8 Fun Winter Activities With Dogs That Will Have You Both Howling With Joy
We totally get it. Why abandon cozy canine cuddles, hot cocoa, and a binge of your favorite series to brace yourself for a blast of frosty chill? Well, aside from the obvious playtime potential, being outdoors is a terrific way to boost your dog's health.
Curtis Kelley, CPDT-KA, is a trainer, pet behaviorist, and owner of Pet Parent Allies in Philadelphia. He tells Daily Paws that winter activities with dogs, like other forms of interactive engagement, are good for them because they stimulate the mind and body. "They help boost immunity and keep their digestion regular, too," he adds.
Being active in nature is good for both you and your furry pal. The American Psychological Association reports that regular time outdoors "has benefits for both physical and psychological human wellbeing." The same is true for dogs. In addition to daily exercise (find out how much your pet needs based on her size), exploring outside introduces new scents, sounds, and sights that provide valuable enrichment and communication—yes, even the stinky stuff! This helps her avoid boredom and destructiveness when she's back inside.
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Winter Activities With Dogs You'll Both Love
Of course, you're the most accurate barometer of what your pupper will enjoy, but rest assured that as long as you're playing in the snow with her, she'll try anything once! An added bonus: you don't always need a lot of dog winter gear to get going with your cold-weather breed unless you're focused on a specific canine sport.
"Hiking is an excellent activity for dogs," Kelley says. "Being able to sniff in the woods and around trees helps relax them with natural smells they can understand." Certain dogs are natural hikers and eager for any winter wonderland excursion, while others adapt gradually with more frequent outings.
2. Walking or Running
Kelley says a brisk winter walk is perfect for providing your dog with some engagement and later, help her be ready to snuggle in. "The sensation change can help to make them sleepy afterward," he says. If you're accustomed to running with your dog in warmer weather, you should be able to continue in colder temps, but consult your veterinarian first about duration and precautions.
3. Dog Skiing or Skijoring
Outdoor enthusiasts with active breeds often gravitate toward dog skiing! Also known as skijoring, this is one of the most popular winter dog sports. As long as you have cross-country skiing experience, you and your speedy canine can leave the confines of the house for thrilling runs in the countryside.
4. Nose Work
"Nose work is an excellent way to engage your dog in winter, especially when there's snow on the ground," Kelley says. "The snow's added moisture and interest in the environment can add a novel challenge to your treat hunting." Some studies report that those boopable snoots are more than cute: they have approximately 200 million scent receptors (humans only have about 5 million!) which are 10,000 times more accurate than ours. Even the smallest dog breed who doesn't want to muss up her fuzzy sweater can benefit from some lingering fresh air sniffs on the front porch.
5. Winter Camping
Winter camping with your dog is always Instagram worthy, but it's also a terrific bonding experience. Just imagine: after an invigorating trail trek, the two of you return to the campsite to settle in by the fire and listen to all the creatures of the wilderness. What a dreamy time! Plus, as Kelley says, "this is a special kind of excitement. If your dog wasn't snuggly before, he sure will be having to keep warm in a tent in wintertime!" Just make sure you're not going out in dangerously extreme winter weather.
Pfffft. Forget fetch—your dog will love chasing you down a sledding hill! "Humans move so slow that it's a novel run when you can fly down a hill with your dog in tow," Kelley says. "Just watch out for nipping in herding breeds!" And no matter how totally adorable it is to see a savvy pooch riding a sled, he doesn't recommend it—unless of course, you have a team of professional sled dogs.
7. Playing in the Snow
Winter activities with dogs don't have to be complicated—with the right amount of good cheer, anything becomes a fun game! Create a 'race track' in the snow for their 'zoomies', drop down and do snow angels, or what the heck, let 'em eat a few muzzles of snow. "Even tossing snow powder into the air for your dog to catch can be a great way to go outside and blow off some steam," Kelley says.
8. Snow Digging
"If your dog likes to dig, encouraging them to dig in the snow can be a great way to burn energy," he adds. "The snow is nice and satisfying to kick. Your dog can also kick the same snow around or feel like they accomplished something by digging down a tall pile." Awww, darn, guess now you'll have to build a snow fort or let your doggo roll a giant snowball!
Kelley ventures out with Vista, his red Doberman pinscher, whenever they have a chance for winter fun! In this photo, Vista keeps a keen eye on Kelley's other hand, as she's eager for him to throw the snowball he has so she can jump and nom on it!
Cozy Indoor Winter Activities With Your Dog
Maybe your Fido isn't a fan of snow and cold. And there will certainly be times when you don't even want to step outside for her required tinkle or boom, much less romp around. Safe temperatures for winter fun matter, so take a peek at our handy guide for tips as to when it's too cold for dogs to be playing outdoors on a frigid day.
But as much as you'd like to return to the energy-sucking sofa, first plan interactive indoor family fun your pup can enjoy each day.
- Play with a puzzle toy—a surefire way to beat boredom.
- Do doga. They're already naturals at downward-facing dog pose!
- Work on basic training skills, which will reap benefits for years to come.
- Create an easy but effective DIY snuffle mat to make finding kibble a game.
- Walk on a treadmill. "It takes lots of slow practice to do right!" Kelley says.
- Tug toys, depending on your dog's temperament, can also be good.
- Hide homemade treats or toys around for poochie to search out as a fun pastime.
- Teach your brainy bud to talk with buttons.
Remember, as you ponder your doggo's cold-weather options for exercise and playtime, it's all about balance. "Snow can be an extra fun playground for dogs," Kelley says. "But if your dog doesn't like it, that's fine! Warm snuggles next to you are great in the winter, too." Ah, good to know, 'cause we're looking forward to a few extra homey nap cuddle puddles.