Bundle Up! 4 Activities to Get Outdoors with Your Dog This Winter
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
Winter can be a long stretch for an active dog owner. There are a few indoor activities to get into, but every dog owner knows that there’s nothing better than the great outdoors for exercise, training opportunities, and a happy, healthy mutt. It can be hard to drag ourselves off the couch when the weather is less than ideal, but even the grumpiest dog and owner will benefit from some winter-time excursions.
Now that you’ve managed to muster up the motivation, and spent the necessary hour or so to bundle yourself, your dog, and any of the rest of your family that will be coming along, where should you go? Inclement weather can make normal outdoor activities with your dog much more complicated. Some can even turn downright dangerous without appropriate considerations.
There’s nothing we care about more at Zoo Snoods than the health and happiness of your pets. Take the time to plan out your winter activities and your dog will thank you. Let's brave the chilly weather together!
Safety Considerations: Bundle Up!
I know you’re probably tired of reading the often-repeated, but terribly crucial, advice to contact your veterinarian, but if you are unsure about your dog’s compatibility with cold weather, then this is the only course of action to take. Older dogs, those with health conditions, and some breeds should not be subjected to frigid weather for extended periods.
Even the toughest mutt should be protected in cold weather. If you haven’t already picked up a winter time Zoo Snood for your dog, a winter activity is the perfect excuse. Dogs lose a surprising percentage of heat through their head and ears, and a snood will keep them warm and dry in the coldest season.
Of course, the rest of them should be comfy as well. Consider jackets and boots for long excursions and always have plenty of dry towels (and a backup snood) on hand. Dogs are the same as humans, we don’t mind the cold until we get wet. Once your dog is wet, or if they are showing signs of discomfort, consider cutting the activity short.
Lastly, and often over-looked, you should always bring lots of fresh water on winter excursions with your dog. Just because it’s cold, or even wet, doesn’t mean your dog won’t become dehydrated. In fact, if they are bundled up, they may become dehydrated even faster than they normally would.
The best activity to do outside with any dog in the winter is scent work. Scent work can be anything from finding drugs at the airport with your dog to a hunt for their favorite stuffy in your back yard. No matter how seriously you take it, it will always be a fun game for your dog.
It is much easier to start a dog on scent work in the winter, and it’s also easier for experienced dogs to excel. Without the distractions that spring, summer, and fall are riddled with, even a beginner pair can see a lot of progress.
The wonderful thing about scent work, or scent games, is that any dog can participate, they cost nothing, and you can set them up in almost any location. Each location presents a new set of challenges, variety, and fun! Dogs that don’t enjoy or can’t tolerate the cold can work in a park close to your house, a short trail near a shopping complex, or even your back yard. Those dogs that don’t mind being out all day will enjoy scent work in large fields, long trails, or anywhere else that you don’t mind spending the day hiding objects.
Don’t rob your small dog of the experience if the game is something that interests you. They will enjoy it just as much as a basset hound.
So How Do I Get Started?
The simplest way to start scent work with your dog is to hide treats. While this won’t stimulate their brains as much as working them on a specific smell or object, but it requires very little training. It helps to start this activity inside, with very low distractions and the treats should be very easy to find.
Put your dog in another room while you hide the treats. Decide on a word to start the activity, like “find” and release your dog. Now is a good time to also introduce some guidance words like “hot” and “cold.” Don’t get discouraged if they just stare at you for a while. You may need to show them the hidden treats the first few times, but after they understand the game, resist the urge to continue “helping” them.
Now that they know the game, feel free to take it outside. A blanket and a crate are the go-to starting location for pro scent hounds, but a vehicle, hitch point, or assistant works well too.
Scent work is a great opportunity for you to learn patience in training, and for your dog to learn persistence. Try not to get discouraged and always keep your dog’s experience positive. The reward will be worth the effort. You’ve never seen a dog more excited than when they find treasure in a pile of snow.
I don’t know about you, but a standard hike is not quite as fun for me in chilly conditions. In fact, after a few hours, things can get downright miserable. Instead, why not consider geocaching with your dog? Geocaching is a game intended for humans, but made better by dogs. After downloading an app, you’ll be given some coordinates and hints on your phone that lead to the location of a hidden cache.
The cache has items left by other geocachers that you may keep, and it is custom that you leave one yourself. The hike to a geocache can be long or minimal, and the searching is where it gets fun. This means that as a winter time activity goes, this one is great for any type of dog. Dogs enjoy treasure hunting just as much as humans, and some of them may even join in.
So How Do I Get Started?
Start by buying some small treasures to leave in the cache once you find one. A pack of toys works well, but some folks even make custom items. You can download any of the geocaching apps, but pay close attention to their reviews as some of them have died off or have a paywall to use. Once you have your treasures and app ready, it’s time to go treasure hunting.
