How To Exercise A Dog In Winter

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Dogs need exercise every day, even in the winter. Exercise is crucial to your dog's health and wellness, ensuring they can maintain a healthy weight and giving them a mental and physical activity to prevent boredom. Unfortunately, keeping up with your dog's exercise routine when it's cold outside can be challenging. Ice, snow, freezing temperatures, and harsh winds can make going outside unappealing and dangerous. Luckily, there are still ways you can exercise your dog during the winter. So if you're wondering how to exercise a dog in winter, you've come to the right place. This article will discuss the importance of exercise for dogs year-round and how you can exercise your dog indoors. 

Do Dogs Need As Much Exercise In Winter?

Dogs need exercise every day, no matter the time of year. Exercise benefits your dog's physical and mental health like it does for you. It's good for maintaining general health, maintaining weight, and burning off excess energy that can result in boredom or depression.1 In addition, ensuring your dog gets enough exercise is one of our holiday pet safety tips because it can reduce stress to help them feel calm around guests. 

All dogs need exercise, but how much your dog needs depends on their breed and current health condition. Working breeds are especially high-energy because they were bred to herd cattle or partake in other activities. For example, herding dogs need sports, hiking, and other vigorous activities. 

How Cold Is Too Cold For Dogs?

Exercising dogs in cold weather can be dangerous. As a general rule of thumb, if it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your dog. Therefore, if you find yourself uncomfortable outside in your winter coat, your dog is likely even more uncomfortable. Cold weather can be especially dangerous for small dogs and those with short fur. 

Most dogs can spend significant amounts of time outdoors when the temperature is above 45°F (7°C). However, when temperatures fall below freezing under 32°F (0°C), temperatures can be dangerous for many different types of dogs, especially young, short-haired, old, and sick dogs. If temperatures fall below 20°F (-7°C), dogs could become hypothermic or get frostbite while outdoors.2 

Keeping your dog safe in cold weather is crucial. However, every dog is different. For example, huskies love cold winter weather, but miniature pinschers are at a higher risk because they're small with short fur and can't keep themselves warm. When determining whether it's too cold for your dog, always consider their:

  • Breed: A dog's breed will determine its coat type. Some dogs originate from cold climates and have thick, double-layer coats, such as Huskies. However, dogs with thin coats are more susceptible to hypothermia. 
  • Size: In addition to breed, you should consider your dog's size. Small dogs are more vulnerable to cold weather, even if they have thick coats. 
  • Weight: Fat makes good insulation, so dogs with healthy weights are warmer outside during the winter. However, you should never increase your dog's food intake to make them gain weight for the winter because it could be dangerous to their health.2
  • Age: Your dog's age may also play a role. Old dogs are more vulnerable to cold weather because they don't regulate their body temperatures as easily. In addition, they might not move around well enough to keep themselves warm through physical activity in the winter. 
  • Health: Dogs with health conditions may have difficulty keeping themselves warm. Many illnesses impact a dog's ability to regulate body temperature, making them more vulnerable to cold weather.2

You should also consider the weather outside. Temperature is one of many indicators of how cold it is outside. While checking your weather app can help you gauge whether it's safe for your dog to go on a walk, you should also consider other factors, such as:

  • Wind chill: Wind chill refers to how the air temperature actually feels outside, combining the temperature with the wind. Cold winds make dogs even more vulnerable to cold weather and can make spending any time outdoors unbearable. 
  • Snow: Snow on the ground can make your dog feel even colder because they put their paws directly in the snow or on ice from snow that has melted and refrozen. Snow and ice can hurt your dog's paws and contribute to frostbite. 
  • Sunlight: Sunlight warms the air and the ground, making cold temperatures feel much warmer. Unfortunately, sunny days can be rare during the winter, depending on where you live. 

Weather factors to consider before taking your dog out for a walk

10 Indoor Exercises For Your Dog

Exercising your dog is crucial, but it's best to avoid long walks if it's too cold outside. Instead, you should still take your dog outside for potty breaks, but try to take them inside as soon as possible to prevent illness. Knowing how to exercise your dog when it's cold outside can help you maintain or improve their physical and mental health. Here are a few indoor exercises to try with your dog. 

Indoor exercises for your dog

1. Fetch

If you want to know how to exercise your dog when it's too cold outside, consider the activities you already know they enjoy. For example, if your dog loves playing fetch in the yard or at the park, consider bringing their favorite activity indoors. Of course, you should choose an area with enough space to let them jump and where a misfire won't break any of your favorite belongings. A long hallway or basement is a great place to engage your dog in some fetch to help them stay happy and fit. 

2. Hide And Seek Or Tag

Other fun games for your dog include hide-and-seek or tag. Of course, this might take some training, especially if your dog doesn't understand the premise of hide and seek. The easiest way to play hide-and-seek is by walking away from your dog and calling their name to see if they can find you. Of course, your dog should know basic commands, such as coming when called, to ensure they can properly engage in the activity. 

3. Obstacle Courses

Setting up an obstacle course in your home is another way to keep your dog physically and mentally engaged in an activity. You can find dog obstacle courses online and buy the proper equipment or make your own. For example, you can teach your dog to jump over ottomans or set up a maze that forces them to use their brain to find their way to you or a treat. 

4. Tug

Tug is another activity you can do anywhere if you have a sturdy rope toy. Playing tug can help dogs build confidence while giving them an activity to enjoy with you. Tug is a physical activity that forces your dog to use every muscle in their body to try to take the toy out of your hands. Of course, some people believe winning a game of tug can make your dog feel more dominant over you, but this isn't true. Instead, it's a great way to build a relationship with your dog by playing with them. 

