I originally wrote this post in January 2011:

January in Geauga County: still a lot of winter to go.  Are you and your pets succumbing to Cabin Fever?  Winter doesn’t have to be a season of boredom and frustration.  You and your pets can actually enjoy this season of low temperatures and short days – and at the same time — build your relationship. Here’s how: rather than sit around and get on each other’s nerves, get active outdoors and indoors.

The Great Outdoors:

If you’re an outdoors-type, enjoy a walk with your dog in the many diverse parks in and around Geauga County that have much to offer at this time of year. Ensure your dog is ready for this kind of outing by building up his physical activity gradually. Protect him with a coat or boots if he is less tolerant to the cold. Wipe off his feet and stomach when done so he won’t ingest road salt, antifreeze or other toxins when he licks his paws and coat. Check his paws to be sure he hasn’t cut his pads on ice.

Cats should become indoor pets during the winter. They are vulnerable in the extreme conditions of northeast Ohio winters. Outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars to seek warmth, which can be deadly if the car is started. Barn and feral cats need protective shelter and access to fresh, unfrozen water.

The Great Indoors:

Not a lover of winter? Fear not: there are so many activities for you and your pets in the warm comfort of your home or training centers.

Toys, such as feathered tease poles for cats and interactive puzzle toys for dogs are a great way for you and your pet to share a fun time. I recommend the puzzle toys offered by Nina Ottosson or Outward Hound. They are sturdy and provide a fun problem-solving experience.

Games are a great outlet for the two of you. Play hide-and-seek with a toy. Put your dog in a sit-stay in one room while you hide a favorite toy or treat in another room. Begin the search by releasing your dog and asking in an excited voice “Where’s your toy?” Coach him in his search around the house. With the help of another person to stay with your dog, hide yourself for him to find. Your cat might also love a good game of hide-and-seek with you.

Try any of the great puzzle toys on the market these days. My favorites are the Nina Ottosson puzzles, but you can’t go wrong with just about any of them. Start at the easiest level of challenge and add complexity as your dog starts to problem solve and get the hang of extracting food out of the puzzle. Or even feed your dog his regular meals out of treat-dispensing toys to provide some mental and physical exertion a couple of times a day.

Tug-of-war is also a fun game to play with your dog, and contrary to the popular myth, does not create aggression problems. However, you should play push-pull tug (not whipping side to side) and have a zero tolerance policy for teeth on skin. If your dog goofs and touches your skin with his teeth, the game ends immediately. He’ll quickly learn restraint.

Training is a great Cabin Fever Beater. I like to teach my youngest dog tricks to combat boredom.  She’s one of those dogs that you do not want to get bored. She is clicker trained and loves to learn new things. Her growing list of tricks includes tapping the “Easy” button, bowing, playing dead, shaking, high five, and waving. Teach your dog tricks through a process called “shaping” where you break down a trick into little pieces that you teach progressively, ultimately building the final sequence of a behavior. A clicker is a great tool for teaching your dog tricks or any other kind of behavior. Come to Cold Nose Companions for a group class if you want some structured training.

Finally, think about organized dog sports. There are many to choose from—some of which you can begin inside during the winter months. There is something for everyone, regardless of breed or the physical ability of both dogs and owners. Consider Agility, Flyball, Lure Coursing, Rally obedience, Freestyle dancing, and Tracking or Nose Work. Cold Nose Companions offers Rally and Nose Work classes.

So you see, there’s no reason for you and your pet to mope around the long winter months of Geauga County. Get active and enjoy each other’s company.

Carol Peter is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Cold Nose Companions, LLC Dog Training. She offers private in-home training and group classes for people and their dogs throughout Northeast Ohio. Carol focuses on resolving problem behaviors and teaching good household manners using positive reinforcement training and behavior modification methods. She can be reached at carol@coldnosecompanions.com.

©2011, Carol Peter, Cold Nose Companions, LLC