7 Indoor Mental Stimulation Winter Dog Games!

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doggo playing dog games in snowWinter dog games have become quite a popular form of mental stimulation for dogs. All dogs need daily exercise, but freezing temperatures or heavy rain can sometimes make a long walk impossible in the winter. 

It’s not just a lack of physical exercise that’s the problem though. Dogs get mental stimulation from walking, as there are new smells, wildlife, and other dogs to interact with. Without this stimulation, many dogs become bored, leading to destructive chewing, barking and other unwanted behaviors.

Fortunately, there are plenty of indoor games that can challenge your dog and provide plenty of mental stimulation. Here are seven of my favorites.

1. Find The Toy

These type of winter dog games takes practice but can provide endless fun once your dog understands the idea.

To begin, choose one of your dog’s favorite toys and let him sniff it. Then place it a few steps away and say “find it.” Your dog will naturally go to the toy, so when he touches it b sure to give him praise and a small treat.

Once your dog has mastered the easy version of the game, it’s time to make things harder. Instead of placing the toy nearby, get your dog to “wait” and put it on the floor in another room. Release him from “wait,” say “find it”, and praise when he touches the toy.

You can gradually increase the difficulty until you’re hiding the toy under cushions, behind doors or other tricky locations.

These dog games also work with a high-reward treat, such as a stuffed Kong. Be careful not to overfeed your dog though – especially if he’s getting less physical exercise than usual.

2. Find Your Dinner

Most dogs are highly motivated by their dinner, so you can use this to keep them entertained.

If your dog eats dry kibble, spreading his meal around the house is an easy way to provide stimulation. Dogs love nose work – especially when there’s food around! This game also simulates scavenging for food in the wild.

There are also many food dispensing toys that can challenge your dog at meal times. While they aren’t free, these toys are a worthwhile investment if your pet gets bored during the day.

3. The “Treat Under Cup” Game

This is one of the best winter dog games for getting your dog’s brain working on overdrive.

Start with three plastic cups and one of your dog’s favorite treats. Line up the cups, then make a show of placing the treat under one. When your dog touches the right cup with his nose or paw, praise him and lift it up so he can eat the treat.

Once your dog understands the game, start moving the correct cup a short distance and try again. Over time, you can build up the difficulty until you’re swapping all the cups around.

4. Teach a New Trick

Many dog owners teach their pet “sit” and “wait” as a puppy, but there is so much more for a dog to learn.

The great thing about trick training is that it requires intense concentration from your dog, which can be tiring. Training with positive methods also builds a stronger bond between owner and pet.

If you’re not sure where to start, some tricks you may want to train include:

  • Roll-over
  • Shake hands
  • Wave
  • Weave between the legs
  • Speak (teaching your dog to bark on command is the first step to training the “quiet” command)
  • Crawl
  • Stand (this one is harder than it sounds)

You may also want to practice clicker training. This is a type of positive reinforcement training that can be useful for teaching almost any behavior.

5. Indoor Obstacle Courses

Winter dog games that allow Max to exercise is always a good idea!

If you have a large living room, an indoor obstacle course can provide both mental and physical stimulation without leaving the house.

You don’t need professional equipment for this. Just placing a few toys in a line can be good enough to practice “weave,” while two wooden blocks and a stick can become a makeshift jump.

The best thing about creating obstacle courses is that you can change the layout every time you play. This makes indoor agility a challenging game no matter how smart your dog.

6. Name Your Dog’s Toys

A variation on “Find The Toy” is to teach your dog the name of a favorite toy. The goal is to get him to fetch the toy whenever you say its name, even when it’s surrounded by other toys.

It’s best to start slowly with this game though. When you first teach the name, make sure there is only one toy nearby to prevent confusion. As your dog starts to associate the word with the toy, you can increase the difficulty until the toy is one of many in the room.

Once your dog knows one name, you can build his vocabulary to make the game more challenging. The vocabulary record is currently 1022 words held by a Border Collie called Chaser, but even learning two or three is tiring for most dogs!

7. Hide and Seek

From all the dog games discussed above. Hide and seek is considered one of the easier dog games you can play with your dog that combines fun with impulse control. Ask your dog to “wait” in a room, then hide where he can’t see you. Say “Find Me” (or have someone else release him from “wait”) and praise him excitedly when he finds you.

This game is a good test of your dog’s impulse control. If he comes to find you before the release command, spend some time improving his “wait,” as it’s vital for many of these games.

Summary

Dog walks are essential for your pet’s health, so mental games shouldn’t be used as a replacement. It’s not always safe to go on long walks in the winter though – especially in extreme weather or if your dog suffers in the cold.

In these situations, indoor games are great for tiring out your dog and preventing boredom. They can provide endless mental stimulation and help build a stronger bond between you and your pet.

Do you have a favorite mental stimulation game for your dog? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.

Author BioRichard Cross is editor of The Dog Clinic – a site dedicated to helping dog owners build a stronger relationship with their pet. When he’s not writing, he loves to hike the local hills with his two dogs.

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