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Mental and Physical Winter Exercise for Your Dog

Author: Sally Bushwaller | Date: March 6, 2013

Winter is tough on our dogs. Cold, inclement weather can make it unpleasant for both our dogs and us to get outside to exercise. So you have to get creative about how you are going to stimulate them mentally and physically so they don’t go stir crazy.

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to give up your training.

For those doing tracking, take time to strengthen your dog’s article indication and let your dog have fun in the process. Put a smear of food scent on the articles, I mostly focus on the metal and plastic articles, and hide them around your house. Send your dog to find the articles and have a party when they do. If your dog is having trouble finding articles, you can put a tiny piece of treat on top or underneath the article when you hide it. I make my article hides easy at first, then gradually harder.

Trick training is another wonderful way to keep your dog busy.

I love trick training, because owners have fun with it instead of getting all serious like they do with obedience training. Check out this You Tube channel for dozens of video tutorials on how to do all sorts of tricks and behaviors:

There are several trick training books available from


Some others are:



K9 Nose Work is a dog sport your dog will absolutely love.

It basically teaches your dog to become a police drug dog but without the drugs. Instead you start by having your dog search for food and eventually for three different scents, birch, clove and anise.

I have found many benefits to Nose Work. It gives your dog a job–let’s them use their nose for good instead of evil, builds confidence, teaches creative problem solving, helps your dog conquer their fears if they are afraid of moving things and helps build a great relationship between you and your dog.

You can work towards titles in Nose Work through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. There are three levels of titles. So far no one has achieved the highest level title. Check out our Nose Work classes offered in Chicago this session.

Until you can get to some Nose Work classes, start doing Find It.

◆ Scatter a few treats on the ground and say FIND IT. Point to the treats if necessary. Repeat several times.
◆ Once your dog understands FIND IT means there will be a treat on the ground, toss one treat on the ground, say FIND IT, and while he is looking for the first treat toss a second treat behind the dog.
◆ Start hiding the treats in plain sight, right next to the leg of a chair or table and send dog to FIND IT.
◆ Make it more difficult by putting the dog on sit or down stay. Let the dog see where you are putting the first FIND ITS. Then gradually make it harder and harder. The dog must stay while you are hiding treats all over the house. You can also stuff and hide food puzzle toys to make the game last longer.
◆ Begin saving taller plastic or metal lids from products you use. Hide treats under these lids and let the dogs figure out how to get the treats out. The lids can be challenging to pick up for most dogs. They will have to use their brains to figure out how to get the treat out.
◆ Initially, play the shell game with two or three lids.
◆ Next begin hiding these lids all over the house and let your dogs find them and work to get the treats out.

Aerobic exercise can be a challenge for your dog in the winter. One of my favorite things is to play Dog Stairmaster with Cassie. She will do 30-50 flights of stairs. I keep throwing treats until she wants to stop.

To play Stairmaster, I recommend that you only play on carpeted stairs and with a dog with no joint issues.

Get some yummy treats and start at the bottom of the stairs. Toss a treat to the top of the stairs and let them run up for the treat. Don’t give them the treat when they come down, just toss another treat up the stairs again. If the dog won’t come down the stairs, just walk away and stop playing. Repeat as often as you and your dog like. It takes the edge off a wound-up dog. You can also play by tossing toys if your dog is toy motivated, although I probably wouldn’t use a ball because it would bounce around too much, and I wouldn’t want my dog leaping for a ball on the stairs.

Tug is another great physical activity to play with your dog.

It is a great way to burn off stress and excess energy. When played with rules, tug can be a valuable tool for teaching your dog self control.
The desire to tug is best instilled as a puppy, by awakening their prey drive—tease them with a toy and let them chase it. Let them win most of the time. Gradually begin to add little tugs on the toy, very gently for young dogs. Do NOT play tug with your pup while they are teething. You want Tug to be a good experience, and not a painful one, which can occur during teething. My tug rules are:

◆ You always control the tug toy by deciding when the game starts and stops. You store it away from the dog, and bring it out when you decide to play.
◆ Let the dog win a lot.
◆ Keep sessions short, 2-4 minutes or shorter (maybe even 10 seconds), to keep arousal low.
◆ If one tooth even accidentally touches your hand the game is over.
◆ Get them excited and tugging for 10 seconds. If dog becomes overly aroused more quickly, stop sooner, even after a couple seconds.
◆ You can get the toy back in one of three ways.
◆ See my previous blog about Tug for specific instructions.

You can also play the Two Toy Game incorporating it with Tug.

◆ Start this game with two toys of identical or equal value. Get your dog excited about the first toy and throw it. Let them run and pick it up. When they are clearly on the way back and close to you, begin to tease them with the second toy. Tease them with the second toy until they drop the first toy. When they drop it, immediately throw the second toy. Be careful that you don’t tease them too early or they will drop the toy too far away.
◆ As they get good at this game, you can make it harder for them. After they drop the first toy, wait for a spontaneous sit with eye contact before throwing the second toy.
◆ The PhD level of this game is to wait for a spontaneous sit with eye contact and then require that they wait while you throw the second toy. This is tough but doable.
◆ This game teaches your dog to give up toys voluntarily to you, because they will immediately get another toy–there’s no down side for them.

If you have a human treadmill, you can train your dog to trot on that.

I put Cassie on the treadmill once or twice a week in the winter.

If you’d like to train your dog to walk on a treadmill, contact me and I’ll tell you how to get started. When training dogs for treadmill work, be careful not to do it too often. Using the treadmill artificially shortens their stride and they can develop muscle imbalances if the dog runs on the treadmill too much. Occasional use of treadmills is fine.

You don’t have an excuse now to not be working with your dog this winter. Try a few of my ideas and get busy having some fun with your dog!

Please let me let me know if you have any ideas that I haven’t mentioned yet!


Our trainer gave us lots of tips and “homework”, as well as useful resources.

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