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Winter Activities to Keep Dogs Busy

By Linda Cole

December 21 is the official start of winter, but as far as I'm concerned, when the first snowfall covers the ground – it's winter! Even with snow on the ground, dogs can still get plenty of healthy stimulation and exercise during the winter months. If your dog is like a couple of mine, the minute the first snowflake hits the ground they head for the couch and a warm blanket to cuddle under, but once they get outside, they have as much fun as the other dogs. Winter activities for dogs can be anything you enjoy doing together.

The first thing to remember when venturing outside in the winter is safety for you and your dog. Winter activities are only fun when no one pulls a muscle, gets too cold or becomes lost. Protecting your pet with a microchip can save his life if he should become separated from you during any outdoor activity. Brush up on survival skills and always remember to pack survival gear for you and your dog when heading outside for some winter fun.

Hiking on a snowy trail is a great way to get exercise, but make sure to let someone know where you plan to go and how long you intend to be gone. Carry a backpack with survival gear that includes food and water for you and your dog, and make sure your short haired dog has a weatherproof jacket to help keep the chill away from his skin. Dogs lose heat from their ears and feet, so a pair of quality dog booties can help keep his feet warm and snow free. However, you will need to make sure he doesn't lose them in the snow.

Tracking is a great winter activity that can be educational for you and your dog. A fresh layer of snow and a warm pair of dog booties are all you need. Just make sure you know who the tracks belong to and be prepared if you should run across the owner. You don't want to deal with a confrontation from an angry critter. The idea is to give your dog some mental stimulation with an interesting scent and exercise by following the trail, not actually finding the animal.

Snowball catch. Several of my dogs love playing in the snow, and one of their favorite winter activities is catching snowballs. Keep the snowball loose so it won't hurt them when they catch it. One thing that always amazes me is how they can find a snowball tossed into a pile of snow. Playing catch is always a great way to give your dogs exercise any time of the year.

Sledding tops the list for winter activities you can do as a family. Dogs like to ride on a sled down a hill with you or the kids – just be sure to follow proper safety procedures. Never allow a dog to ride unsupervised on a sled down a hill. He can't control it and you risk the dog being injured if the sled hits a tree, goes out of control or if he jumps off on the way down. You can teach your dog how to pull the sled back up the hill too! He gets to spend quality time with you while you teach him a command that gives him an important job to do, and running back up the hill with the sled in tow helps him to stay fit.

Skijoring is a sport dogs and humans can do as a team. Ski enthusiasts combine their love of skiing with their dog's love of running and pulling. Skijoring is a winter activity for the more serious snow lover, human and dog, who enjoys being in the fresh winter air and the beautiful scenery.

A walk in the snow is an easy way to work off excess energy for a dog. It may be winter, but dogs still need to be walked to help keep them from becoming bored while you're away from home. A tired dog will be better behaved when left alone, and walking in the snow provides a workout that helps keep him fit through the winter months.

Winter activities provide a dog and us with much needed exercise to keep from getting cabin fever and from putting on pounds over the colder months of the year. Hibernation isn't an option for those who love the snow. With proper protection from the cold and snow for you and your dog, an afternoon outing is just the ticket to help keep the mind and body healthy and stimulated.

Photo by Shannon Pifko

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