Winter Fun and Safety for dogs
Winter in the UK is often dark, cold and rainy. These are not ideal conditions for winter fun with your dog. Whilst some animals are happy to be outdoors in bad weather conditions, many like to hurry indoors as soon as possible, just like their owners do! Sadly, this can lead to bored, frustrated dogs who are more likely to show problematic behaviours, or just engage in a lot of cheeky attention seeking behaviour! Here are some tips for keeping your dog safe and challenged during the dark months. These tips will improve your relationship with your dog as you become the sources of fun and enrichment!
This may be obvious to many people, but please make sure that your dog has proper gear for the winter weather. Short coated dogs need coats for cold and rain to keep them comfortable. Even long-haired breeds require waterproof coats for rainy weather. Some dogs may need booties for the cold pavement or to protect their paws.
Grit applied on the pavements is often toxic to dog paws. If your area has been gritted, please wash their paws with warm cloths or water when they come indoors to remove any toxic substances before the animal has time to lick them off and possibly make them sick.
With those cautions in mind, there is a lot of fun to be had with your animal outdoors!
Dogs usually love snow and are a joy to watch as they dive into it and have a laugh.
If long walks are not possible, try taking your dog to the beach or a local nature area. This will give them a lot of stimulation in a short period of time. The sights and smells of a new walking route will enrich your walking time together, and tire your dog in a healthy way.
Off leash safety:
If there are a lot of other dogs off leash, then please watch their play carefully to ensure that they are safe and no one is being bullied. Dogs communicate with each other through their body language and are very precise in their communication with each other. Learning more about dog body language is a brilliant way of making you appreciate your canine companion and understand what they are saying to you. There are many excellent videos online showing dog body language, but please get in touch if you want any specific suggestions.
The main theme here is to help your dog to use their clever brains instead of their bodies. Anyone who has done a complicated mental exercise, such as their finances, knows that mental effort is just as tiring as physical effort! And, as they say, ‘a tired dog is a well behaved dog’!
Use your imagination to think of training and play that can be done indoors that will be challenging and fun for both of you!
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Food dispenser toys:
Street dogs spend most of their day foraging or hunting for food. This is a species-specific behaviour that is inherently fun and satisfying for them. We have taken this activity away from them by giving all of their food in a bowl.
If your dog eats biscuits or kibbles, then only give them half in their food bowl.
Save half of the kibbles to put in food dispenser toys. These can be purchased, such as the justifiably popular KONGs, or they can be homemade.
Kibbles can also be hidden around the flat, or hidden under empty containers. Dogs love a search game trying to find their food. They will explore their house with renewed interest as they seek out the food.
Food dispenser toys for dogs can also be used with wet food or with fillings such as peanut butter mixed with biscuits. The filled toys can then be frozen to provide hours of entertainment as the dog works hard to get the frozen yummy-ness out of the toy!!
Please be cautious with this if there are any resource guarding issues. If these are serious, please consult a trainer or behaviourist for specific help.
Also, if you have small children or a multi-animal family, it is best to separate them for food dispenser toys.
Many of our dogs have an extensive supply of toys. Like humans they get bored with their toys quickly. I suggest that toys are rotated so that only 3-4 are available on a given day. This keeps them fun and entertaining!! And again, use your imagination. Toys can be also homemade, depending on what your dog likes.
My favourite tip for winter enrichment is TRAINING!!! Since I use only positive reward-based training, the dogs do not realise that they are being trained. They think we are playing a fun game, with yummy rewards such as chicken.
If you have ever had a trainer to your house, or taken you puppy to a training class, you will realise that they are EXHAUSTED after a training session. And, remember, a tired dog is a well-behaved dog ….
So if your dog is bored, then get some yummy treats, and start some obedience training right in your house! Sit, stay, down, wait, leave it, are all excellent skills for dogs to have, and the training process will strengthen the bond between you. Recall and walking skills can also be practiced in the house, under ‘low distraction conditions’ and these skills can then be taken outdoors when the weather improves.
Dogs love doing tricks, and winter is an ideal time to teach your dog tricks such a roll over, spin around, paw, dancing or sitting on their haunches.
I hope you have enjoyed these suggestions, and remember, the only limit is your imagination!!! Enrichment activities are enriching for humans too, as we develop an even greater respect and love for our canine companions as we do these activities together.
Please get in touch if you have any specific questions or concerns. Most of all, enjoy the time you have together!!!