The Dog Days of Winter

Our Border Collie is a pet. He is, for the most part, a house dog. He is 7 months old right now. We have been very happy with him, however, he is at an age where the "typical" Border Collie traits are becoming a bigger part of his behavior.

We realize that Border Collies do not make good house pets and we knew the facts when we took him home as a puppy. We have a large yard and he has plenty of activities in the summer. The problem is winter. He is very bored and getting into trouble. Could you please suggest some wintertime activities that we can do with him?

Oh boy! There's six feet of snow outside and you're stuck in the house with your Border Collie. What is one to do? You're either going to have to keep the dog busy or you're going to lose your sanity. During the long winter months in North America many people often inquire about how to keep their Border Collie occupied and busy and want to know about some things to do with their dog inside other than sitting back and yearning for the wonderful days of summer again. Well... this can be a problem.

Unfortunately when you got a Border Collie you signed up for a form of boot camp. These dogs are seven-day-a-week dogs, every day of the year. There is no vacation with a Border Collie nor is there time off for good behavior. Border Collies, like the postal saying goes, need to do something and "neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, shall keep them from their appointed rounds." I do feel for you but unfortunately this is simply one of the things that a Border Collie owner must endure.

However, there are times when the snow piles up so high outside the front door that you can't even get it open or the hurricane force winds blow so hard that the Frisbee flies out of your yard and into the next county. What is one to do? Well, my first inclination is to tell you to forget about the weather and dig a tunnel through the snow to the surface or throw into the hurricane winds with the Frisbee, because your dog is still going to need some sort of physical activity. There are times that I have found myself coming home late at night after a long day and heading straight outdoors to throw a Frisbee into the darkness or to take out the bike for a midnight ride. We also herd sheep in the pouring rain and there is truly nothing better than slogging through the deep mud and bare ground of a cold blustery winter's day.

But there are things to do inside with your dog. The first thing you must realize is that engaging your dog's mind in some sort of mental activity is actually quite exhausting for the dog. Using their mind can be as physically exerting as running across an open field. So in that vein, lots of times it pays to do something with your dog that will engage its thought processes. Teaching your dog some new tricks is a wonderful thing to do in the cold winter days. Rolling over, sitting up, turning on the light, or a hundred other things can be done inside and your dog can learn them during this "time off" period. Then the next time when it is warmer outside and you go outside into the world and meet new people, you'll be able to display all the new tricks that your dog has learned. It will make him better in social circumstances and people will certainly appreciate how well-behaved your dog is.

Another way to engage your dog's mind is to play hide-and-seek, either hiding yourself or hiding some treats. Depending on how big your house is, hide-and-seek with yourself doesn't often last very long and the dogs are generally pretty good at finding you since they rely on their keen sense of smell. However, hiding treats in the cushions of the couch, or under pieces of paper, or on top of chairs, and then having your dog go look for them can be quite a pleasurable experience for your dog and is great fun to watch. Simply teach your dog how to find a treat right in front of him, then remove him to the other room, hide the treats, bring him back, and then tell him to "go find it". You can spend hours at a time doing this and it will keep your dog occupied and out of trouble.

There are also lots of toys that can be used to keep your dog occupied during the long winter months. Most of them involve some sort of a puzzle or difficult item to get at, again occupying your dog's minds. I think every Border Collie owner should have at least several "Kongs", a rubber bell-shaped thing with a hole in one end, and they can be lifesavers when you're looking for half an hour of peace and quiet. Simply fill the Kong with peanut butter, dog treats, or cheese, and then give it to your dog. The harder the item is to get out, the longer the activity will last. Another toy that has become quite popular with Border Collie owners these days is something known as a "Bluster Cube". A Buster Cube is a plastic Rubic's cube-shaped item that you put treats inside of and the dog must push it around in order to get the treats out. You can adjust the cube for difficulty and if your dog is treat motivated it will spend quite a bit of time trying to get the food out. The only problem with them is that if you have tile floors they can make quite a racket as the dogs push them along and can damage delicate walls when they crashed into them.

There are also lots of other toys available that will keep your dog busy and I would suggest sitting down with a catalog and going through some of the items to see if any of them might interest your dog. Stuffed toys can last awhile as well as tug ropes and other chew toys, and 20 minutes of peace and quiet can do quite a bit for your sanity during the long winter months.

However, I think the one most important thing that a Border Collie owner must do with their dog is to teach them the "go lie down" command and use it whenever the dogs get out of line or begin to annoy you to an extreme. I can't imagine living with a Border Collie without using this command every day because they are incessant and will continue to push you and push you until you give in. However, there are times when you just need to get something done or the dogs have been at it all day and the command becomes very important. "Go lie down" simply means "go away, I don't really care where, and find somewhere to lie down and be quiet for a while". You really shouldn't care what your dog does during this time as long as it goes away and he is quiet and stays out of trouble. Border Collies, like young children, can get into trouble if they become bored, but it is not too much to expect of them to remain quiet and under control during times in the house.

I feel for all of you who own Border Collies in the dead of winter and are desperate to find things to do with your dogs. That's why we live in Florida!

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Page last updated January 8, 1998. All material Copyright 2001 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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