You and your dog can play many games together during the winter. All require simple objects, repetition, treats, patience, creativity and the desire to have fun with your dog. Dogs in mild climates don't need to curtail their outdoor exercise, but people and dogs whose winters bring day after day of rain, snow and icy cold weather may want to bring some of their play time indoors. Whatever the climate or season, playing games strengthens your bond with each other.
Search and Find
Searching games you and your dog can play include "Hide and Seek," in which you hide from your dog, or "Find It" and "Treasure Hunt," during which you hide treats or toys around the house. To play "The Muffin Tin Game," The Dog Trainer host Jolanta Benal, says: "Take a six-muffin tin and put a treat in each cup. Place tennis balls in half the cups." The dog learns that removing the tennis balls reveals hidden treats.
Clean Up the Toys
Get a laundry basket, then gather some toys and scatter them on the floor. By rewarding with treats, encourage your dog to pick up each item, give it to you and watch you put the item in the basket as you say excitedly, "Clean up your toys!" Eventually, your dog will put the toy directly into the basket. Reward him with exaggerated enthusiasm, treats and praise.
Dogs enjoy playing "Keep Away." Choose an item and give it to your dog; say, "keep away" or "I'm going to get you" while chasing or stalking your dog. When you are ready to stop, say, "That's all. Good dog!" According to professional trainer Stacy Braslau-Schneck, when you are not playing and need your dog to obey, "use a different command and different body language" so your dog will know you are serious and not initiating a game. "Go Wild and Freeze" is another active winter game, described by dog trainer September Morn as "a great way to build an off switch for over-excitement. To play ... wave your arms, make happy sounds, hop, skip or jump around" until your dog joins in. "Before your pup gets overexcited, stop, stand tall and tell him to sit." Give him a treat, and start playing again and reward him when he stops. Playing fetch with soft indoor toys gives dogs an opportunity to run around and get aerobic exercise during the winter.
A shell game can prepare your dog to "Find the Keys." Get three identical containers (such as buckets or coffee cans) and some small treats. Have your dog stay while you put a treat under one container. Say, "Where's the treat?" and when she gets excited about the correct bucket, praise her and let her get the treat. Practice by switching which bucket the treat is hidden under. Once she’s an expert, try teaching her to find your keys. After transferring your scent onto a small piece of leather, attach it to your key chain. Play the game with your keys instead of treats, and when your dog identifies the right container, praise extravagantly and toss a treat elsewhere, while you hide your keys again and again. Try hiding your keys around the room so your dog can find them easily. Hide them in increasingly difficult places. Eventually, your dog will be able to find your keys on command. Give the game a twist by teaching your dog to deliver notes or other items to you and family members.
Maura Wolf's published online articles focus on women, children, parenting, non-traditional families, companion animals and mental health. A licensed psychotherapist since 2000, Wolf counsels individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, body image, parenting, aging and LGBTQ issues. Wolf has two Master of Arts degrees: in English, from San Francisco State University and in clinical psychology, from New College.