Everyone has different feelings about winter; some people love it, others hate the cold and snow. No matter where you live or the time of year, it’s important to remember your dog requires physical AND mental stimulation to remain healthy and happy. Fulfilling your dog’s needs is how you earn that “best dog mom/dad” title and ensure your own sanity by limiting poor behaviors resulting from lack of activity. Every dog, no matter their age, breed, and activity level NEED some level of mental and physical exercise. Here are some of our favorite activities, both indoor and outdoor, for when the snow starts to fall.
Take a Hike
Winter can be one of the most beautiful times to explore the great outdoors. You can try a brand new trail, or enjoy an old favorite with your dog. Many areas also have trails you can adventure through using snowshoes or cross country skis, and with the lakes freezing over a whole new area becomes available to you and your pup!
For safety reasons, and to be respectful of others using the trails make sure to abide by leash requirements for each trail and clean up after your pet. Our access to these beautiful spaces is a privilege, and one we hope to enjoy for decades thanks to responsible recreation. Also, keep an eye on the temperature and use paw balm, booties, and a coat for your dog as needed.
Build a Puzzle
When stuck inside, everyday items can be used to create a new challenge for your dog. Give a second life to empty boxes, muffin tins, old towels, or anything you can use to safely hide treats. Simply stuff with treats or your dog’s kibble and let them work their brain trying to find the yummy snack! As your dog gets better and better you can increase the difficulty to keep them guessing.
Plan ahead for snow days when you know it’ll be hard to get outside by prepping a few KONGs or Lickimats to keep in the freezer. Having a few puzzles on hand and ready to go is the best way to make sure your dog will have something to keep them occupied even when your schedule is jam-packed.
Snow Scavenger Hunt
Nature also provides you with its very own puzzle each winter - SNOW! Especially when freshly fallen, the fluffy snow is the perfect place to hide treats for your dog. Simply grab some treats, toss them in the snow, and let your dog search! I would suggest using larger treats so the pieces don’t get totally lost and buried. Whenever giving your dog a puzzle, it’s critical that you recognize the difference between a reasonable challenge for your dog and a level of difficulty where they become frustrated. If the challenge is too great for your dog, make things a bit easier so the activity remains fun.
Teach a New Trick
Turns out, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! And better yet, they absolutely love learning new things! Whether it’s too chilly to go outside or you simply want to mix things up with a new mental exercise, teaching your dog a new command or a fun trick
can be a great option for keeping their brain active. Training is also a bonding activity for you and your dog, in addition to the obvious benefits of curbing unwanted behavior. Use the winter months to brush up on some basic obedience, or try your hand at a brand new command. Your dog will appreciate the attention and the opportunity to work their brain.
Practice Their Obedience with a Photoshoot
Snow can create one of the most beautiful settings for photos, and who doesn’t wish they had more photos of their best friend. Grab a handful of treats, your phone or camera, and head outside to search for a frame-worthy winter wonderland backdrop. Working on your dog’s basic obedience commands like “sit”, “stay”, and “look” can be a great way to give them some mental stimulation while you try to grab the best shot. Soon enough all your followers on Facebook and Instagram will be swooning over your perfect pup!
However you choose to spend the colder months, dogs can be the perfect distraction and the ultimate snuggle partner. Remaining mindful of your dog's mental and physical needs can be challenging when the temperatures drop, but it's crucial that you make time for them each day. Use this list as a starting point, and get creative! The possibilities are endless!
This post was written by Payton, who has raised three dogs for Custom Canines. She is currently CCSDA's Social Media & Marketing Coordinator as well as one of our Senior Trainers. Her passion for dogs, giving back, and photography has only grown during her time with our nonprofit. Payton has been quoted saying, "service dogs have stolen my heart, humbled me, lit a fire under me to keep learning more, and taught me how to live". She is pictured with one of her former trainees and one of our current breeding program dogs, Irish.
Pictured above, in order:
Irish & Padre: both raised by Payton, Irish & Padre spent lots of time outside enjoying the sunshine, no matter the season.
Irish: Last spring Irish, a current breeding program dog for CCSDA, took a road trip with Payton out to Colorado where they spent a week exploring together.
Padre: one of our graduated service dogs, who was placed with a veteran.
Kringle: a poodle puppy currently training with our Midwest puppy raising village.
O'Malley & Irish: Payton's personal dog, O'Malley, with CCSDA pup Irish during a snow day a few years ago.