After a summer spent hiking and playing outside, many pet parents are preparing for far more time indoors with their pups this fall. That means you’ll need to get creative about making sure your dog is getting enough mental stimulation and exercise, especially for parents of new puppies.
To get an expert’s perspective on how to keep your pup active during the winter months, we spoke to Dr. Amy Pike of the Animal Behavior Wellness Center in Virginia, who shared her tips.
Set up your space correctly
Arranging your indoor space to allow for safe play will save your pup (and you!) a lot of stress. First, establish a work-from-home space for yourself and a separate play & relaxation area for them — that will make it easier to maintain a healthy balance and help your dog establish a routine. For your pup, even a designated corner will go a long way towards helping them feel at ease, especially if it’s filled with favorite toys, blankets, and other comfort items.
Make sure the area is climate controlled: While your pup may love a screened-in porch in the warmer months, they shouldn’t hang there when it’s too chilly, Pike told The Dodo. Since dogs are so sensitive to smell, make sure their comfort zone is well ventilated and isn’t trapping any of their odors, too. That means tackling pet messes quickly when they happen — which Resolve Pet Expert is specifically formulated for. Changes with walk, feeding, or sleep times could cause more accidents to happen, too -- a dog "going" inside may be trying to signal to you that he's unsure of his new routine or space.
Focus on mental stimulation
While physical exercise is important, mental exercise should be a pet parent’s number one priority. “Mental stimulation is much more tiring than physical exercise, and is way more important in my opinion,” Pike said.
Luckily, there are a lot of ways to make sure dogs are getting enough of both kinds of exercise, even while the park is closed. Using interactive feeders that require them to solve puzzles for a treat are a good option and can keep them entertained while you’re busy with other tasks.
Hide-and-seek, especially using scents (Pike uses the term “nosework”) is another method for getting them thinking. Start off by having them search for favorite foods and treats, then move on to toys or people.
Get exercise where you can
That said, physical exercise is still a key part of a dog’s routine. While you may not be going on as many trail hikes anymore, getting some cardio in at home is still possible.
Games like tug-of-war take up little space and get your dog moving, or you can set up an obstacle course on your couches. “You can try playing a game of fetch in the house or in the apartment hallway,” Pike said, as long as your neighbors or roommates are on board.
One last piece of advice: “Understand that many dogs can safely be outdoors for prolonged periods of time if they are well acclimated,” she said. So don’t be afraid to strap on the doggie jacket and hit the snow if you’ve both been feeling cooped up.
Remember to schedule quality time
It can be easy to let your play time drop off on days when the weather doesn’t allow for long walks. So regardless of the temperature, set aside time during the day to engage with your dog and give them your undivided attention, even if it’s just 20 minutes each morning and afternoon.
That means turning off the work emails and putting down your phone, as hard as it is. This will also make it easier for them to give you space when you do need to focus, while reinforcing that they’re still a priority.
Setting a routine is important for dogs, so when the weather (and your schedule) changes abruptly, you’ll need to re-establish the fundamentals of their training. Aim for progress, not perfection — which means not being too hard on them (or yourself) if they’re popping up during virtual work meetings.
Pike recommends training them to settle into bed and occupy themselves with a chew toy when you’re too busy to play.
Beyond establishing these boundaries, dogs may need to revisit potty training when your schedule changes. For puppies and older mobility-limited dogs, getting them to consistently use a pee pad will make a big difference if you can’t take them outside every time they need to go. Keep a stash of Pet Expert or Urine Destroyer around too, for when they do have an accident -- they both discourage pets from marking the same spots and deep clean tough pet stains.
Keep an eye out for stress
Those separate spaces you set up only works if you use them. On days where you’re both stuck inside, it’s easy to get distracted from work and overstimulate your pup by wanting to hang out with them all day.
Make sure you’re on the lookout for signs of stress: hiding, nipping at you, and being hyperactive are the most common symptoms. If you’re noticing these, be sure to give them some extra quiet and let them come back to you when they’re ready to play again.
Let them socialize
Fewer visits to the dog park doesn’t mean they can’t see their friends. Setting up a one-on-one playdate (even a short one) with another dog parent is helpful for continued social interaction.
Keep a close eye on them so they don’t get too rowdy, and monitor for the same signs of overstimulation mentioned above. If possible, give both pups an interactive puzzle toy they can focus on instead of just chasing or wrestling. Just be sure to get one that suits your pet, Pike said.
“If they like to eat plastic, then you wouldn’t want to use one that has small plastic pieces that come off. If they are rough and tumble players, you may want to avoid feeder toys that they can pick up and throw around,” she said.
With a little extra social time, you’ll both be able to breeze through winter until the weather warms up.