Helping with Winter Claustrophobia
As the temperature drops, it can be difficult to go out with your dogs. Some dogs don’t even like going out once it has reached a certain temperature (I have one such pupperoo).
The good news is that there are TONS of things you can do right from the comfort of your own home!
I’m going to focus on two ways to work their brains. Enrichment and Training. Enrichment is simply the concept of making your dog think / problem solve or in simpler terms, let’s make your dogs take longer to eat. Training builds your relationship and practices practical (and fun) skills!
While canine enrichment isn’t a new concept, I often see people make it too difficult, and too fast, for their dog. They haven’t taken the time to teach their dog to LOVE working for their food. You want to make it easy and SUPER yummy at first and then gradually transfer to their own food (if they find their food boring).
I like to categorize canine enrichment into four categories: puzzles, stuffable toys, toys that move and sniff work.
Puzzles - All stationary Nina Ottosson puzzles
These have components that the dog has to move or figure out in order to get to their treats. While my dogs are experts at their individual puzzles, one of my favourite things to do is to put them in another room and set up the "puzzle olympics"! I take out ALL my puzzle toys, drop a few treats in each of them and let the dogs at them. (Do not try this with multiple dogs at the same time if any of them do not like to share).
Nina Ottosson Puzzles - there are over 15 different kinds
Stuffable - Kongs, West Paw Toppl/Tux, Kong wishbones, slow bowls
Basically, anything you can stuff food into. Remember that the ultimate goal is to make it hard for your dog. A lot of people skip over the process of teaching their dog to use it properly and then the dog gives up. You want to make it easy and fun! Below is a breakdown as to how you might want to stuff the toy(s) and set them up for success:
1st time: small treats that will fall out easily first
2nd time: small and large treats
3rd time: treats and kibble
4th time: treats, kibble and something sticky, i.e.: peanut butter, canned pumpkin or yogurt
5th time: mostly kibble, treats, something sticky then freeze overnight for the ultimate challenge
*for our friends that feed raw, the next step (6th) would be a great time to stuff raw into a stuffable and then freeze it for dinnertime.
Toys that move - Kong wobbler, Nina Ottoson outward hound wobble bowl, planet dog mazee, rogz tumbler, kong gyro, planet dog link set
These are some of my favourite toys that you can put treats / kibble into and they make your dog move in order to solve the problem of getting the food out. It is important to note that some of these toys can be loud on hard floors and scare your dog. If so, start on a carpet. Below are the steps you might want to take to help make it easy and fun for your pupperoo:
1st time: small, super yummy, easy to fall out treats
2nd time: small treats
3rd time: small / medium treats (always check if they can come out)
4th and ongoing: kibble / treats
Kong Wobbler - Two Sizes
Sniffing for food
I know I said that the ones mentionned above were my favourite, but this time, this is really my favourite. Did you know that the olfactory lobe in a dog is a third of their brain? These games are also how all the fancy bomb sniffing, cancer sniffing, search and rescue dogs get started, so just imagine how far your own dog could go!
Sniffing is hard work, so take it easy on your dog. Please play these games sparingly, and no more than 3-5 rounds a day.
Easiest for the human, takes advantage of dogs using their sniffers to locate and self reward because they have to find their food! Make it special and only leave the mat out when supervised or in use. All you have to do is sprinkle kibble / treats on it (ruffle the fleece around) and let them at it!
Local Made - Malamoose Snuffle Mats
These are some basic steps, but I highly recommend that you find a beginner nose work class which would go into more detail and demonstrate the amazing things that can happen. Nosework is magical! The basic concept is that you’re going to set it up so that when your dog enters the room, they use their nose to find the piles of treats - then they are rewarded by getting to eat them. You get to sit back, drink hot cocoa and watch!
You’ll need 12 of the tastiest (the smellier the better) treats. Start with 1 round and work your way to 3 rounds a day, max. Put your dog in their crate or in another room while you lay out piles of treats. Let your dog loose after you’ve set up so it will have to use it's nose to discover the surprise. Try your best not to give any hints!
