This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune online Brand Publishing "From House to Home" section, and on Menards.com.
Is your dog turning into a couch potato this winter? Is he eating the couch out of boredom?
There are lots of fun things to do with your dog indoors when the weather outside is frightful. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers says exercising a dog's brain is as important as exercising its body, so here are some activities that do both.
Teach your dog a new trick. There are a lot of things a dog can do beyond sit and shake. How about dog bowling or bobbing for popcorn? Check out YouTube for dog trick videos, or check books or DVDs on dog training from your library. Don't forget to buy some healthy training treats (the tiny ones about the size of your fingertip) so Fido doesn't get fatter while he's getting smarter.
Treat and seek
This is the food version of hide and seek. It's great for dogs who love to follow their nose. Put your dog in a down-stay or sit-stay, but make sure they know you have some treats first. Then hide several treats around the house. Say "find it" and lead them into the vicinity of where you hid the treat. Make it easy at first and then gradually increase the difficulty.
Tip: Use a few pieces of your dog's dry food in place of treats, if you're worried about weight gain.
Depending on how much room you have, you can set up some simple homemade agility equipment, says Mychelle Blake of the APDT. For example, try making a hurdle out of a rolled up sleeping bag, or a tunnel out of lined up chairs if your dog is small. Use an inner tube or hula hoop as a ring for your dog to jump through. Lure the dog over and through each obstacle one at a time with treats to get them used to it. Once they have the hang of it, line them up in succession, and get out your video camera.
If your dog has a basket full of toys they rarely play with, this game might renew their interest. Many dogs are capable of learning the "names" of things if they are simple, for example, "duck" or "red ball." According to Pawnation.com, an animal news website, the key to name recognition is practice and repetition. It suggests starting off simply by using two of your dog's favorite toys. Give each of them a name. Make sure there are no other toys in the room. Say the name of one toy, then throw it so your dog can fetch it, and repeat a few times. Then, do the same with the other toy. Then put both on the ground and say the name of one of the toys and reward her with praise when she picks it up. Eventually you will be able to impress your friends when your dog pulls the specific toy you requested out of their basket.
Puzzle toys are those that have hidden treats in them, and the dog must work to get the treat out. Puzzle toys are flat plastic or wood consoles that resemble baby or toddler toys. For example, they may have shapes or pegs that the dog must move around to get to the treats stowed inside small compartments. Puzzle toys come in varying degrees of difficulty, as well, and are great for dogs who like to dig around for things. Note: They make puzzle toys for cats, too.