Thanks to Kristine Levine, pet living expert, for this guest post. Find her full bio below.
Dog parents know that their pups need lots of mental and physical exercise to stay happy and healthy. This can be a challenge during the winter months, especially if you are the parent of one of those pooches who takes to his warm cozy bed at the first nip in the air and only braves the cold when he has no other choice.
Just because your dog is a little reluctant to frolic in the snow, however, doesn’t mean that it’s okay for him to turn into a doggy couch potato until the warm weather returns. Lack of exercise in the winter can lead to weight gain and all of the problems that come with pet obesity. Even if your dog doesn’t pack on the pounds, lying around for days or weeks on end is enough to lead to a serious case of cabin fever! And all that pent-up energy can contribute to some unpleasant behavior issues.
If you’re not inclined to spend long hours frolicking in the great outdoors together, there are still plenty of great winter activities for dogs that can help you keep him active and entertained.
Make Him Work for His Food
Feeding can be a great outlet for mental and physical energy. Rather than just plunking a bowl of food down in front of your dog at mealtime, why not try giving him a little mental challenge? Working a dog’s mind can tire him out just as much as, if not more than, taking him for a long walk.
- Treat-dispensing toys are a great way to give your pup’s brain a serious workout. The Buster Cube is one of my favorites. Just drop a handful of dry kibble into the opening. Your dog will have to figure out how to roll the toy around to make the food fall out.
- Slow feeders, like the Outward Hound Fun Feeder, are another option to stretch your pooch’s mental muscles. These dog dishes look more like mazes than bowls, but they will keep your pup’s brain engaged while he is filling his belly. Not only will most dogs have a lot more fun eating this way, slowing them down a bit instead of allowing them to chow down their entire meal in 30 seconds is better for their health too!
- Prefer to keep it simple? You can challenge your dog just by hiding a few treats around the house for him to sniff out or by placing his food in a new location at feeding time and encouraging him to figure out where it is.
Bring the Fun Inside
You don’t have to go for a romp in the snow in order to give your dog a chance to get some much needed exercise. There are plenty of super fun ways to get him moving without setting a paw outside.
- Hide and seek. Food isn’t the only thing that your dog will enjoy searching for. Try throwing a small treat into the other room to distract him and then hiding in a different location while he tries to find you.
- Stair climbing. Running up and down the stairs a few times is a paw-some way to get both of your blood pumping. If you prefer not to do the climbing, try tossing a favorite toy up the stairs for your dog to chase. Of course, if your dog is older or has joint issues, stairs may not be the best choice for him.
- Fetch. Who says you have to be in the backyard to enjoy a good game of fetch? If your house has a long hallway or a spacious room or two, grab your dog’s favorite toy and toss it around for a while. (After removing any valuables that could get knocked over by an enthusiastic pup!)
- Bubbles. Believe it or not, a lot of dogs go crazy for bubbles! Just make sure to use a pet-friendly variety.
- Make an indoor agility course. Using chairs, blankets, broomsticks, hula hoops, and other objects that you already have around your house, you can create a course and then spend time training your dog to navigate it. Just make sure that whatever you set up is stable enough that it won’t be knocked over as your pup works his way through.
- Take a class. Find out what is available in your area. Many communities offer agility classes, flyball, and even doggie swimming pools! Any of these would be perfect opportunities for you and your dog to beat the winter blues.
Enjoy the Winter Wonderland
There is really no substitute for spending time outside with your dog. Even if it’s cold, taking him for a walk every day is still one of the best ways to keep him healthy.
Try blazing new trails. You may not be able to walk as far as you could during the warmer months, but you can make those short walks count by keeping them interesting. Instead of following the same route day after day, strike out on a new path. Visit a different part of the neighborhood, or take a drive and take in the scenery in a different part of town.
When I take my dog, Chilly, on a new route I love seeing his little doggy brain going and his nose sniffing like mad as he explores the unfamiliar surroundings.
Try a new sport. If you and your dog enjoy being active, winter is the perfect time to try something new! Mushing and skijoring (which is kind of like a cross between mushing and cross-country skiing) are both great activities to help larger dogs burn off lots of pent up energy.
As tempting as it might be to let your dog hibernate the winter away, it’s so much better for his health to keep him mentally and physically active! With a little creativity, you and your tail-wagging friend can stay fit and healthy in spite of the challenges winter throws your way.
Kristen Levine is a pet living expert, author and pet rescue advocate. She firmly believes we need pets as much as they need us, and thus founded the Kristen Levine Pet Living blog, where she shows us how to live happier, healthier lives through pets. Kristen lives in Florida with her husband, dog (Chilly), two cats (Olivia and Turtle) and two miniature donkeys.