7 ways to exercise your dog in the winter

7 ways to exercise your dog in the winter

Winter dog walks aren’t always enjoyable, especially when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Getting through the winter can prove challenging – mucky paws, muddy boots, torrential downpours and even snow days can put a downer on your winter dog walks. As dog owners, we know it’s our responsibility to walk our pooches come rain or shine, but there are some days in winter when other forms of exercise come in handy.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to exercise your dog in the winter if you’re looking for alternative options. Indoor exercise is certainly an option, whether you go along to a doggy sports class like agility or fly ball or you find an indoor area where you can let Fido stretch his legs.

It’s not just the weather we have to contend with in the winter. As the seasons change, we start to lose daylight. It gets dark early in the mornings and by 4pm in the afternoon, effectively shortening the amount of time you have to walk Fido in the daylight.

If walking your pup in the pitch black doesn’t sound appealing, then you’ll need to find other options. You can, of course, get light-up dog collars, reflective coats and neon clothing to make yourself seen. But on the days where you’re not up for a walk in the darkness, you can try other forms of exercise instead.

It is important, though, to remember that entering the height of winter is not an excuse to avoid walking your hound. Getting some fresh air and strolling in the great outdoors provides important mental stimulation and exercise for your dog (and for you as well!). And if you’ve got adequate dog insurance, you can feel reassured that Fido is covered should they get ill or injured over the winter.

A study found that 56 per cent of owners exercise their dog less during cold spells in the winter. You shouldn’t substitute your dog’s daily walk for alternative exercise, however, you can swap the odd dog walk or change the way you exercise Fido on particularly freezing days when the weather presents potential hazards for you and your canine companion.

How do you walk a dog in cold weather?

When you do head on out freezing days, be sure to bring winter essentials with you and wrap your dog up warm in a winter dog coat if needed. Certain dog breeds really struggle in the cold and require extra care and attention, especially those with short coats like Whippets and Greyhounds. It’s also wise to always check the weather forecast before you head out, so you’ll know what to expect and plan accordingly.

Avoid going out at the coldest times of the day. If you can, head out towards midday when temperatures are likely to have risen slightly. Avoid icy roads and pavements and make sure Fido doesn’t walk over any grit or salt, as this can cause irritation. As well as making sure your dog is warm enough, you’ll need to wrap up warm yourself and stock up on winter dog walking gear such as walking boots, a weather-proof coat, gloves and a hat. 

As well as taking care of your canine companion on winter walks, you can supplement their winter exercise with some indoor activities. But sometimes, coming up with ideas to keep them active indoors can be a challenge. What can you do with your dog indoors? There are actually plenty of options, you just need to think outside the box and get creative. We’ve done some of the hard work for you by coming up with some ideas on how you can exercise Fido indoors on particularly chilly days.

How can I exercise my dog when it's too cold outside?

1. Dog sports

Why not get your dog involved in a dog sport? Not only will it help you to keep Fido fit throughout the winter months, but they’ll get to learn a new skill. And you’d be surprised just how much energy your dog burns while taking part in activities like agility, which gets their whole body moving.

It also provides a great deal of mental stimulation, too, so you can keep your pup’s mind active during the colder months. When they’re stuck inside for most of the day, spending an hour running around an agility course can do them the world of good.

Other dog sports you can try include flyball, which involves dogs sprinting down a lane to retrieve a ball and then racing back to the finish line. Wondering if your pup would like flyball? Here are some signs that they might be well suited. It’s particularly well-suited to dogs that love to play fetch.

Canicross is another dog sport but it’s not an indoor sport. It’s well suited to owners who would perhaps prefer to go out running with their dog in the cold weather rather than walking. And in the winter, running with your dog helps you to warm up quickly and provides excellent exercise for you both.

2. Indoor games

Snowed in and can’t leave the house? No worries. You can keep your dog entertained inside your home. There are plenty of games you can play with your dog that will help them burn off some energy as well as get their brain working.

If you’ve got a smaller home you may be limited in terms of what you can do, but you’ll be able to play a few of the games below with Fido even if there’s not much space. Here are some indoor games you can play.

How can I exercise my dog indoors?

