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Two weeks ago, Zara started limping. After visiting the vet, we were told that she had either a soft tissue injury or a hairline fracture to one of her front toes. The treatment was no exercise for at least a week. If you have a vizsla or a high-energy dog, you can imagine the horror I felt. How was I going to keep this dog entertained for a week?!
Mental exercise, training, and games were the answer. Although they are not a complete substitute for physical exercise, they help a lot. This situation got me thinking about how many of these exercises can be used when it’s raining and the weather is bad. While walking or running in the rain is certainly doable, sometimes the weather makes it too difficult to get out and exercise your dogs. Hopefully you’ll find this list useful.
These types of exercises are great if you don’t have a lot of indoor space. Some of them don’t require a lot of movement and are good if your dog is recovering from an injury.
Work for Dinner
Making your dog work for their dinner is a technique you can use every day and can really build your bond and increase their enthusiasm. When I was teaching Zara how to fetch, I made her fetch objects in exchange for her dinner and being as food-motivated as she is, she was EXTREMELY willing to do anything I asked.
You can make them do anything in exchange for the food – try different tricks (sit, down, shake, high five, spin, speak, back up, etc) or practice stays at different places in your house. A good book to give you ideas of tricks is 101 Dog Tricks by Kyra Sundance. If your dog eats a kibble diet, it’s very easy to hand out individual pieces as rewards. If your dogs eat raw, as mine do, it’s a little more difficult/messy, but on a rainy day, you could cut up the boneless pieces of meat into bite-sized pieces. You could also use freeze-dried raw such as Vital Essentials or Ziwi Peak. Doling out their meal one piece at a time like this could easily take a half hour.
This is something I’ve recently tried with Zara as she’s been injured and she loves it. First, put your dog in a stay (if it’s reliable), in a crate, or have another person hold them. Then go hide little pieces of food around the house out of the dog’s sight. I typically use small pieces of hot dog or cheese because it has more of a scent than dried treats. I place them on the floor at random spots – in corners, under tables, behind furniture. Once you’re done, release your dog and tell them to “find it!” If they’re new to the activity, you probably want to show them what they’re looking for by leading them to the first treat or two. I’m guessing they will catch on quickly. The more advanced they get, the harder you can make it, by going into different rooms or different floors of your house.
Place is a versatile command that can be used in many contexts. Basically, place means “go to an object (bed, platform, raised place board, mat, tree stump, etc) and stay on it until I release you.” It sounds easy, but getting your dog to stay on place amidst any number of distractions can be very difficult. Place is not something I learned with either dog when they were younger – our trainers never emphasized it – but I’m spending a lot of time training it now.
You’ll need two commands: one to initiate the sequence, such as place or bed and one to release your dog, such as free, release, or break. Initially, I trained place using clickers and treats (here’s a good video) and then enforced with an electronic collar on low stimulation or vibrate.
If you have two dogs, putting one dog on place while you are working with the other one is helpful for you and great mental exercise for the watching dog. I’ve started doing this with Zara while I train Colombo.
Zara and Colombo sit on their place boards.
If your dogs are anything like mine, they don’t have the best door manners. This is mainly because I haven’t spent a lot of time working on this, although I’ve been trying to change that recently. Ideally, when someone comes to the door, I would like my dogs to alert me (their natural instinct is to bark their heads off, so that shouldn’t be a problem) and then I will give them a place command. Once they are situated on place, I will open the door and welcome the visitor in. The dogs would stay on place until I release them. We are definitely not at that level yet. Both dogs (especially Zara) love visitors and want to say hi to them right away.
To train for this, I put them on place when no one’s around and then I go to the door, knock, or ring the doorbell and pretend someone’s there by talking to myself. Sometimes I can get my husband to help out. If they stay on place, I return to them and reward with treats. As your dog gets better, you can invite friends to come over and do a training session with their help (once are not social distancing anymore!).
Leave It Games
“Leave it” is another great command that can be very useful in the real world. For example, if you are walking down the street and you see a cooked chicken bone lying on the ground (this happens a lot in the south), you can tell your dog to leave it and continue walking. Assuming they listen, you won’t have to pry open their mouth and attempt to pull it out!
I like to put my dogs in a “down” position and then lay treats on the floor next to them. As I put a treat on the floor, I say “leave it.” They’re not allowed to eat it until I give a release word (“free”). You can increase the difficulty by lengthening the amount of time, adding multiple treats, or putting them on their paws!
This is something I’ve recently started with both dogs. There are lots of resources out there to find appropriate exercises for your dog even if you have minimal fitness equipment. Fitpaws is a manufacturer of dog-specific fitness equipment – you can check out their website for some videos to start.