5. Nose Work

Nosework, also called scent work, is a great way to engage your dog physically and mentally. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and they enjoy using it. Nose work activities allow dogs to use their sense of smell to find things like treats, toys, and even their human companions. The best part about nose work is that any dog can enjoy it. A few ways to engage your dog in nose work include:

  • Pick a hand: Put a treat in one of your hands and ask your dog to find it. 
  • Hide and seek: Hide treats around the home and let your dog run around trying to find them. 
  • Pick a cup: Take three cups and put your dog's favorite treat under one of them before mixing them up and asking your dog to choose which cup has the treats. 

6. Laser Toys

Laser toys aren't just for cats. Any pet with a strong prey drive can enjoy chasing a laser around the house, and it takes very little work from their human companions. If your dog loves to chase animals out of the yard, consider using a laser pointer to keep them active when spending more time indoors. 

7. Running Up And Down The Stairs

Learning how to exercise your dog when it's cold may take some creativity. While you might not be able to go for long walks or runs outdoors, you can still engage your dog in physical exercise inside. For example, if your dog has tons of energy, consider running up and down the stairs with them. This activity can help them burn excess energy that can contribute to destructive behavior. 

8. Exercise Classes

Exercise classes are another great way to keep your dog in shape this winter. First, your dog should have completed their basic training to ensure they'll be safe and know how to act around other dogs. Ideas for exercise classes include:

  • Swimming classes: Swimming is a healthy activity for dogs and humans because it's gentle on the joints, making it ideal for all types of dogs, including seniors. 
  • Yoga classes: Dog yoga, also known as doga, allows you to take your dog to yoga classes and try to teach them different moves. 
  • Agility classes: Agility dog training classes can take place indoors or outdoors. These classes come with the equipment you need to engage your dog in intense physical and mental exercise. 

9. Training

One of the best ways to exercise a dog in the winter is through training. You can teach your dog almost anything. While training doesn't seem like a very physical exercise, it can be exhausting for them because thinking and learning are difficult. Teaching your dog anything from how to shake hands to basic obedience can help tire them out when they have excess energy from spending more time indoors. 

10. Mental Exercise

Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise for dogs. Many activities on this list benefit your dog's physical and mental health, preventing boredom and burning off excess energy that can contribute to destructive behavior. In addition to physical activities, you should include mental activities in your dog's daily routine. For example, puzzle feeders, training, and interactive toys are some of the best holiday gifts for pets because they can keep your dog focused on an activity that burns energy. 

How To Keep Your Dog Warm In The Cold

How to keep your dog warm in the cold

Exercising dogs in cold weather means spending more time indoors, but unfortunately, dogs must still go outside from time to time. Unless your dog has been trained to use the toilet (and some have been!), you'll still have to go outside for potty breaks or walks if you don't have a yard. The best ways to keep your dog warm in the cold include the following:

  • Go out during the warmest time of day: Your dog's longest walk should be during the morning, but that can be difficult to do in the winter when it's cold until midday. Of course, consider taking your dog on shorter walks in the morning and letting them spend more time outside during the warmest time of day, typically the early afternoon. 
  • Use jackets and sweaters: If your dog has a thin coat, consider giving them jackets and sweaters they can wear when it's cold outside. Of course, your dog's clothing should fit comfortably under their harness and around their body. 
  • Protect their paws: Your dog loses most of their body heat through their paw pads, ears, and breathing. Unfortunately, snow, ice, and salt can harm your dog's paws, so they might need protection. Consider carrying your dog outside to avoid ice or snow and picking them up when they've completed their business. You can also invest in boots or paw wax for additional protection. 

When your dog goes outside, always monitor them. Dogs can get colds, hypothermia, and frostbite. Dog cold symptoms include sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes. Meanwhile, it can be difficult to spot when your dog is too cold if you're not paying attention. For example, if your dog starts to lift their paws while on walks, stops walking completely, begins shivering, or shows signs of discomfort like whimpering, it's highly likely that they're getting too cold and should be carried home. 

How To Exercise A Dog In Winter: FAQs

When should you not walk your dog?

Most healthy dogs can spend up to 20 minutes or more outside in temperatures above 20°F (-7°C). However, small dogs, puppies, and seniors should not spend extended time outside in this weather. In addition, if you start getting too cold to be comfortable outdoors in your winter coat, your dog is likely too cold. 

How do I know if my dog is warm enough?

Dogs that are too cold will begin shivering, holding their paws off the ground, or stop moving on walks. You'll know your dog is warm if they're enjoying their walk. However, since they can't tell you when they're too cold or comfortable, you should monitor them whenever they spend time outside. 

Do dogs need clothes in winter?

Some dogs may benefit from wearing coats, sweaters, and boots in the winter, especially if it's below freezing outside. Small dogs and those with short coats are more vulnerable to cold weather, so it's always better to be safe by giving them clothes they can wear to help them stay warm. 

Two dogs playing in the snow

Final Notes

Knowing how cold is too cold for your dog in the winter can prevent serious illnesses and ensure your dog's health and safety. However, dogs still need exercise, especially puppies and high-energy working breeds. Knowing how to exercise a dog in winter can ensure your dog gets the exercise they need to be happy and healthy this season. 

Taking care of your pet is crucial, no matter the season. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and mental stimulation are crucial. Unfortunately, ensuring your dog gets enough exercise can be difficult when you're stuck inside due to harsh weather conditions. Talk to a Dutch vet if you're worried about your dog's health. Dutch can help you ensure your dog maintains their health this winter with tips and tricks to help them stay in shape. 

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References

  1. "Benefits of Exercising with Your Dog." VMBS News, 11 Mar. 2022, https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/benefits-of-exercising-with-your-dog/.

  2. "How Cold Is Too Cold for Your Dog?" PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/how-cold-too-cold-dog.

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