Baby, It's Cold Outside: Exercising Dogs Through the Winter

There are few things less fun than dancing around a fire hydrant blowing on one’s hands while waiting for one’s dog to do its business in below-zero temperatures, let alone taking the dog for a long walk through knee-deep snow. You can’t avoid outdoor exercise and potty breaks entirely during winter weather, but you can use these tips to keep your pooch fit physically and mentally during weather not conducive to outside playtime.

Mental Exercise

A rigorous indoor training session can leave a dog just as tired as a long walk. Training inside doesn’t have the same health benefits as exercising outdoors, so try not to replace walks, runs, or games of fetch with training more often than necessary, but know that 30 minutes of rigorous clicker training can buy you an evening’s peace when the weather keeps you indoors. Ideally, every dog should have a daily training session as well as at least two walks or play sessions outdoors each day.

To exhaust an energetic dog through training, focus on active behaviors. Here are some ideas:

  • Figure-eights through your legs as you walk (check out some Canine Freestyle videos if you can’t picture this)
  • Doggy Ping-Pong: You stand at one end of the house and a family member stands at the other. Take turns calling the dog.
  • Spin (also useful to teach dogs to wipe their feet!)
  • Dance (not for long-backed dogs like Dachshunds; too much time spent on the hind legs can cause compression of the spine)
  • Crawl (Also fun to combine this one with Play Dead– the dog can be “injured” and crawl for a few steps before rolling over and playing dead)
  • Walk Backwards

When They Just Need a Good Run

Sometimes no amount of training in the house can replace stretching out and running at full speed, especially when poor weather keeps dogs inside for days on end. When cabin fever gets to your dog but it’s still too cold for long walks outdoors, you may need to work harder to replace outdoor exercise with alternatives less likely to lead to hypothermia for you or your dog.

A day spent at doggie daycare can be an effective winter substitute for visits to the dog park.  Choose the daycare facility carefully, and make sure the dogs will always be supervised by a staff member who will work to keep the dogs happy and active for the duration of their time at daycare.

Taking an indoor obedience, agility, or flyball class can also help lift the winter doldrums and burn energy when days are cold and nights are long. If you’ve never experienced canine sports before, select an instructor who focuses on fun and exercise for dogs and owners, rather than pushing students toward competition. Good luck!

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