How to Exercise Your Dog During Winter

Dogs require daily exercise throughout the year, but when faced with chilly and snowy weather, extended outdoor activities can be perilous. However, you can engage your dog indoors to ensure their physical and mental well-being.

Every dog needs regular exercise, regardless of the season. Exercise plays a vital role in your dog’s overall health, helping them maintain an ideal weight and offering mental and physical stimulation to prevent boredom. Navigating your dog’s exercise routine during the winter months, when icy conditions, snow, and frigid winds are prevalent, can be quite challenging. Fortunately, there are still methods for exercising your dog during this season. If you’re seeking guidance on how to keep your dog active during winter, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll explore the significance of year-round exercise for dogs and provide insights into indoor activities for your furry companion.

Is Winter Exercise as Crucial for Dogs?

Exercise remains a necessity for dogs, irrespective of the season. Regular physical activity contributes to your dog’s physical and mental health, much like it does for humans. It helps maintain their general well-being, and appropriate weight and prevents the accumulation of excess energy that can lead to boredom or depression. Moreover, ensuring your dog gets an adequate amount of exercise is one of our recommendations for holiday pet safety, as it can alleviate stress, making them more at ease around visitors.

While all dogs require exercise, the amount varies based on their breed and current health status. Breeds designed for labor-intensive tasks, such as herding or sports, tend to have higher energy levels. For instance, herding dogs may need vigorous activities like sports and hikes to stay content.

How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs?

Exercising dogs in cold weather can be risky. As a general rule of thumb, if the weather is too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog. Hence, if you find yourself uncomfortable outdoors, even with a winter coat, your dog is likely feeling the same way. Cold temperatures can be especially perilous for smaller dogs and those with short fur.

In most cases, dogs can safely spend extended periods outdoors when temperatures are above 45°F (7°C). However, when the mercury falls below the freezing point, around 32°F (0°C), it can become dangerous for a broad spectrum of dogs, especially young, short-haired, elderly, and unwell dogs. If temperatures plummet below 20°F (-7°C), dogs are at risk of developing hypothermia or frostbite while outside.2

Safeguarding your dog in cold weather is vital, but each dog is unique. Factors like their breed, size, weight, age, and health status should all be considered when determining if it’s too cold for them. These factors affect their ability to endure cold temperatures.

In addition to temperature, there are other weather-related factors to consider before taking your dog out, including wind chill, the presence of snow, sunlight, and other circumstances affecting the outdoor experience.

Indoor Exercises for Your Dog

Exercising your dog is essential, but during extremely cold spells, long outdoor walks should be avoided. While you’ll still need to take your dog outdoors for potty breaks, it’s crucial to minimize their exposure to the cold. Knowing how to engage your dog indoors during the winter months can help you maintain or even enhance their physical and mental health. Here are ten indoor exercises to try with your furry friend:

  1. Fetch: If you’re wondering how to exercise your dog when the weather is unbearable, consider adapting their favorite outdoor game, like fetch, for indoor play. Find a spacious area where your dog can safely chase a toy without damaging your belongings.
  2. Hide and Seek or Tag: Games like hide-and-seek or tag can be entertaining indoor activities. However, some dogs may require training to understand the concept. You can start by walking away from your dog and calling them to find you. Ensure your dog knows basic commands, like coming when called, to make the game enjoyable.
  3. Obstacle Courses: Setting up an obstacle course in your home is a creative way to engage your dog in both physical and mental exercises. You can purchase dog obstacle course equipment or create your own. Use items like ottomans or create a maze to challenge your dog’s problem-solving skills.
  4. Tug: Tug-of-war is an activity you can enjoy with your dog anywhere, provided you have a sturdy rope toy. It helps build your dog’s confidence and offers them an enjoyable and physically stimulating experience.
  5. Nose Work: Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, and nose work activities allow them to harness this skill. You can engage your dog by hiding treats, toys, or even yourself in various ways, such as picking a hand, hiding treats around the house, or playing “pick a cup.”
  6. Laser Toys: Laser toys aren’t exclusive to cats. Dogs with strong prey drives can find chasing a laser light around the house quite entertaining. It requires minimal effort on your part to keep them active indoors.
  7. Running Up and Down the Stairs: To make up for the lack of extended outdoor walks or runs during the winter, consider sprinting up and down the stairs with your dog. This high-energy activity can help them expend pent-up energy, reducing the risk of destructive behavior.
  8. Exercise Classes: Enrolling your dog in exercise classes is an effective way to keep them active during the winter. It’s essential that your dog has completed basic training to ensure their safety and ability to interact with other dogs.
  9. Training: While it might not seem physically strenuous, training your dog can be mentally exhausting for them. Teaching them new tricks or reinforcing basic obedience commands can help burn excess energy.
  10. Mental Exercise: Alongside physical activities, don’t forget about the importance of mental exercise for your dog. Activities like puzzle feeders, interactive toys, and training can provide mental stimulation that wards off boredom and addresses excess energy.

