Ever notice that your dog seems to get into more trouble when he’s been cooped up in the house all winter? Have a puppy who is bored, because this cold weather doesn’t allow for the longer walks that she needs? Curious how to curtail cabin fever for your canine this season?

As a professional dog trainer in Wisconsin, I see a rise in training inquiries this time of year for dogs who are “acting out” in ways they don’t normally. Some become avid counter surfers, or professional garbage raiders. Others prefer to use their “voices” more often, while some take out their boredom on the couch cushion instead. My experience shows a strong correlation with lack of exercise in the winter leading to an increase in inappropriate behaviors.

But as a Midwesterner, we must be realistic… Wisconsin winters do not always allow for long, exhausting adventures outside that wear out your pooch. So we need to find other activities that will keep your dog’s mind and body moving! These activities often require very little effort on the human’s part, so they are great exercises for those who may be limited in their ability to physically exercise their pet. I personally love these games for when I am ill, tired, or too busy with real life to get in that long walk my dog desperately needs.

HIRE A PROFESSIONAL DOG WALKER. Don’t have time to walk your dog daily? Can’t stand the cold? Maybe you’re physically limited, and one slip on the ice is too much to risk. Whatever the reason, a skilled professional dog walker can adequately exercise your dog FOR you if needed! Having a dog walker can really relieve boredom for your pooch, and leave your dog feeling happier and healthier.

PUZZLE TOYS. There are many interactive learning toys for dogs out on the market today. Mentally and physically stimulating, these “brain food” toys encourage your dog’s natural instinct to hunt and forage. Turn meal time, into PLAY TIME! Transform mealtime from 30 seconds out of a bowl, into 20 minutes of playing with a food puzzle game. The picture includes many of my household’s favorite interactive dog toys that I recommend.

PLAY “GO HUNT!” OR “GO FIND IT!” Don’t have the cash right now to go buy one of those cool interactive games yet? Doggy-proof a room, put your dog in a sit-stay, go hide little piles of kibble all over the room, then release your dog to sniff out each morsel. A cheap and easy game to play anytime!

TEACH YOUR DOG TOY RECOGNITION. A fun trick that will surprise you how many words your dog can learn. Say the name of a toy repeatedly as your dog plays with it, and soon your dog will know all it’s toys by name. For a challenge, stuff a laundry basket with a few toys your dog knows by name. Then ask your dog for a specific toy, and see if she/he can find the right one!

PLAY CHASE WITH A LASER LIGHT. Have a dog that likes to chase squirrels and buzzing flies? Try a laser pointer for endless chasing fun, all from the comfort of your couch if you choose!

INVEST IN A DOGGY BACKPACK. Perfect for an active dog, perhaps a working breed, or just a dog who needs a job! Adds an extra load, allowing for an additional “workout” for your pooch. I love them in winter. If you can only get out for a quick 10 minute jaunt around the block, your dog felt like he got the workout of a 20 minute walk because he was carrying his backpack. My experience as a professional dog trainer and dog walker shows that backpacks reduce pulling on the leash, and decrease jumping up on new people as well!

TEACH YOUR DOG TO WALK ON A TREADMILL. Have a treadmill in the basement collecting dust? Teach your dog to walk on it, allowing you to adequately exercise your dog – rain, sleet, or snow! For an extra workout, add a doggy backpack too.

PLAY “HIDE AND SEEK” OR “SEARCH AND RESCUE”. Put your dog in a sit-stay, go hide in another room, then call your dog to come find you! An especially fun and interactive game for children to play with their dogs. Encourages a better recall too.

I hope you find these tips helpful to get you through this winter with your playful pooch! Always remember, a tired dog is a HAPPY dog 🙂