By Laura Atwood
For Senior Voice 

Indoor fun with your canine companion


Paw-Prints, Howls and Purrs photo

Volunteer Mary Wanamaker teaches one of the shelter dogs tricks at Anchorage Animal Care and Control.

Living in Alaska can present many challenges to getting outside safely with our canine companions: winter darkness, icy sidewalks, chilling rain, and pesky moose. But as a loving dog owner, you know that your dog needs physical and mental exercise, so what are your options? Indoor training, games and puzzle toys are your answer.

New tricks

Training your dog doesn't have to end with the basics of sit, stay, down, and come when called. You and your friend can have fun with reward-based trick training. Why teach your dog tricks? First, it's a great way to engage your dog and wear her out on days when you can't get outside.

Secondly, reward-based training is immensely satisfying for your dog – imagine getting your favorite food over and over again.

Most importantly, you and your dog are having fun together and that in itself is rewarding to your dog. Plus, you can entertain family and friends with your dog's new tricks (everyone loves a dog who knows tricks).

The most important things to remember when teaching your dog are: 1) both of you should be having fun – don't do it if you are feeling impatient; 2) keep your training sessions short – it's better to do several short sessions throughout the day than one long session; and 3) always end on a positive note and give your dog an "ending phrase," like "all done."

Give 'em games

In addition to trick training you can keep your dog busy with simple indoor games like "find it" and "hide-and-seek."

To play "find it," put your dog in a room and then hide his favorite treats in multiple locations in another room. Let your dog out and encourage him to "find." He'll love using his nose to track down those yummy treats. For hide-and-seek, one person keeps the dog with them while the other person hides and then calls the dog. The dog has fun searching the house for you. Be sure to reward him when he finds you.

Joys of toys

Some days you just don't have time or just don't feel like training and that's where puzzle toys come in. Puzzle toys encourage a dog to forage for their food instead of eating rapidly out of a bowl.

You can use puzzle toys with your dog's treats (but not too many) or to feed your dog a portion of their daily meal. Food puzzles range from the well-known and ever-popular Kong to brain-teasers that require the dog to use their paws or nose to open flaps to get to the food.

Give your dog time to figure it out. If they get frustrated you might want to help out a bit or try a less difficult puzzle.

Hired help

What if all this isn't enough and your dog still has energy to spare? There are many professional dog walkers in town who will happily get your dog out in weather that might keep you inside. Before hiring a dog walker, make sure you check out their references.

It is possible to keep your dog happy and engaged during the dark and icy winter months or rainy spring days with training, games and puzzles. So enjoy your indoor time with your dog.

For more information on positive reinforcement training and trick training:

• "Karen Pryor Clicker Training,"

(website includes articles on trick training under Library: Teach)

• "Positively Victoria Stillwell,"

• "52 Tricks to Teach Your Dog on DoggieBuddy,"

Laura Atwood is the public relations coordinator for Anchorage Animal Care and Control.


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