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As a dog trainer, spring is often my busiest time of year. I see lots of dogs who have been kept inside all winter and have developed behavior issues because of under-met exercise and socialization needs. A dog’s exercise needs remain consistent year-round; when these needs are met with inconsistent opportunities to exercise, behavior problems often occur. Lack of exercise can cause various issues, including hyperactive greetings, chewing on valuable items, raiding the garbage, and increased anxiety and aggression. If a dog is predisposed to aggression, the increased anxiety from lack of exercise can exacerbate the problem.
Like people, dogs get cabin fever of sorts and go stir crazy when kept inside. But when the weather is uninviting, it’s easy to slack on your dog’s regular exercise routine. To prevent your dog from becoming one of my clients, keep him appropriately entertained this winter even when daily walks aren’t possible. My rule of thumb is to provide your dog with at least two interactive activities per day along with several socialization opportunities throughout the week. Before you decide that this sounds like too much work, read on — these requirements are not only easy to meet, they're fun as well!
Here are five simple ways to meet your dog's exercise needs, even in the worst weather conditions.
Vary the games you play and regularly rotate toys to keep your dog interested. Tug can be an excellent game for teaching self-control when played with the proper rules. Fetch can be done inside using soft toys. Increase the fetch challenge by tossing the toy up stairs with carpeting or runners to prevent slipping. For dogs that like to chase, attach a stuffed animal to the end of a rope to simulate a predatory chase. More rambunctious or large dogs can be exercised safely in open areas, such as a basement or garage with the car pulled out.
Dogs are scavengers by nature, meaning they are programmed to spend many of their waking hours in search of food. Use this to your advantage by getting your dog hunting for his meals with a few inventive practices. Instead of a food bowl, feed your dog kibble out of a food puzzle (a hollow toy with openings for kibble to fall out). For a long-lasting challenge, stuff a hollow toy, like a Kong, with canned dog food and freeze. Exercise your dog by tossing a treat piece by piece across the room and telling him to “find it,” so he can chase after it and hunt it out with his nose.
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