create obstacles for your dog to navigate, much like he would on an agility course. Use chairs as weave poles for your dog to navigate around. Line other chairs up and toss a blanket over the top to create a makeshift tunnel for your dog to run under. A broomstick fixed over a couple of buckets or a hula hoop held in your hands can serve as a jump. Teach your dog to propel through obstacles using a hand target, and reward with plenty of praise and treats. Take short breaks between obstacles to do obedience work, such as puppy push-ups. The obedience work will keep your dog listening to you and give him a mini workout. As an added bonus, hand targeting allows for additional exercise by getting your dog moving between people for a reward.