Cold Weather Fun with Fido
By Susan Breslow, former Head of Publications for the ASPCA and the author of the children's book "I Really Want a Dog."
It's important to keep your dog active when winter sets in. Exercise keeps dogs alert and healthy and strengthens the bond they have with us. So before it gets really chilly, consider adapting your dog's exercise regimen.
Not all dogs are cut out to be athletes, but if yours loves to run and jump, play catch and retrieve, winter should be no impediment. Just as in other seasons, you can jog, hike, rollerblade, throw a Frisbee, practice obedience and work on agility skills in winter as long as roads, parks and pathways remain free of snow and ice.
Keep in mind that when it's cold, your dog has to use energy to keep warm as well as to perform. Since you know your dog better than anyone else, gauge when he gets tired or overexerts himself and bring him inside for a treat.
Playing in the Snow
If you live somewhere it snows, there are several ways to give a dog a workout. Dogs who like to chase and retrieve have fun playing find-it in the snow. Bring a ball or a plastic toy out with you, keep her in the stay position until you hurl it and yell, "Find it!"
Try strapping on a pair of snowshoes, leash your dog, and enjoy a walk in a park or along a trail.
You can also try a sport popular from Minnesota to Norway called skijoring, much like cross-country skiing boosted with the help of dog power. According to The Midwest Skijorers Club, "The skier is attached to their dog with a belt and towline. The skier skis and issues voice commands while the dog pulls wearing a sled dog/skijor harness." If your dog has short hair, add a coat or sweater to help keep her warm. Skijoring is best suited for larger, highly active dogs.
When the cold wind blows, your dog still needs to stay active to remain healthy. Fortunately, there are many things you can do inside a house or apartment to stimulate your dog's sense of play in winter.
To avoid damage, get a foam ball and toss it around. When your dog chases and brings it back, you've got a new activity with your playmate. If you have a staircase in the house, throwing the ball to the top and having your dog repeatedly pursue it and bring it back equals a good workout.
Instead of setting up hurdles and weave polls as you would outdoors, use pillows and chairs to create obstacles for your dog to navigate as you coach her over them.
Arrange a Play Date:
Does your dog have a pal he likes at the park? Consider setting up a play date for the two of them; just be sure to dog-proof the house and store away breakables in case they get rambunctious.
Get a Doggy Treadmill:
If your dog is seriously overweight, having a doggie treadmill in the house can help him slim down - if he stays on it.
Begin Pet Therapy:
Does your dog have the temperament to calm children in hospitals and bring a smile to the elderly in assisted living quarters? If so, contact your local humane shelter to find a local chapter of a therapy dog organization.
By keeping your dog stimulated and energized all winter, she will be in top shape as your active companion when the weather warms.
There are a variety of sports you can play with your dog to keep them fit and sharp year round. Nosework, rally, obedience and drill teams can also help you bond with your furry friend.