You and your dog are active buddies during warm-weather months. Winter doesn’t have to slow you down. Snow sports are a great way to take the edge off if you have an energetic dog who loves the outdoors, and you indoor types -- canine and human -- have options as well.
If your dog is already conditioned from regular activity, you’re good to go. If you’re both new to winter sports, condition him—and yourself—gradually, just as you would do for any activity.
Of course, you’ll need to make adjustments for the weather. In cold temperatures or snow, dogs with thin or short coats as well as seniors and small dogs benefit from an insulating waterproof coat, especially if the temperature drops below freezing. If snow is deep, it’s smart and kind to choose a coat that will protect the delicate and vulnerable genital area. Booties can be beneficial if your dog will be walking on salt-covered surfaces or has hairy feet that will collect ice balls, but only if they fit well, are comfortable and don't rub against the dog's paws. If your dog doesn't wear boots, soak their paws for a few seconds in a bowl of water to remove the ice.
Now that you’ve got Fido all dressed, here are four ways to have fun with together outside and inside when cold weather sets in.
- Hiking or snowshoeing. You don’t have to stop your treks through woods and wild places just because the temperature drops. You can both go on foot, but if it’s snowy outside, consider strapping on a pair of snowshoes. Your dog doesn't need them; their paws are already equipped for traversing the snow. Places you can snowshoe include your neighborhood, golf courses, some wilderness areas or national and state park trails, or Nordic or snowshoe centers. Be sure to get those ice balls out of your dog’s paws when you get home, or consider outfitting them with booties. When you come back inside, dry them thoroughly with the DRYDOG DUAL MAT 2-in-1 Bath Mat & Towel or DRYDOG TOWEL.
- Skijoring. This Nordic sport—being pulled on cross-country skis by one or more dogs—is a natural for breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies, but any athletic, conditioned dog who is at least one year old and weighs 35 pounds or more can enjoy it. Smaller dogs can skijor, too, but expect to do most of the propulsion yourself. Equipment includes a skijor belt or rock-climbing harness and a 7- to 20-foot bungee line. You can find beginning skijoring classes at Nordic ski centers or work with a trainer or experienced skijorer.
- Nose work. This fun activity employs your dog’s powerful sense of smell and can be done indoors or outdoors. Believe it or not, snow doesn’t bury odors, so your dog can find it in piles of snow. The great thing about nose work is that you can play it indoors or out, depending on your tolerance for cold weather. Look online to find some fun ways to harness your dog’s “scentsability.”
- Indoor games. If you rand your dog would both rather stay indoors, play that stimulates your dog’s mind and exercises their body is still possible. One of the easiest can be done while you sit on the sofa. Toss a handful of kibble or tiny treats on the floor, say "find it," and let your dog go to work with their nose. Or place a treat in each cup of a muffin tin and cover some of them with tennis balls or other dog toys. Then let your dog have at it. See how long it takes them to find the covered treats. The muffin-tin game tests your dog’s memory and encourages dogged perseverance. Toss a ball down the hall for your dog to chase and fetch.
When your done, whether you’ve been playing together outside or indoors, snuggle on the sofa and enjoy each other’s company. You’ve earned it!
Kim Campbell Thornton is content manager for Fear Free Pets and is a Level 3 Fear Free Certified Professional. She has been writing about dogs, cats, wildlife and marine life since 1985 and is a recipient of multiple awards from the Cat Writers Association, Dog Writers Association of America, and American Society of Journalists and Authors. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s competing in nose work trials with Harper, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.