I often hear from pet owners that they are reluctant to walk their dogs due to various weather conditions (excessive heat, cold, snow, or rain). When the weather outside is frightful, what are some indoor options for exercising your dog?
One option is tug-of-war, but tug toys (e.g., ropes or stuffed toys) have a bad reputation because some owners believe that tugging with their dog will make their dog aggressive. It is true that you should not play tug-of-war with a dog if she is already aggressively possessive of her toys. However, if your dog has never shown aggression in the past, tug games can be played safely, as long as your dog reliably responds to the “Drop It” command.
Here’s how it works: Keep some treats in your pocket as you play. Tug for a few minutes and then, while tugging with one hand, remove a treat from your pocket with your other hand. Bring the goodie to your dog’s nose, and say, “Drop it.” It is likely that your dog will release the tug toy in exchange for the treat. When she does so, praise her and deliver the treat as you remove the tug toy. Then resume toy play. Over time, your dog will begin to release the toy as soon as she sees you moving your hand toward her with the treat (while saying “Drop it” each time). After several repetitions of this, start to say “Drop it” as soon as you reach into your pocket, then deliver the treat if she releases the toy to you. Your dog should soon release the toy at the “Drop it” command. Soon, you can start to offer praise alone for relinquishing the toy about half of the time, with praise plus treat being delivered the other half of the time. Continue to praise each time she drops the toy, but gradually reduce the number of times you actually provide a treat, so that she ultimately will drop the toy in exchange for praise alone and more tug play.
Indoor chase games are also great fun for dog and owner alike, and they are a way to provide more aerobic exercise than tug play. The same “Drop It” training can be used to teach your dog to drop a ball she has retrieved. Yet many owners find themselves chasing after their dog as she runs with the tennis ball in her mouth, refusing to relinquish it. Of course, this is great fun from the dog’s perspective, but often less so for owners. Begin to offer a treat in exchange for the ball as described above. Remember: if you quit using treats all at once, she may stop releasing the ball to you. However, if you keep her guessing as to whether she will get a treat on any particular drop of the ball, she will continue dropping in hopes of a treat each time. Of course, for many dogs, the ball is infinitely more exciting than any treat you could offer. In cases like this, you will need to get more creative in teaching the “Drop It” command. For example, you could throw her second-favorite toy and trade her when she returns for her favorite toy of all. Once your dog is reliably dropping her ball in response to your “Drop It” command, or just as soon as she reaches you before you are even able to issue the command, then you are well on your way to achieving a drop it response that is rewarded by the natural contingencies (natural consequences) of the game itself.