Give Your Dog a Job This Winter

Getting in enough outdoor time and physical activity with dogs is a challenge in colder climates.  Boredom-related behaviors can increase during the colder months.  Make a plan to keep your dog active and engaged.  Dogs need structure in their daily lives, so give your dog a job this winter.  Helping your dog avoid cabin fever doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming.  Try these activities for 5 or 10 minutes a couple of times a day.  And remember to use small training treats to avoid overfeeding.

Basic Training Review

Dogs love to please you, and they enjoy completing even the simplest task.  Reviewing basic commands is a great way to give your dog a job. Take a few minutes each day to practice sit, down, stay, and other basic commands your dog may know. Reward your dog with sincere praise and small treats.  It’s even better if you can schedule this activity regularly so your dog has something to anticipate.  Give it a fun name like “game time,” and watch how excited your dog gets when you tell her it’s time to play. Our dogs particularly like the “leave it” game. This is a fun way to teach your dog to leave dangerous items alone on your command. Hold a small treat in each hand. Open one hand. When your dog moves toward the treat, close your hand and say “leave it.” When your dog looks you in the eye, give the treat that you are holding in the other hand. As a variation, put the treat under your foot.  (We learned this game at Gentle Dog Trainers in Overland Park).

Learn a New Trick

give your dog a job; treat balance; dog, dogs, dog tricks
Treat balance is always impressive!

Long winter evenings can be a perfect time to teach your dog that new trick you have been thinking about.  There are plenty of easy to train tricks based on dogs’ instinctual behaviors.  Start simple with army crawls, high fives, and belly-up.   If your dog is more advanced, move on to asking him to learn names, find objects, and pick-up and bring you things.  Mastered those?  Start training service dog tasks and dance moves!  One popular and always impressive trick you can teach your dog is to balance a treat on her nose, then toss and catch it on command.  You will be surprised at what your dog can learn with regular training time.  Just remember to set your expectations appropriately.  Your dog won’t learn advanced tasks overnight.

Buy or Make Some Puzzle Toys

Keep your dog busy with a puzzle toy when you aren’t around.  Dogs enjoy a challenge.  You can buy a variety of active dog toys from three-dimensional puzzles to simple Kong toys and peanut butter.  A variation that has worked well for us is “find the treats.”  If your dog is not crated when you are away, hide some treats before you leave.  Announce the game to your dog before you go out the door.  If you are more ambitious, you can make your own active toys.  You can find a great review with links to several projects at

Pay to Play

Pay to play is bad for politics, but great for dogs.  Throughout the day, ask your dog to perform a task before you feed or pet her.  She’ll look forward to your interactions and will learn not to expect handouts.  Not that handouts are bad, and we would never tell you not to pet your dog whenever you feel like it.  This is just a good way to stay in control of interactions with your dog.

What do you do to keep your dog active in the winter?  How do you give your dog a job? Share your ideas with our community as a comment.

Images: JCDoss and

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