With winter on the way, many of us are preparing to be stuck inside the house for several months. While cozying up under a blanket with your dog is a great way to pass the time, you need to consider methods of enrichment that beat the cold weather.

Exercise like long walks and hikes can be difficult when temperatures plunge, and nobody likes a bored dog. Luckily, mental stimulation can be just as effective as any good play session. In fact, many trainers and veterinarians claim that a 15-minute session of mental stimulation can be more exhausting for your dog than an hour-long walk.

All it takes to keep Fido entertained, and tired, in the winter months is a little creativity. Check out these four ways to mentally enrich your dog with little effort:

  1. Puzzle Toys
    Puzzle or “brainteaser”, toys and mats have been around for a while, but they’ve only gotten better with time. These toys can be purchased at major pet retailers and online for relatively little cost.

    These interactive games come in the form of puzzles, mats, and even balls. All of which contain little pockets to hide treats. This encourages your dog to use his brain and nose to problem-solve. Be careful though, smart dogs will learn these puzzles quickly and remember how to solve them – defeating the purpose. Upgrade the difficulty when needed.

  2. Hide and Seek
    This one is self-explanatory. It’s the timeless game we all loved playing as kids, just now for our dogs. Follow the same basic rules – place your dog in a separate area while you hide a toy, treat or yourself. Release the dog, or enlist someone else to do so, and watch while he searches. This use of his brain and nose is a fun and simple way to keep him from getting bored in the winter – and it’s perfect for warm rainy days as well!
  3. Shaping
    This game can be tricky, but when done properly can be every bit as exciting and tiring as a vigorous walk. Essentially, “shaping” is a method of dog training that does not directly call out specific commands. Instead, you allow your dog to solve for the command by giving him treats each time he comes close to the desired action.

For instance, if you’re training your dog to use verbal buttons then you would start by placing the button on the floor in front of your dog. Give him no commands and instead wait for him to interact or acknowledge the button. When he does, toss him a treat. Over time, he will learn that when he engages with the button, he is rewarded with food. This free-thinking way of training can be very rewarding, just remember to be patient and have some fun.

  • Treasure Hunts
    This is probably the easiest of them all and by far the most fun to watch. Begin by placing your dog in his crate or a separate room. Once he is confined, begin strategically placing treats throughout your home or room. You can make them as easy or hard to find as you like, but a few “freebies” are always appreciated – especially if this is your first time playing.

    Once you have hidden all the treats, release your dog. If your dog needs some help playing, guide him to a few treat locations. That should be all it takes to get him started on the hunt. This interactive way of using his senses is a sure-fire way to keep your pup happy and tired through the long winter months.