Let's face it, winter in Saskatchewan can be harsh. Bitterly cold temperatures, extreme cold warnings and the fact that it takes 20 minutes just to get bundled up to go out mean you're probably not getting your dog out for as many walks as they're used to. Like humans, dogs benefit greatly from the exercise walks can provide. All of the sights, sounds, smells and other dogs make it the highlight of your dog's day.
So, what do you do when it's the middle of winter in Saskatchewan, your dog is bored and suddenly tearing up your kid's favorite stuffed animal, chasing dragons around the house that only he can see while knocking Great Aunt Carol's fine china off the credenza but you can't take him for a run because the air hurts your face?! Good news, a mental challenge can cure your dog's boredom, tire them out and finally give you some peace and quiet so you can sew up that stuffed animal and try to superglue Aunt Carol's china back together (again).
1. The Shell Game
This is an easy, classic game you can play with items you already have at home. All you need is three cups (paper or plastic are ideal, as long as it's not clear), a treat and a dog (or cat).
Let your dog watch you put the treat under one of the cups, spin them around a bunch, not too fast at first, and then let him try to choose which one he thinks has the snack. He may nose at the cup, paw it, or just chomp it, depends on the dog. If he chooses the right cup, he gets the snack! If he doesn't choose the right cup, go for another round.
Once he has the hang of it, you can make it more challenging by moving the cups faster, not letting him sniff it before choosing, or for expert level put a treat under one cup and decoy items under the other two and see if he can pick it out!
This game is fun for the whole family and challenges your dog to problem solve.
2. Hide and Seek
Another classic, easy game that's great for the whole family.
To play, get a family member to hold your dog in one room while you go and hide. To start off, hide somewhere easy, another room or floor of the house. When you're ready, the dog is released with something like "go find mom!" and has to find you. If he doesn't find you after a minute or so, make a noise or a whistle to give him a hint to come look for you. Once he finds you, make it the most exciting thing in the world! Lots of pets and high pitched voices and treats and all that good stuff. Make this game more challenging by hiding in more difficult places - closets, bathtub, under the bed etc.
3. Treat Hunt
Taking a few lessons from working dogs, this is a fun way to keep your dog entertained and using their nose. This is also a great game if you're going to be away for an hour or two.
Using small treats (or kibble), hide them in various places around the house and let your dog sniff them out. To begin with, hide them only in one room so you can be sure he found them all. You can set him off on the hunt by saying "go find the treats" or "where are they", or something like that. You may have to lead him to the first one so he gets the idea. Soon he will be sniffing all over trying to find a delicious surprise! As he gets better at the game, hide more treats in different rooms, high spots, low spots, etc.
After a good mental workout, your dog will be ready for a nap! It's important to note that different dogs have different attention spans and different interests. Some dogs may not like all of these games, or maybe you have to change it up a bit to make it more exciting for your friend, whatever works! Of course it is still a good idea to get out for a quick walk when you can, even around the block, but during those bitterly cold days, these can help keep some peace in your home and maybe even spur some much needed laughter.
Try these games out with your pets and let me know how it goes! Do you have any games you already play with your pets?