8 Activities That Keep You and Your Dog Out of the Snow
Tips to avoid boredom when cooped up during winter storms.
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It’s easy to feel like you’re lacking as a pet parent when it’s frigid out. As much as we know our dogs need exercise and stimulation, sometimes winter storms get in the way of our usual adventuring. But have no fear: Although it’s a challenge, it’s possible to keep your dog from going stir-crazy even without spending the usual amount of time outdoors. The key is focusing on mental exercise instead of physical exercise, and remembering that quality time with your dog is a valuable commodity that can compensate for less activity. Below are eight ideas for indoor activities you can enjoy with your dog.
If your dog likes to play, now is the time to be the most willing play buddy ever. Fetch and tug can be played inside, and so can hide-and-seek. Maybe even make an indoor obstacle course for your dog. It doesn’t matter so much what you play as long as you are engaging your dog in a fun activity.
As a trainer, I am always in favor of lots of training time with dogs, but cold weather makes this an appealing option. Teaching tricks such as high-5, crawl, sit pretty, spin and unwind, or jumping through a hula hoop give your dog plenty of mental stimulation and are usually fun to show off later, too. Practical cues, such as “heel,” “down,” “stay,” and “leave it” are so useful that teaching them or brushing up on them will be time well spent. Most dogs enjoy training if it is done in a positive, humane way. Your dog gets treats for being right and has your undivided attention — a total win.
If your dog loves physical contact, days stuck inside can be great opportunities for dog massages. Basic massage instructions can be found on YouTube, or you can just do whatever you know your dog already likes. For dogs who love to be brushed, a snow day can be an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time maintaining their coat. If your dog dislikes being brushed, it’s probably wise to skip it on days that are already a bummer because of being stuck inside.
Most dogs love receiving new toys or things to chew on. Consider this a great week to bring out a new toy or two, or even something extra special to chew on. Though these items can be expensive, you will get your money’s worth out of them this week, when your dog doesn’t have as much to do as usual.
Stuffing a Kong with food can help your dog stay happily occupied for a long time. Put some treats in along with regular food and consider freezing it so that it will last longer. Many dogs can spend 30 to 45 minutes extracting food from a well-stuffed Kong. If your dog takes just a heartbeat to empty one, it may be a good week to start freezing them or making them harder to empty in other ways.
Make life more interesting for your dog by feeding them with a food puzzle toy. Many products present challenges for dogs as they must work to get the food. I’m in favor of feeding dogs this way on a regular basis, but there’s no better time to start than during a storm.
If your dog has a good canine buddy who can visit for an indoor play session, send an invitation right away. This may only work if the other dog lives really close and can safely walk over during icy or snowy conditions, but if luck is on your side in this regard, take advantage of it. Only invite another dog over if you know that the dogs will play nicely indoors and won’t have issues over space, food, or toys.
Go outside (when safe).
Decide if it is reasonable to be outside safely for longer than quick potty breaks. It may feel like it’s way too cold, but some dogs might be able to tolerate it quite well. Larger dogs with thicker coats will likely have an easier time handling unusually low temperatures, but even breeds who are supposedly good in the cold may find it challenging if they are used to much warmer weather. Only brave the cold if it’s safe for you and your dog to do so.
Hopefully, it won’t be long until you can return to your normal activities. In the meantime, do what you can to make your dog’s days as interesting and full of fun as possible.
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Spice Girls reference aside, just because your dog is graying around the eyes doesn’t mean those eyes don’t light up at playtime.
Cue the Schoolhouse Rock! because learning can be fun.
Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.