Food toys and puzzles are great ways to occupy your dog or feed them dinner. Using one of these on a rainy day will give you some peace and quiet for a while. One toy I really like is the Omega Paw treat ball. You can put kibble or dry treats in it and the dog has to roll it around to get the treats to come out. Zara loves this toy and since the opening is so small, it takes a while for the treats to come. If I fill it up, it will easily entertain her for 15-20 minutes.
Kongs and similar toys are great to fill and freeze for your dog to eat on bad weather days. You can also try puzzle toys. There are a lot of them out there and they vary based on skill level. I recently bought a Trixie interactive chess toy, hoping it would be challenging for Zara. She can solve it in a few minutes, but I like how you can position the cones and sliders different ways to mix it up each time. It is also made of very hard plastic, so it seems durable. Zara likes to scratch at it with her paws but so far, it’s not showing any wear.
Zara is obsessed with this Omega Paw treat ball.
Zara with the Trixie chess puzzle.
A bad weather day can be a great time to do some of the dog grooming you’ve been putting off! Giving your dog a bath, brushing their fur, trimming their nails, and brushing their teeth are all important things that sometimes fall by the wayside in the busyness of life. If your dog doesn’t love these activities, a rainy day can be perfect time to start making them more positive experiences. If you’re not doing your usual walk/run/dog park trip, you’ll probably also have time to make it a good experience and not just rush through it.
A lot of dogs hate having their nails trimmed, which is why owners avoid it. But this process can definitely be improved if you spend the time to work on it. My friend Emily has a great post on her blog about nail trimming and gives you an overview of how to approach it.
Colombo lays calmly while I Dremel his nails. He used to be terrified of having his nails done! Patience and persistence changed that.
If you have enough space in your house/apartment and your dog is not injured, getting some physical exercise is still possible inside.
Hide and Seek
If you have at least two people, you can play hide and seek with your dog! This is similar to scentwork, but they may be more enthusiastic about finding you and run around. Have one person hold the dog while the other one hides. Once the person is hidden, the helper releases the dog and says “Go find Daddy!” or whatever command your dog will recognize. If your dog is new to this game, you’ll probably want to hide in easy locations the first couple of times so that your dog will succeed.
This is another game that requires two people. Having a good recall is very important (are you sensing a theme here? A lot of these commands are so useful!) and you can and should start when your dog is a puppy (or you first acquire them). An easy way to start is for you and another person to sit at opposite ends of a hallway or room. Each person has a pile of treats. One person starts by calling the dog using your recall word (come, here, etc) and cheering them on if they don’t know the word yet. Once the dog reaches you, reward them with a treat. Then the other person calls them and rewards with a treat. Keep calling the dog back and forth. Soon they will be running down and back to get those treats!
Once your dog has a good understanding of what the word means, you can move further apart, in different rooms, or even different floors of your house. Chris and I used to do this with Zara when we lived in a house with carpeted stairs. One of us would stand upstairs and the other would be downstairs in a different room. We could still hear each other. We’d alternate calling, “Zara, come!” and rewarding her when she got to us. She would fly up and down the stairs! If you are going to try this, please make sure your dog is in good shape and capable of handling the stairs without getting injured. I’d also advise against this if your stairs are not carpeted because your dog could easily slip if they’re going fast.
My dogs love to play “tag” inside. I tap one of them and say, “Tag, you’re it!” and run away from them. They will chase me all over the house. I try to trick them by hiding behind the kitchen island and then running in the opposite direction. Make sure you pick up any items that you might trip on first! This can be a good way for you AND your dog to get some exercise!
Visit Home Depot/Lowes
Our local Home Depot and Lowes stores are dog-friendly (many are; I’d recommend calling the store before you take your dog). On rainy days, I will sometimes drive to Home Depot with both dogs and a pouch of treats (obviously this was pre-coronavirus). The store is large enough that you can walk around and get in a decent amount of exercise. I will stop in empty aisles and have Zara and Colombo practice tricks like sit, down, shake, and stay. This could also be a good time for your dog to practice greeting strangers if your dog is friendly. People often ask to pet the dogs, so you can make your dog sit first and stay calm throughout the interaction. Reward them with treats or have the stranger give them some of your treats if you both are comfortable with that.
I’ve also taken Colombo to Home Depot to practice stacking for the show ring. This helps him learn to work through distractions. I’ve found that people will start watching me curiously and often I can coax them into helping me by pretending to be a judge and examining Colombo.
There are plenty of other stores that are dog-friendly too, and could be good destinations on a rainy day. Home Goods, Anthropologie, hardware stores, Orvis, and Lululemon all typically allow dogs. Make sure you call the specific location first.
Have you tried any of these on bad weather days? How do you entertain your dog when it’s raining? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
Zara and Colombo practice “stay” at Home Depot.