The weather is truly miserable right now in most areas of the country, and even the dogs are not thrilled about taking a lengthy walk, but we all know that dogs that are not regularly exercised are likely to develop behavioral problems such as chewing, excessive barking and separation anxiety. So what is the responsible pet caregiver to do?? When it is too cold to spend much time outdoors, there are indoor activities that can stimulate your dog’s body and mind. Because of their keen sense of smell, dogs love nose games… actually they love almost any activity that involves interacting with their humans.

  • Hide and seek: Simple and fun. Tell your dog to stay while you go to a different area of the house and hide…once you are hidden, call her to come and stay perfectly still until she finds you. Offer a treat and lots of praise and she will think she is an amazing search and rescue dog!
  • Laser pointer capture: Shining a laser pointer on the floor and wall and letting your dog go wild chasing the red dot looks like fun, and it can be IF it is not overused, but most animal behaviorists claim that it can have unintended consequences. Dr. Nicolas Dodman from Tufts School of Veterinary medicine explains that a dog instinctively chases laser beams because, well, the dots move, and they stimulate dogs’ predatory systems so much that they cannot NOT chase it. They can’t help themselves. They are obliged to chase it, and never actually catching it can drive a dog to get so obsessed with chasing the light that he develops behavior problems. Dodman suggests that you keep laser chasing sessions very short and hide a few dog treats around the room, and then occasionally let the laser dot point out a treat that your dog is able to actually “catch.” If you notice the dog becoming obsessed about chasing the laser beams, replace the laser toy with a game of “fetch” where he can actually catch the toy.
  • Indoor fetch: Fetch is an all-round great activity that is usually played outdoors, but it can be adapted for indoors. Fetch can be played down a long hallway or in the basement. Playing fetch up and down stairs is another option and provides a good workout, but keep it to a limited number of throws. It is best to throw the toy up the stairs, not down. That way he’ll be putting less pressure on his shoulder joints.
  • Retrieve it: Many indoor games can help build your dog’s obedience skill, so if you are having difficulty teaching her to retrieve, put all her toys into a box, and then dump them in a pile on the floor. Sit across the room from her and point to the toys, asking her to bring you one. When you dog goes to pick one up, offer praise and when she brings it to you, offer more praise and maybe give her a treat. Repeat until all the toys are in your lap, and then offer BIG praise. You can practice other obedience exercises in the house too. For example, heel up and down a hallway with a ball or toy in your hand, and occasionally throw the ball to the end of the hallway and play a few rounds of retrieve.
  • Tread-milling: If you have a treadmill gathering dust in a closet or basement, now is the time to dust it off. Training a dog to use a motorized treadmill requires patience and persistence, but most dogs will adapt quickly if you don’t spook them so that they develop a fear to the machine right away. Get him used to getting on the machine with the motor turned OFF. Repeat the on and off practice until he is interested in the machine and is comfortable on it. Let her watch you get on and off it with the motor on several times BEFORE inviting her to join you. Proceed slowly and offer praise (and treats if necessary). Never leave her unsupervised!

With a little imagination, neither you nor your dog needs to sit around on the couch all day yearning for better weather. Who knows—winter might even become your favorite season!