Your dog can just come along for the ride, or they can help you search. Some smarter canines will catch on to the game on their own, but a pocket full of treats can connect the dots for most. Reward them heavily if they find the cache before you do. If you spot the cache first, just wait to get excited until your dog noses it. The more times they get rewarded for finding the cache, the more quickly they will catch on to the game.
Each cache is different, so it can be a complicated concept for your dog. The good news is that even if they don’t participate in the hunt, they will have a very good time accompanying you.
Build a Snow Course
We’ve all seen the jumps and the weave poles of a standard agility course on our T.V.s at some point or another, but have you ever wondered if there was a more accessible version of that for you and your dog?
The short answer is yes. Dog agility is a wonderful activity for humans and dogs. It builds our bond, works their brains, and exercises their body, but even the greatest agility dogs started small. While they may have started small on expensive agility equipment, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of benefit teaching your dog to navigate homemade obstacles.
One of the best times to build your own agility course for your dog is when there is snow on the ground. You can use snow to really let your imagination run wild. While you may be stuck buying equipment to build obstacles other times of the year, snow can be used to make jumps, tunnels, and ramps that cost no money at all.
Even small breeds like agility courses, so don’t skip this option just because your best bud has short legs.
So How Do I Get Started?
There are two types of people in the world, those that run out and build and those that plan. If you are fairly certain that your dog will excel at a snow course, then it might serve you better to plan before you build. If you think you’ll be lucky to get them over a single jump, then charting an entire course may be a waste of time.
Collect some pole or board like items around your house. This can include broom handles, ladders, shovels, or anything else you don’t mind getting wet. Your dog will need to know how to follow a treat in your hand to train them on your obstacles, so you may want to practice this a few times inside before everyone gets bundled up.
Once you’re outside, try a simple ramp first. Build a pile of snow and lead your dog over it for a reward on the other side. For added challenge, make sure they don’t skip any parts of the ramp, even when traversing it quickly. You can make the ramp tall or small, and if you think you’ve nailed it, just try asking them to “ramp” from far away.
After that, try two mounds with a broom handle stretching between them. The challenge here is that they jump the handle instead of going underneath it. It always helps to position the handle too low for them to go under for your first several attempts, and raise it once they’ve gotten the idea. Again, asking them from farther away (not leading them with a treat) will prove more challenging than you expect.
Construct tunnels, ramps, and jumps until you can run a course. Change up the course sequence or compete for time to make things truly challenging.
If you live in a very snowy climate, and have a dog that enjoys it, you’d be missing out if you didn’t try skijoring. Skijoring combines your dog’s natural fondness of long-distance running and pulling with a pair of cross-country skis. You can skijor with one or multiple dogs, and the training is not terribly difficult until you get competitive.
However, skijoring is the least accessible activity on this list. You will need a special harness for your dog, a bungee-like tug rope to connect you to them, a harness for yourself, and a pair of cross-country skis. While it might be tempting to use a cheap harness and standard rope, neither are built for pulling. Pulling harnesses and flexible ropes both contribute to spreading your weight out so that you don’t wind up injuring your dog.
There also aren’t as many dogs capable of skijoring. Typically, medium to large athletic dogs enjoy this sport the most. It’s hard to imagine a small dog pulling long distances, but they may enjoy running beside you on your skis.
So How Do I Get Started?
Join a club! Seriously, this activity is better with guidance and friends. If a club is not available to you, or you’d prefer to try things on your own, you’ll just need to secure the equipment and pick some trails. I’d highly encourage you to teach some skijoring specific commands, because you’ve likely spent your dog's whole life teaching it not to pull and it’s only fair to help them understand the difference.
Typically, once you get skiing, it won’t be long until your dog starts to outpace you. When they pull into their harness, encourage them and offer your “hike” command. Your only goal for now is to encourage their pull. If instead, you have a dog that you know will pull, you may want to start training commands in the harness without skis on.
Whichever you choose, expect a few wipeouts and keep your sessions very short and positive. Teaching “whoa” will be your first huge challenge, but eventually you’ll even have steering with “Gee” (right) and “Haw” (left) and a plethora of other pulling commands.
Snoods and Snow Pups
It’s important to get out there in the winter, for their mental health and your own. Going on walks is essential, but bonding over an activity with your dog is invaluable. It’s also a lot more fun! Beat away the winter blues with a new adventure for you and your canine.
Whichever activity you choose, we’ve got your snoods. The only way to enjoy the winter is to stay warm, and that goes for your dog as well. It can be an extra step to bundle up, but your dog will thank you once they get a few warm hours in the sunshine. Just don’t forget to send us a picture of the fun. See you out there!