Stir-Crazy Dogs: Keeping Your Cooped-Up Canines Entertained During Winter

Stir-Crazy Dogs: Keeping Your Cooped-Up Canines Entertained During Winter

Carolyn Purnell
Mar 7, 2014
(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

Winter boredom is definitely a problem in my household, and I've found that our dogs get just as tired of being cooped up inside as my partner and I do. We take them for regular walks, play in the yard, and do all the normal things that owners do with their dogs, but there are just some days — I'm looking at you, polar vortex — that they don't get enough exercise.

We have two dogs with two very different energy levels. This video, taken when Minna was about 6 months old, shows just how high-energy she can be.

Our other dog, Champ, couldn't be more different.

But during the winter, even Champ can get a little stir crazy, and he's been known to get a little rambunctious when he hasn't gotten the excess energy out of his system. And this is inevitably when the furniture gets knocked over, plants get destroyed, and pillows and throws get tossed to the floor.

Here are some ways that we've found to keep the pups occupied during the coldest days, keeping them happy and keeping our home intact:

Indoor dog parks or dog daycare: If you live in a city, then chances are, you're familiar with dog daycare. I'll admit that I was skeptical at first, but after seeing how happy and worn out my condo-bound puppy was after spending a day off-leash, chasing twenty other dogs, I was a convert. It's not always the cheapest service, so you may want to strategically plan to take your dog when you know they'll be bursting at the seams to get some energy out. It's also worth it to keep an ear to the ground about indoor dog parks, which are a much more economical option. On the weekends, our local doggie daycare has the option for an indoor dog park. For $5, you can spend several hours out of the elements, watching your dog romp.

Keep them mentally stimulated: Just as a good puzzle can be fun, diverting, and exhausting for a human, they can also serve that purpose for dogs. A bored dog is a destructive dog, so make sure that your pup never feels bored! Puzzle toys are an easy way to keep them occupied. (Although you may have to have a rotating cast of them, if your dog is a quick learner.) Food time is a great time to wear your dog out, and many feeding puzzles also slow down their eating so that they don't get gastrointestinal distress. I've had a lot of luck with the Nina Ottosson toys, personally, but there are plenty of options out there that will keep your dog's brain in good order.

Use interactive treat toys: Toys stuffed with treats will keep your dog occupied for quite some time. (In my experience, there's nothing quite like a frozen peanut butter Kong to save the day.) But if you're looking for a longer term solution, try hiding multiple interactive treat toys around the house. That way, the fun is spread out over the course of the day, and your dog will have to walk around the house and look for them.

Tug: I've never met a dog who didn't like a good game of tug, and it's an easy way to wear your dog out while keeping them confined to a relatively small surface area (and away from all the fragile items that they may hit while running around). It's also relatively easy to multitask while you're playing. Even though my dogs are fairly strong, I've still managed on multiple occasions to watch TV, surf the internet, or talk on the phone while playing tuggie with one-hand.

Dog sports or classes: Many obedience classes or dog sports are held in indoor facilities, and they're a great opportunity for you to stay warm, bond with your dog, and make sure that (s)he is properly exercised. There are plenty of different types of dog sports, and a simple Google or Yelp search will probably help you find facilities in your area. Is your dog agile, fast, good at tracking, or in love with herding? Find them a hobby that suits their talents!

If you've got 'em, make use of the stairs and basement: We live in a two-story home, and nothing makes Minna happier than chasing toys up and down the stairs. It's great exercise, she's safely away from all the living room furniture, and it seems to wear her out more quickly than the short-distance games of fetch we could play in the kitchen. If your dog isn't great on stairs, then another option is to make use of a large open area in the basement. We don't have much in our basement, and so there's plenty of space for Minna and Champ to chase balls and run around.

What do you do to get rid of dog boredom when they can't play outside?

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