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Friday, December 26, 2008

Twelve Bad-Weather Boredom Relievers

Neither you nor your dog particularly wants to go outside for walks when it's frigid, messy and wet. Yet your dog is like a pressure cooker who needs to let off steam through exercise. While there's no substitute for a good romp in the great outdoors, here are some things to help exercise your dog mentally as well as physically, indoors during the winter downtime.

1. Teach your dog to dance. Any dog can learn the moves of the new sport known as canine freestyle. Check out this website for on-line classes, seminars and instruction.

2. Play hide-and-seek. Put your dog in a STAY. Tiptoe off to another corner of the house, go behind a door, go into a closet, or behind a couch. Now, gleefully call your dog and silently stand there waiting for him to sniff you out. When he finds you, have a big whoop-de-doo party. Repeat.

3. Play "Find the Kong." Stuff a Kong with an extra-good treat. Show it to your dog. Put him in a sit-stay while you walk away from him to "hide" the Kong. RETURN to your dog's side. Get him excited, but make him maintain the sit-stay until you excitedly say, "Find it!" Don't make it too difficult to find the first few times you do it just a few yards away, around a corner and almost in sight for the first few attempts.

4. Teach your dog some new (or old) tricks. Hi-five, roll over, crawl, whisper, talk, sing.

5. Get a book on clicker training (yes, I actually said that). Mind you, you need an OBEDIENT and WELL-MANNERED dog BEFORE you start clicker training. These clicker devices are only for teaching "trick behaviors," not mindset behaviors. In other words, if you want to teach your dog to get a can of beer out of the fridge and bring it to you, try a clicker. Do not use the clicker, however, to try to teach respect and good manners. It doesn't work with kids either.

6. Practice canine massage. A good therapeutic rubdown feels good ANYTIME, and will help your dog calm down. Massage releases energy just like exercise, because you're working muscles, stimulating blood flow, and moving toxins out of the system. Check out

7. Treat your dog to Doggy Daycare. You'll find several in every major city these days. A day of safe romping with other dogs will absolutely wear him out. Lots of dogs fall asleep in the car on the way home from doggy day care, and most crash for the night as soon as they hit their beds.

8. Schedule a grooming or vet check. Why wait until the good weather has you outside playing and too busy for these health maintenance checks. A visit to the grooming shop or vet's office tends to tire dogs because of the mental stimulation and excitement.

9. Sign up for a training class. It's easier for many people to stay motivated if they're working in a group. If you REALLY want to improve your dog's manners, or teach him a new activity like Rally Obedience or Agility, get into a group class. Between sessions, you'll feel motivated to practice so you and your dog can show off your improvement to classmates from week to week.

10. Play fetch in the hallway at home. If your dog's the playful type, he'd just as soon chase a ball inside as outside. Look for some soft toys that won't chip the drywall or break knicknacks if you deliver a wild pitch.

11. Get treat-dispensing toys to keep your dog busy. Treatsie Balls, Buster Cubes, and other high-impact plastic toys can be loaded with kibble. They're like "puzzles" for your dog, because each time he bumps them or rolls them, food drops out. A treat-dispensing toy like this will keep your dog occupied for half an hour at a time, and he'll be getting exercise as he chases it around the floor. Check out some of these here:

12. Last but not least...suck it up. Put on some warm clothes, some good boots, put a coat on your dog if he needs one, and GET OUTSIDE FOR A WALK. You'll be amazed how good you feel, and how quickly the "Ooh, it's cold and yucky!" feeling will leave you. It takes about two minutes. Besides, think how good that cup of hot chocolate (and a biscuit for your dog) will taste when you get back inside!

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