Fewer hours of daylight and lower temperatures make venturing out to exercise your dog a whole lot less appealing. And, unless you’re fortunate enough to have flexible work hours, a sun that’s setting so much earlier makes keeping up an exercise routine quite impractical. So what does one do to keep dogs stimulated during winter? Bored dogs, after all, will find ways to keep themselves busy, often in just the ways we don’t want them to.
The Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI) recommends trying a few of the below simple activities to compensate for fewer exercise sessions.
1. Change how you feed meals: Making use of your dog’s daily food allowance, instead of extra treats, will ensure they maintain a healthy weight. Remember that by choosing a PFI member brand you are choosing a brand that has committed to ethical and safe food processes, so you know you are feeding the best that you can afford!
Scatter feeding: Do away with the food bowl and rather scatter daily meals on the floor, letting your dog search for them. If you have more than 1 dog, keep them separate to ensure each gets their daily requirement and to avoid fighting.
Hidden meals: Using cups hide their pellets inside a few of them and keep a few others empty. Mix them up and allow your dog to sniff out and touch the cups with food in them. When they are successful reward them by giving them the food to eat. When they’ve gotten the hang of this, increase the criteria (slowly) by adding more cups or increasing the distance between the cups.
2. Introduce more play: By introducing more play into a daily routine you’ll not only keep a certain level of physical activity up, but will also stimulate your dog’s brain and strengthen your bond. It’s a win-win situation!
Braided treats: Braid some treats into material, allowing your dog time to seek the treats out and work out how to get them free.
Got mail: Save a cardboard box, wrap treats in newspaper, hide the paper in the box, then let them find the snacks and work out how to get to them.
Hide and seek: Ask for help from the family and have someone keep them busy while you walk away. Call them, with a tasty treat ready to reward them when they get to you. Increase the difficulty by adding more space between you and them and then hiding behind something. Use the game to work on their “STAY” – when they’re staying reliably on command, begin playing the game. Stuffed hooves: stuff a hoof chew toy with peanut butter or tinned dog food and freeze it overnight, giving it to your dog as a high value reward to empty out.
Frozen cubes / licking blocks: freeze some tasty treats (biscuits / bits of sausage etc.) in chicken or beef stock, inside an ice cream tub overnight. Let your dog into the yard, giving him time to lick through the block.
A few things to remember: • Be cautious of feeding or using food in games with more than 1 dog around as you don’t want to encourage fighting. If your dog is known to be possessive, rather separate dogs during the food-related activities. • It’s all about activating and stimulating the brain, while keeping activity up as best as you can. Mental stimulation can be just as tiring and gratifying as physical activity! • The key is to make it fun for your dog, so that he remains engaged and interested. New games should be introduced slowly and difficulty levels gradually increased – keep it easy while your dog’s getting the hang of things. Break from time to time and listen to their body language – if it looks too difficult take a few steps back to ensure sufficient reward is being achieved. Breaking tasks into easier steps will assist in getting them into the new games, ensuring their success.