How to train your dog during the winter months

Daylight savings making you feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to train your dog? If you’re anything like me, your motivation tends to wane when it is dark and cold outside. While I do force myself to bundle up and get out for the benefit of my dog, I can’t say I am always 100% consistent.

However, my lack of enthusiasm does motivate me to find alternative ways to keep the dogs busy and engaged during the cold, dark winter evenings. Here are my top 5 tips for keeping your canine friends busy and happy through these longer nights.

1. Hide & Seek Games

Teaching your dog to locate a hidden treat is a nose game that any pet can master. If you have never played scent games with your dog, start by using treats. Using something with a stronger odor, like a moist treat or cheese, as opposed to a hard biscuit will help ensure success.

In the beginning, have your dog in another room or in his crate while you “hide” a treat in full view. When you bring him into the room instruct your dog to “find it”. Your dog will easily locate the treat, which is good and builds success and association with the game of “find it.” After a few repetitions, begin to make the hides progressively more challenging, but not so difficult that your dog gets discouraged and gives up. You want your dog to succeed in finding it each time so that he gains confidence and will continue to search for progressively longer periods of time.

As Fido gets more and more competent, you can vary the placement throughout the house and send your dog on a hunt to locate his prize. You can also vary the quantity of treats so sometimes your dog discovers a “jackpot” which further increases motivation.

Once the dog really gets the hang of the game, you can switch to various items (toys for instance). Food makes the game easy to teach but most dogs will be equally satisfied with themselves when finding a hidden toy once they learn the game. The idea is to teach them the joy of using their nose and being sent on a mission that uses their innate talent.

2. Place Games

While the mannequin challenge has been sweeping the viral community you can create your own version and train your dog at the same time by playing some Place games.

The key is to get creative with the objects you use as a place board. The more you downsize the object more your dog will have to focus to keep still in order to remain properly positioned.

Depending on the size of your dog, consider using an ottoman, household scale, step stool, top of a dog crate, or a dog bowl

3. Raw Bones

Yes, I did say raw. My dogs get beef femurs that are cut into 3 or 4 inch sections (my dogs range in size from 40 – 75 pounds so use smaller sections if you have smaller dogs) The femurs are stored in the freezer and run briefly under warm water before allowing the dogs to have them. They are content to gnaw on these and work on getting the marrow out for a very long time. Raw bones are perfect when you want to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet around the house.

4. Stuffed Toys

If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of raw food for your dogs, you can give them the next best thing. Kong or other “fillable” chew toys stuffed full of edibles like peanut butter, dog treats and kibble. The more challenging you make the process of un-stuffing the edibles, (try freezing the toy to make it more challenging) the longer you can keep your dog occupied.

5. Retrieve Practice

My number one favorite activity is to “put my dogs to work” (I think it is their favorite too!) I’m not referring to the kind of retrieving that is based on a play activity like chasing a ball, but rather the type of retrieving a service animal would provide. The ability to pick up, carry and deliver any item the dog is physically capable of is a skill that many dogs can learn and is highly rewarding for both the dog and the owner. My dogs can help me pick up shoes or laundry, they pick up and put away their own toys and they help carry bags and other items in after shopping. If there is nothing that needs to be picked up, my husband and I find small items such as pencils, coasters, or notes to send back and forth to one another just to keep the dogs busy. Plus, we enjoy seeing the satisfied look on the dogs’ faces when they get to participate in something that exercises their mind as well as body.

There you have it. Five great ways to keep your dogs busy and engaged while waiting for the daylight hours to shift in our favor. Before you know it, it will be March 12th and we will Spring Forward again!

2 thoughts on “How to train your dog during the winter months

  1. These are great games and teaching lessons for dogs. My Blackjack has Lupus and needs to keep focused mentally as well as physically and we play all of these games. Thank you for sharing.

    1. You are welcome. Hope your winter is going well so far and Happy New Year to you and the dogs!

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