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Winter games a great way to keep your dog’s brain busy

UGH! It’s winter – shorter, colder days and less time to play outside with your pup. Consider these exercises to help you and your pup get through the cold winter and gain new skills in the process!

Winter games are a great way to keep your dogs brain busy, give you something to do with them and help them excel at different behaviors.

There are as many games as there are days in a year, but a short list below should help you get started.

First, find three or four activities/games you and your pup like, then set up a schedule, ie:

  • Monday: puzzles
  • Tuesday: buckets
  • Wednesday: find-it games
  • Thursdays: manners

It doesn’t matter what it looks like, but consider making it easy on yourself and having it set up ahead of time then when you get home and settle in for fun time (like after dinner), you pull out whatever game is that night.

  • Puzzles. You can buy dog puzzles or you can make your own. Something as simple as the roll in the middle of paper towels can be used. We put kibble inside, close the ends and let the dogs have to get to the food.
  • Buckets. Take a Tupperware container and place your dog’s breakfast in it, then add a couple of toys and a bit of water then put the entire thing in the freezer. The next morning knock it out and give to your pup so they have their meal as a popsicle that they have to work at.
  • Find-it games. Toss a treat on the ground and say “find it”; repeat, then add a couple of treats. Use something small for this, the size of cat treats, your pup’s kibble works great. This is a great game for dogs to use their noses.
  • Find your toy. It’s is similar, but it involves you hiding a toy and your dog finding it. Initially, I do this game with my dog in full view, watching me hide the toy, then I up the ante and make them come search.
  • Leave it. This behavior is so important I recommend folks practice it with their dogs for their entire lives. Leave it involves the dog ignoring something they’re typically interested in A snuffle matt is also a fun feeding option. Consider as well, muffin tins, having your dog drop toys in their basket or in different buckets. Teach them one of their toy’s names, and once they nail it, teach another.

One of the first things I taught my dogs as a kid was to look right or left. It’s crazy easy and involves just marking them anytime they do it for a couple of days. Buttons can also be a terrific way to engage you and your pup; indoor agility as well, and don’t forget hide and seek. Take the time to practice each behavior over and over and add on new behaviors as they’re learned. Dogs love to show us what they know and mealtimes are a great way to challenge them and remind you of the behaviors they can do.

Marcy Eckhardt is executive director of pranaDOGS Behavior and Rehab Center and trainer and behavior coach for La Plata County Humane Society. She can be reached at marcy@lpchumanesociety.org.