If you want to get more time outside during the winter, your dog can be the perfect outdoor companion. That’s especially true if your dog is a cold-weather breed. (If you’re not sure, look for a double coat and thick paws, along with a tendency to bound happily outside to burrow and roll in a fresh blanket of snow.)
Spending time together outside provides the perfect way to burn off some pent-up energy. Plus, playing and running through snow can provide extra toning for your dog’s body. As long as you’re out there playing with him, you’ll both enjoy the benefits of fresh air and perhaps a bit of fleeting winter sunshine.
[Before you head out, keep your dog safe and check out our guide to cold-weather care for dogs]
The following offers some fun ideas to think about, from simple and spontaneous, to ideas that require a bit of extra planning.
Send your dog tracking for treats
Activities that engage the nose let your dog put his talent to work, stimulates the mind and gives him a chance to track down a delicious snack or two. Head outside ahead of your dog, and hide small pieces of jerky treats around the yard. Tuck them under the shrubs, at the base of the tree or along the garage, before setting him loose to sniff them out.
Are dog parks a good idea in the winter?
A trip to the dog park is a great way to help your pooch get exercise and let out off a little energy. If your dog is a short-haired breed and sensitive to the cold, it’s smart to bundle up with a dog coat and booties before letting them out to run. Sticking to fenced-in dog parks is best. Should your dog escape, you wouldn’t want him lost in the snow and cold.
Can you train your dog to pull you on skis?
Ever wonder if your dog could pull you on skis? You may want to give skijoring a try. It translates from Norwegian to “ski driving,” and it combines cross-country skiing with dog sledding. To get started, check out this helpful guide by the Pacific Sled Dog and Skijoring Association. Then, see if there are any skijoring events scheduled in your region this winter. Attending can help you connect with like-minded pet parents who can help you connect with trainers and local groups. This trust-building activity — where you must count on the dog to obey your commands — can strengthen the human-canine bond and provide a magical mode of transport across the winterscape.
[Is your dog built for winter? Read Dogs and climate: Best breeds based on where you live]
Can dogs catch snowballs?
If your dog already is a fan of the snow, then, yes, going after a snowball should make him pretty happy! Of course, make sure the kids understand they should never pelt your pet with snowballs. But do try tossing a few small lightly packed snowballs in his direction, and see if he’s interested in chasing them or leaping up to snap at them with his mouth.
Should you go ice fishing with your dog?
As much as we love ice fishing and hikes along the frozen surface of the river, your safest bet is to keep your furry friend on the shore. The slick and frozen surface can cause injury, either through a fall or by exposure. More importantly, ice thickness can change very quickly as you make your way across the surface. That can create a dangerous situation for a dog that’s bounding happily ahead of you.
If you do end up on or near the ice, keep your dog leashed. Because even if your dog is well-trained to respond to voice commands, all it takes is the sight and scent of one goose to distract him. If he does fall through, don’t attempt to pull him out. After all, if the surface of the ice can’t hold your dog, it’s not going to hold you, either. Instead, call the authorities. Many ice rescue teams have the equipment to safely retrieve dogs from the water.
But what if you have an indoor dog?
Maybe your dog isn’t terribly outdoorsy (or maybe you’re the one who doesn’t want to go outside more than you have to). If you need a cozier option for your dog to run off steam, get in touch with your local doggy daycare. Some centers host open playgroups on weekends so pups can safely romp and run where it’s climate-controlled. Some places now offer indoor swimming for dogs, while other entrepreneurs have taken the indoor dog park to the next level by combining them with brewpubs so pet families can enjoy a day out together. Check your community and beyond. You might get lucky and find a great inside option for your dog to stretch his legs this winter.
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