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Beat Winter Boredom!

Winter can be a stressful and challenging time for dog owners. With bitter morning winds, gloomy afternoons, and frost-covered yards, winter is hardly ideal for outdoor activities. It’s just not fun to go outside at all—especially to exercise yourself and your dog. This makes for some ultimately hyper-active and extremely bored dogs during January-March here in SWLA. No matter how much fun we have lounging around the house, after a while, we usually find ourselves gazing out the window, begging Mother Nature for summer.

Sadly for our pets, curling up with a cup of warm cocoa and getting lost in a good television show is not as much fun for them as we may find it to be. Long days of limited mental and physical stimulation can take a toll on anyone. As humans, we can experience a wide variety of behavioral changes during the cold months, ranging from acute irritability to deep depression, which is also known as “seasonal affective disorder.”

Our pets are not exempt from the same behavioral changes–in fact, they may have it worse. Ever notice that your dog seems to get into more trouble when he’s been cooped up in the house all winter? The vast majority of dogs are bred with qualities to provide some sort of service or assistance, which results in dogs who have much higher activity requirements.

According to a 2013 study done by The American Humane Society, one of the top three reasons why dogs are turned over to shelters is due to behavioral issues. The majority of these dogs are between five months and 3 years of age, the time in a dog’s life when they are at their most active.

But, winter does not have to be so cold towards you and your pets. Just because it’s dreary and cold outside doesn’t mean you and your fur friends can’t have fun and enjoy yourselves.

Start by hitting the toy aisle at your favorite pet store, and stocking up on a unique assortment of interactive toys and feeding devices. Toys stuffed with treats will keep your dog occupied for quite some time, and hiding multiple interactive treat toys around the house will help spread the activity out over the course of the day. Plus there’s the added bonus of your dog exhausting herself walking around the house in efforts to find them all.

You can even make your own safe and interactive pet toys with items commonly found at home. Take an old shoebox or Amazon box, and line paper towel or toilet paper rolls vertically within the box (it will create a honeycomb-type view when viewed from the top). You can then drop treats or kibble within some of the newly-formed compartments to create a fun and interactive toy for your dog, who will spend hours searching for food. Another great idea is hiding treats or kibbles in the compartments of a muffin tin, then covering them with tennis or racquet balls!

Sometimes, I actually hide kibble or treats in various spots in my living room while my dogs are in a “stay” position in another room (or outside). Once released from the stay (or brought inside), my dogs have A BLAST exploring the room, searching for goodies!

Next, make your way over to the “natural chews” aisle, where you can find a mixture of deer antlers, bully sticks, cow hooves and/or bull horns. Carefully select these treats based around your dog’s age and health requirements; consult your vet should you have any concerns before giving these to your dog. Be sure to grab a few ropes for some good old tug of war fun, and before you leave the store make one more pass by the treat aisle to load up on quick rewards.

Once you have an arsenal of treats, toys, and games at your disposal, take some time to plan out how and where you would like to place these items around your home, as this is an important step in ensuring your dog remains occupied throughout the day. Try placing food-filled toys and gristly treats in areas where they can be cleaned up easily, and other less messy items in areas where they can be hidden to encourage searching.

For those of us who have those dogs that just need to get out and about, there is still hope for you. The Lake Area is home to a number of pet services that give your frisky pups plenty of opportunities to get out of the house. When your regular evening playtime is canceled due to cold, try hiring a professional dog sitter to play with and walk your dog during the day while you are at work. Maybe book them a day or two at a doggie hotel. The time away from home and socialization is the perfect activity to give you and the family a break and your dog a fun-filled vacation.

Enrolling in a training class with a certified trainer is one of the best ways to beat the boredom, with trick classes, agility work, nose work and obedience education. No matter what type of training class you choose, working with your dog to teach him something new or brush up on current knowledge not only gives him the maximum amount of mental and physically stimulation, but also further strengthens the bond between you and your pet.

We all get a little bored during the winter, but our pets are the only ones who lack the ability to entertain themselves productively. It’s up to us to make a conscious decision to consider our pet’s entertainment when we think of our own. Be your dog’s best friend, and be sure they beat the boredom this season.

As always, be patient, and HAPPY TRAINING!

Britney Blanchette Pitre, CPDT-KA
Bons Chiens Dog Training, LLC.

a Ruff Life is a monthly column featured in the Jambalaya News and on LakeCharles.com, read more great articles from these great publications here.