As I write this, it’s cloudy and windy and chilly outside, and that means that soon we’ll start getting a certain type of call from some of our clients.
Oftentimes, we train a dog in the spring or summer and have some great results in fixing aggression or house training. But sure enough, come the first cold spell, clients will call us with complaints like these: “My dog hasn’t gone to the bathroom inside in six months, but he just did!” “My dog’s starting to get mean again—what do I do?”
What’s happening here? Well, because it’s cold, dogs are getting less exercise and meaningful stimulation. They might spend more time with their owners because they’re inside, but that’s not all a dog needs. So it’s important to understand some of the things you can do to help your dog.
This is an informal list of things that will help to reign in a dog’s mind and body. I often say that you’ll tire a dog out much more quickly by exercising his brain than you ever will with his body. You can gain a lot of leverage by getting your dog’s mind working.
The first thing you can do is use the treadmill, which we train many dogs for. For some of my clients, it’s imperative to have excess energy burned, especially those that have anxiety issues. I was recently working with a client whose dog really needed a treadmill. So I pulled up Facebook Marketplace—it’s a little button you can click on that shows what people are selling in your neighborhood—and typed in “treadmill.” Sure enough, within 30 miles there were about a hundred treadmills, solid quality, and under $200. There was even a free one near their house! You may not be able to find a treadmill that easily, but I can guarantee that by using your local classifieds, Craigslist, Marketplace, or any of the other new garage sale apps out now, you can find a treadmill. Teach your dog to run on one. It’s cheap, but it can make the difference between good behavior and aggression or destruction for some dogs.
The second thing you can exercise is your dog’s nose. I used to run some drug dogs. One of them, a female, had more energy than any dog you’ve ever met in your entire life! She could run for ages, had a ton of endurance and energy, and was very hyper. But if I had her search one house for drugs, she would be completely exhausted. Physically, all she did was walk into rooms, sniff around, and find things. Yet just the act of sniffing tired her out after 45 minutes to an hour. Using your dog’s nose can be a great way to exhaust them. So throw some of your dog’s kibble out in the grass or snow, and have them search it out—start out with a small concentration and widen it out as time goes on. Play little games where you have a partner hide with some food and ask your dog to find them. Teach your dog the nose work games that can be found on the Internet. All these activities can be done in a basement, garage, or large family room. This will work the dog’s mind and make them calmer.
Finally, I try to get all my clients to practice obedience. This is calming by nature. It’s telling your dog “You might not want to sit, but that’s the rule. You might be too energized to lie down, but those are the rules. It comes from a calm place, whereas aggression and anxiety come from a very chaotic place. We can combat those things by creating a state of calm.
There are plenty of other things you can use—puzzle toys, teaching your dog to pull, doing agility exercises, for starters—but those three are a great place to start. See what you can do to keep your dog satisfied and fulfilled this winter!