  • Tug of war - Get your pup a tug of war rope toy and have a good old game of tug of war with them. If you’ve got more than one dog, they can play together.
  • Fetch - OK, so fetch may not sound like the best indoor game, but it is possible. There’s just a lot more repetition involved as you’re not throwing the object as far. You can also mix things up by getting your dog to fetch different objects.
  • Hide and seek - This is a fun one for both owners and dogs. Tell your dog to wait somewhere (or get someone to hold them) while you go and hide in your house. Then release Fido and encourage them to come and find you. Seeing their face when they finally locate you is priceless.
  • Finding objects/scent games - Scent games are an excellent way to provide mental stimulation. At dinner time, instead of giving their food to them in their bowl, make them work for it and hide treats around the home for them to find. Or you could hide their favourite toy somewhere for them to go and retrieve.
  • Brain games - You can buy special interactive brain games for dogs from pet shops and online pet supply websites. They usually consist of some sort of puzzle that your dog has to figure out in order to be rewarded with a treat. You can also save money and make brain games at home. The most simple one could be hiding a treat under a cup and mixing it up with other empty cups. Then get Fido to try and pick the right cup to get the treat.
  • Kong toys - Kong toys may not be as active as some other games but if you stuff a Kong with something tasty then this provides some decent entertainment for your pooch.

3. Hydrotherapy/swimming

Swimming is an excellent physical activity for our canine friends. One of the reasons it’s so great is it’s low impact and kinder on Fido’s joints.

A few minutes of swimming can also leave your pup feeling rather tired, because they’re using their whole body and burning lots of energy.

Of course, in the winter, you won’t want to take your dog swimming outdoors or anywhere near icy lakes or freezing cold water. So, what’s the alternative?

Well, thankfully there are plenty of indoor canine hydrotherapy pools where you can take your dog swimming. They’ll get to enjoy a swimming session with a qualified trainer.

If you know you’re going to struggle to exercise your dog during particularly nasty winter weather, why not book a few hydrotherapy sessions?

Take a look at the National Association of Canine Hydrotherapists website for information on hydrotherapy and to search their database for your nearest centre.

4. Obedience classes

OK, so not exactly a predominantly physical form of exercise, but obedience classes can still be fairly active. Getting Fido to sit, lay down, come, follow you as you walk around and perform tricks will help them burn some energy. Plus they will be working their brain very hard, too, especially if there are other doggies in the class to distract them.

Not only will you be getting out of the house and staying active, but obedience classes are also an excellent way to improve your bond with your best bud. Oh, and your dog will (hopefully) be better behaved and more responsive to commands in the future.

Don’t want to pay for classes? Supplement winter dog walks with daily obedience training at home. Even if you can just fit in 20 minutes a day of learning new tricks, Fido will enjoy the stimulation.

5. Doggy treadmills

Yes, you can get special treadmills for dogs. Although it’s not the most exciting way for your dog to exercise, if you can’t get out and about, it’s a good alternative option.

From our research, they range from £500 to £1,000 – so getting one is definitely an investment. Keep in mind that these machines are not suited to all dogs, and some pooches may not feel comfortable on them.

6. Doggy play dates

Snow day? Why not get your friends round with their dogs for a winter doggy play date? If you know your dog loves to play with a particular canine pal, invite them round and let them have some playtime. This could be in the garden if it isn’t too chilly or wet, or, if you’ve got enough room – inside your home. Your dog will get rid of some of their pent up energy by spending time with their fellow doggy friends.

And if things get a little too heated, having dog insurance in place may be able to help with any mishaps that occur if playtime becomes a little too boisterous.

7. Obstacle course at home

If you’re trying to find a way of exercising your dog indoors, then putting together an obstacle course could be the answer.

The course you make could be really simple with a few markers to run around, or you could go all out and create a mini agility course in your lounge (that’s if you have the room!). All you need is a few cones and some objects for your dog to climb over or walk around.

And if you don’t want Fido zooming around your home crashing into things, you can always walk them around objects rather than run.

Is it safe for dogs to run in cold weather?

It is safe to go running with your dog in cold weather, but you need to be mindful of potential hazards and keep an eye on your dog. It’s best to avoid going out when it’s excessively cold. If your face is freezing and you can’t get your extremities warm whilst running, it just might be too chilly for Fido, too.

And as mentioned earlier, some breeds may not cope as well in the cold. If your pup hasn’t got a thick coat, they may struggle going out running on colder days. If you are running in the snow, keep checking your dog’s paw pads in case they become overloaded with packed snow and make Fido’s feet cold and uncomfortable.

Are dogs less active in the winter?

The seasons can have an impact on your canine companion. In winter, dogs can be a little less active due to there being less light, and they may be reluctant to go outside in horrible weather. But that doesn’t mean you need to reduce their exercise levels. We’ve been through some of the things you can do indoors, so you can try some of these things to keep Fido fit and healthy.

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