Fortunately, there are all kinds of things you can do with your dog in the house that will satisfy him both mentally and physically. With a big dog and a small space, it can be tricky, but keep in mind that tiring out a dog’s brain is just as valuable in helping him settle as tiring out his body.
Here are some of our favorites:
Find It. This is a very popular game with many different types of dogs. To play this game, leave your dog in one room (either in a stay, have somebody hold him, or close the door) while you hide a smelly, tasty treat in another room. At first you want to make it very obvious for him so that he understands the game. Release the dog and say “find it” and then just stand back and watch while he follows his nose. Dogs have amazing noses. Their sense of smell is unbelievably powerful, which is what makes them so useful for sniffing out bombs, drugs, and even cancer. Plus sniffing and hunting plays into their natural instincts- most dogs love this game. As he begins to understand, make the game harder. Put the treat up higher. Hide it behind a pillow. Hide it somewhere difficult to get to. Make the search area larger. The possibilities are endless.
If you find that you and your dog really love this game, there is a dog sport called Canine Nosework that challenges dogs to find specific scents hidden in boxes, rooms, and on vehicles. It’s a lot of fun for the dogs, and even dogs with disabilities or who do not play well with other dogs are welcome to participate.
Hide and Seek. A similar game to Find It, but this time you send the dog to find another person. Again, start easy and then gradually make the game more challenging. When the dog finds the right person, he gets a reward and a celebration. This is a great game to play with kids, and it can actually be kind of handy to be able to tell your dog “Go find [this person]” and have them understand what you’re telling them.
Food-dispensing Toys. For a more passive way to keep your dog occupied, consider looking to food-dispensing toys. These come in all shapes and sizes, but probably the most common one is the Kong. Kongs are toys made out of different strengths of rubber and are designed to be stuffed with tasty goodness. There is an endless variety of options. You can use them to feed your dog’s meals– mix kibble with a small amount of broth or canned food (enough to make everything wet) and stuff it all inside the toy. Pop it in the freezer for a couple hours and there you go- a pooch pacifier. But don’t stop with boring things like kibble! Low fat yogurt, cottage cheese, fruits and vegetables, healthy leftovers from your meals, even a little bit of peanut butter or EZ cheese. You can stuff dog biscuits in there. Pack things tightly to make it more challenging, more loosely for the beginner Kong dog.
Food-dispensing toys are not limited to Kongs, however. There is an endless array. There are toys that need to be manipulated or shaken, toys that need to be rolled, toys that need to be wobbled in order to get food to come out. Buying a couple different types and rotating them to feed your dog his meals keeps things more interesting, makes mealtime last longer, and engages your pup’s brain, helping to keep him mentally satisfied.
This is Steve with his Tug-a-Jug. His kibble goes inside the bottle and he has to work the knotted rope in and out in order to make the food come out. He thinks it’s great fun, and it keeps his hyperactive brain active longer than it takes to scarf down a bowl of kibble.
Trick training. This can be fun for you and for your dog, but you have to keep it happy and positive! There are a variety of books available that will walk you through the steps of the most common tricks (Kyra Sundance has a number of really nice trick books and DVDs, and you can even get your dog titled as an official Trick Dog!) but use your own imagination. Shaking hands, barking on command, sitting up and begging, rolling up in a blanket, retrieving the tv remote– all fun things to have your dog be able to do.
Join a class. If you don’t know how to go about training your dog to do tricks, consider taking a class! Positive reinforcement-based classes are what you’re looking for- you want this to be fun for your dog, not stressful! There are a number of training clubs in the area that offer a wide variety of classes, from obedience and manners classes to tricks classes, to agility (an obstacle course your dog runs), to flyball (a fast-paced relay race with ball-crazy dogs), to nosework, to treibball (a game where dogs learn to “herd” balls into goals). Look on the internet and call around to see if there is something that interests you and your dog and fits your schedule. A fun class is a great way to get your dog active during the winter months, and it’s also a great way to bond.
Consider a swim. Kind of an off-the-wall idea, but if you’ve got a water-crazy dog who is missing his swims in the lake, consider a trip to an indoor dog pool. We have a couple within reasonable driving distance (Bainbridge and Dillsburg) that, for a fee, will allow you to swim your dog (or even swim with your dog). Swimming is fantastic full-body exercise and is a great way to tire out an energetic young dog. It’s also great to get older dogs with arthritis issues moving as the water takes the weight off aching joints.
Get out when you can. When we get a day or two of milder temperatures, do your best to take advantage of them! Bundle up, but remember to dress your dog appropriately too, if needed. Thick-coated or stocky dogs often don’t need coats to stay warm, but dogs with smooth coats and low body fat will be much happier with an extra layer to keep them warm. And don’t forget about the feet! Especially in town on salted sidewalks, winter can be tough on a dog’s paws. For some dogs, disposable rubber boots do a great job of providing a layer between paw and salt. But other dogs in other situations may need something sturdier. Choose wisely, and get out there and have fun!