Is your dog getting ants in his pants? If you are like most dog owners, the plunge of winter temperatures has dampened your enthusiasm for outdoor activity, causing angst for your cooped-up canine. Many animal behavioral specialists reported that dogs that didn’t receive regular exercise during the winter became antsy and reactive in the spring and some developed unwanted behavioral patterns. Additionally, it is not good for a dog’s health to be active in the summer and a couch-potato in the winter. For optimum mental and physical health, many veterinarians recommend that dogs receive 45 minutes to an hour of daily, consistent exercise and enrichment, broken up into shorter intervals.
Even if we want the best for our canine companions, winter presents challenges that make it difficult to keep up a regular exercise routine for our dogs. Here are some tips for keeping your canine active this winter:
Outdoor fun – short periods of outdoor activity are a great option to release some of that energy, with a few precautions. While you are outside, remember that a dog’s body temperature drops rapidly when he stops exercising. Try to keep your dog dry to lower the risk of hypothermia.
Snow can be dangerous to dogs because it covers the smells a dog uses to navigate. A dog can easily become lost if he is not on a leash. Another very good reason to keep a dog on a leash in the winter is frozen ponds – most of the rescue calls in the winter are for a dog that chased a wild animal across a pond and fell in, so keep those leashes firmly attached, or take your dog to run in fenced areas, such as dog parks, baseball diamonds or tennis courts.
Winter days are shorter and darker. Consider using a reflective collar or a collar embedded with blinking lights for increased visibility.
Ice, salt and sand can lead to dry, chapped or even cracked paw pads. Wash your dog’s paws off with warm water when he comes inside – keeping a foot bath by the door is a good idea. Another option is training your dog to wear boots. You can train a dog to tolerate boots by starting with baby socks. Slip baby socks over your dog’s feet. Once they are used to the socks, then they are probably ready for the boots. Boots should fit snug, but not too tight.
If outdoor fun is not possible, then your only option is indoor fun, and depending on your space, there are many fun indoor activities you can do with your dog. Take for example indoor races. Simply clear a space in your home and race around with your dog – it’s good exercise for both of you!
Check if any local indoor tracks will allow dogs to run with their owners. Another option if you have a long hallway is to put some low furniture in the hallway for your dog to jump over, and then throw a ball down the hallway for a game of indoor obstacle-course fetch.
If you have the distinct challenge of small indoor space, then try bubbles. Dogs love snapping at bubbles. Make sure to get the pet-safe non-toxic version and simply blow way – dogs love jumping and trying to catch bubbles.
Another fun game is find it. Hide a small treat or a favorite toy in plain sight and tell your dog to find it. Once they’ve learned the find it cue that goes with the game, then you can make it progressively more difficult for them to locate the prize.
With a little creativity and a sense of fun, you and your dog can stay fit and safe this winter season.