Keeping Your Dog Warm in the Cold

Despite the limitations imposed by cold weather, dogs still need to venture outdoors for various reasons. Unless your dog is trained to use a designated indoor toilet area, you’ll need to take them outside for bathroom breaks and walks. To ensure your dog remains warm in the cold, consider the following strategies:

  1. Time Your Walks: Plan your dog’s longest walk during the warmest part of the day, which is typically in the early afternoon. This allows your dog to enjoy a more comfortable outdoor experience.
  2. Use Coats and Sweaters: If your dog has a thin coat, provide them with coats or sweaters to help them stay warm when they go outside. Make sure the clothing fits comfortably under their harness.
  3. Protect Their Paws: Your dog loses a substantial amount of body heat through their paws, so it’s important to shield them from the cold. Ice, snow, and salt can be harsh on their paws, so you can either carry your dog over areas with ice or invest in protective boots or paw wax.

Remember to observe your dog closely when they are outdoors. Dogs can suffer from colds, hypothermia, and frostbite. Signs of a cold may include sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes, while it can be challenging to detect when a dog is too cold unless you pay close attention. Watch out for signs like raised paws, reluctance to walk, shivering, or expressions of discomfort such as whimpering. If you notice any of these signs, it’s advisable to take your dog inside immediately.

FAQs About Exercising Dogs in Winter

  1. When should you not walk your dog in cold weather? Most healthy dogs can tolerate temperatures down to 20°F (-7°C) or lower for extended periods. However, small dogs, puppies, and elderly dogs should avoid spending too much time outside in such weather conditions. A good rule of thumb is that if you find it uncomfortably cold with proper clothing, your dog likely feels the same.
  2. How can I tell if my dog is warm enough? Dogs that are sufficiently warm during their walk will appear content, whereas cold dogs may exhibit signs such as shivering, raising their paws off the ground, or stopping mid-walk. Since dogs can’t communicate their comfort level, it’s crucial to monitor them when they are outside to ensure they stay warm.
  3. Do dogs need to wear clothing in the winter? Some dogs, especially those with thin coats or small breeds, may benefit from wearing coats, sweaters, or boots in winter, particularly when temperatures drop below freezing. These items can help protect your dog from the cold and maintain their warmth.

Concluding Remarks Understanding how to gauge the cold’s impact on your dog and adapting your activities can prevent severe illnesses and safeguard your dog’s well-being during winter. Dogs still require exercise, particularly young pups and high-energy breeds, and knowing how to exercise them indoors ensures they remain content and healthy throughout the season.

Taking good care of your pet is crucial, regardless of the weather. Consistent exercise, a balanced diet, and mental stimulation are essential elements of your dog’s well-being. While inclement weather can make it challenging to fulfill these needs, there are various ways to address them. If you have concerns about your dog’s health during the winter, consult with a veterinarian for advice and recommendations to ensure they stay in top shape.