If you’re like me, you love the change of seasons, but it’s not always fun or convenient to find ways to exercise your dog in the winter, especially when the days are shorter and it gets dark earlier. For those of us that live in the northern United States, wintertime walks can be beautiful sometimes, but it’s usually all about cold fingers and toes, bitter wind in your face, slush covered dog bellies and trying to stay vertical on icy surfaces. It’s no wonder we sometimes skip the daily walk and stay inside by the fire with a hot cup of tea.
The winter months can be hard on our pets too. When they spend more time indoors, they’re not as active and tend to gain some excess winter weight. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates over half of all dogs in the United States are overweight or obese and have an increased risk of injury, disease and shortened life expectancy. Although your dog may look comfortable sleeping by the fire like a hibernating bear, they would rather be engaged in some exercise or fun activity with you and it’s important that they maintain a healthy weight and get daily exercise. Like people, dogs can also get cabin fever during the winter months if they don’t get outside or exercise as often which may lead to problem behaviors such as excessive barking or destructive chewing. If you hate walking your dog in the winter on those bitterly cold days, here are some other ways to physically and mentally exercise your dog.
12 ways to exercise your dog in the winter
1. Indoor Games
Play fetch using a long hallway or open basement or play tug-of-war. Play Find It
by hiding small treats or dog food around the house for your dog to locate with his nose. Most dogs love playing Hide and Seek
which also reinforces bonding and the Come
command. Chasing games are popular with most dogs. Try pulling a stuffed toy attached to a rope to get your dog into prey chasing mode.
2. Stair Climbing
If your dog is young, healthy and not prone to hip problems, throw a ball or toy up to the top of carpeted stairs for an aerobic game of fetch. Just be careful not to overdo exercising on the stairs.
3. Treat Balls
Use food dispensing balls
or toys with dry food to have your dog work for his dinner. If you feed wet food, stuff your dog’s dinner inside a Kong toy and freeze before feeding.
Dog or human treadmills work well to exercise your dog. Start slowly with your dog on a leash and use high-value treats as motivation. After your dog is comfortable walking slowly, gradually increase the speed to a trot. Always stay with your dog to watch him closely. Never tether your dog to a treadmill or force him to stay on it. If your dog doesn’t seem to enjoy the treadmill, find another form of exercise.
5. Tricks and Training
Try some new training techniques or reinforce any existing commands or training that need more work. Teach your dog some tricks. If your dog already knows the basic tricks, try teaching him something to help out around the house, such as picking up his toys and putting them in a basket. Most dogs like to learn something new and it’s a great way to bond with your dog.
Sign up for an obedience or training class with your dog or try indoor agility, flyball or doga (yoga with your dog). It’s exciting for your dog to get out of the house and good socialization.
7. Doggie Gyms
These gyms are popping up all over the country and if there’s one close to you, they offer various ways to exercise your dog. Some even have swimming pools and indoor dog parks.
8. Dog Friendly Outings
Take your dog out to the pet store and while you’re out, shop at some other dog friendly retail stores or coffee shops. Check for dog related events in your area where you can take your dog along with you.
9. Play Dates
Get together with friends who have dogs that want to exercise, play and socialize. Better yet, host a play date in your home and make some homemade dog treats
for your dog to share with his friends. Check out 10 Easy Ways to Find Dogs for Play Dates
for some tips.
10. Doggie Daycare
If your dog gets along well with other dogs, doggie daycare is a good option to help keep your dog fit over the winter. Make sure to check out recommendations and tour the daycare center first so you’re comfortable with where your dog will be hanging out and playing.
11. Dog Walkers
If you really hate walking outside in the winter or don’t have enough time to exercise your dog, hire a recommended and reliable dog walker.
12. Laser Pointers
I hesitate to mention allowing your dog to chase a laser dot around the house, because some dogs can become obsessed with light and shadow chasing, but it works for some dogs and dog owners. If your dog becomes overly fixated on the laser dot, find another form of exercise. Besides, it’s more fun if you participate and interact more with your dog while playing or exercising.
If you love the snow and cold weather, try these 5 fun ideas with your dog.
1. Snow Hikes
Head out for a hike in a wooded area after a fresh snowfall. It’s beautiful and serene since most people don’t take advantage of hiking trails in the winter. It’s also the perfect time to do some off-leash hiking
in areas where your dog can have more freedom without running into too many other dogs or people.
2. Sledding and Snowball Fights
Have your dog join you for some childhood fun in the snow.
3. Dog Parks
If your dog gets overwhelmed by crowded dog parks, try visiting in the winter when there are fewer people and dogs at the park.
4. Snowshoeing or Cross-Country Skiing
Enjoy these sports if you have a snow-loving dog.
If you haven’t heard of this, it’s having your dog pull you through the snow while you’re wearing skis. It sounds like a lot of fun if you have a snow-loving dog that can safely pull you.
Tips to keep your dog safe and comfortable when it’s cold outside.
- Short-haired, small or elderly dogs may need a sweater or water-repellent coat to help keep them warm.
- Trim the hair between your dog’s toes to reduce snow and ice buildup.
- Dog booties can keep paws dry and free from ice, salt or de-icing chemicals.
- If your dog hates booties, apply Musher’s Secret wax to his paws before going outside to prevent painful ice balls from forming between his toes. Musher’s Secret also protects paws from hot pavement or beach sand in the summer.
- If you don’t use booties, clean your pup’s paws with a warm wet cloth when you return home to remove any salt, de-icing chemicals or ice balls. Also wipe down their legs and belly.
- Use reflective wear or clip-on LED collar lights if you walk outside after dark.
- Consult with your vet if you have any concerns about exercising your dog outside when it’s cold.
Prevent hypothermia and frostbite by watching your dog carefully for signs that they’ve had enough of the cold. If your dog is shivering, whining, slowing down or lifting their paws a lot, it’s time to head back inside and warm up. On those occasional winter days when it’s just too miserably cold for you to spend time outside, it’s probably too cold for your dog too. Stay inside by the fire and enjoy your hot tea.
Do you have a favorite way of exercising your dog in the winter? For you lucky dog owners that live where it stays warm all year around, how do you exercise your dogs when it’s extremely hot outside?