1st time: make three piles of treats in the middle of your living room where they are easy to find.
2nd time: put two piles of treats in your living room, one pile close to furniture.
3rd time: put one pile in the middle of your living room and two piles at the edges by furniture
4th time: put three piles at the edges of the room.
5th time: two piles at the edges of furniture / room with one visually hidden behind a furniture leg.
Nulo Training Treats come in three flavours and are the perfect training treat: small, chewy, moist and smelly!!
Remember, you want to keep it easy and fun - your dog should not spend more than one minute to find each pile. If they’re struggling, it may be a sign that they’re tired or it was too difficult.
Some other ideas for your piles of treats as your dog starts to understand the game:
- On baseboards
- On chairs (only for our larger friends, try to keep treats at your dog’s nose height or lower)
- Visually hidden
- Closer to fabric (absorbs the smell and makes it super tough for them to detect)
- Cluttered areas (more surfaces for smells to bounce off of)
Training builds your relationship and allows your dog to develop skills they can use in their wonderful life with you!
Now is the perfect time for training and there are so many online options. You can literally pick your class globally now! Some awesome things my colleagues and I are finding with online training are:
- Dogs are more comfortable in their home (without having a new stranger come in)
- Professionals get to watch your dog and the exact behaviour problems you may be having (yay for cell phones that can video record at any time)
- Professionals are teaching you to teach your dog - after all, they aren’t our dogs, they’re yours! Dogs are context based and even if they can perform something perfectly for one person, it doesn’t mean that they’ll do the same for someone else!
If you don’t have specific things you want to work on, below are some ideas as to what you and your furry friend can learn and work on together - new and old!
Instagram, YouTube or a Google search will bring up a bazillion ideas to try and will give you the steps required in order to train them. Many trainers (myself included) would love to help you out if you get stuck. One of my favourite resources is domorewithyourdog.com with great ideas and "how to's". You can even get your dog some fancy ribbons and certificates right from the comfort of your own living room.
Making old things new …
Practice all the same old tricks, but change it up!
Try some of your old tricks and behaviours on different surfaces (sit, down, stand, touch, etc.)
- Couch cushion / pillow - builds core and practices balance
- Baking sheet
- Rubber mat
- Stack of towels
- Different room (basement, kitchen, bathroom)
Change the environment
Dogs are super smellers, but you can change the environment to increase the distractions, even in your own house!
- Light a candle - change the smell (watch for smells that may be dangerous for dogs)
- Watch nature tv - visual and audio distractions
- Drag something different in: large box, work boots, outdoor coat, dining room chair in the living room, kids' toys, furnace filter .. is it too early to set up the Christmas tree?
Change your position
If you always train your dog while you’re standing and they are in front of you, changing your position might really throw them off! You might have to make it easier and build back up - remember, it’s supposed to be fun for everyone! Try giving your dog the cues they know really well while you are …
- Laying on the floor
- Sitting on the floor
- While holding a box
- Sitting on a pouf or ottoman
- Sitting on a dining room chair
- Sitting on a cushion
- On your yoga mat, doing your favourite yoga pose
Or what if your dog is …
- Next to you
- Behind you
- On the other side of the table from you
Change how you say it
Dogs can’t quite spell like we can, so when we say the same words in a different way, it’s pretty much a different word for them. But, you can teach them! Practice how you would normally say your cue a few times and then start to change it up. Reward heavily because it’s all new to them!
- High pitched
- Low pitched
- Super slowly (think of the sloth in "Zootopia" …)
- Without looking at them
… the possibilities are endless!
There’s lots we can do with our pups indoors as we go into winter to keep their brains working and keep them busy. It’s also a great break to get you moving between conference video calls. Best of all, have fun with your doggies!
Camilla holds an internationally recognized certification in animal training and is an animal behaviour nerd. She specializes in positive reinforcement and loves working with families to help them mold the perfect dog for them. You can find her at behavioursintraining.com and on Instagram @camilla_in_training
- Corey White