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Winter Activities That Are Fun

child and fluffy light brown dog playing in the snow

The nights are colder, the days are shorter, and your dog’s favorite chew toy is buried under ten inches of snow. What a perfect day to play with your dog. While not all dogs care for snow in the same way, they all still need regular exercise to stay fit and healthy for life. Here are few games you can try to help boost your dog's energy and fitness level over the next few winter months.

Treasure Hunt

Try burying a stick, toy, or even a treat in the snow. Then sit back and watch his natural tracking instinct kick in. For dogs that require a bit of help finding their reward, try hiding the object closer to your dog at first, then slowly burying it further away the better your dog gets at the game.

Fetch, Catch & Beyond

If your dog loves to fetch or catch rubber balls chances are he will love trying to do the same with snowballs. Fair warning: dogs really love this game so be prepared to make a large stockpile of snowballs, and be careful not to pack the snow too much.

The Big Roll

If you live near a hilly park try rolling snowballs down the bank. Your dog won't be able to get enough chasing and pouncing.

Hide & Seek

This game is ideal for two or more people. Have one person hold your dog while you go and hide, then have the dog come find you. This game should only be played in familiar places and less-enclosed settings—and only with well-trained dogs.

Snowshoe

If the snow isn’t outrageously deep, you can always have your dog join you for a snowshoe walk. Keep in mind you may have to leash your dog so be aware of the local park or trail bylaws.

Some popular people activities are simply too dangerous to try to include your dog. While cross-country skiing seems passive and relaxing enough, skis are fun to chase for dogs (they’re just giant fetching sticks) and your pet may end up injuring himself.

Of course, many of the activities you choose to play outdoors can be toned down and simplified into quieter indoor games as well, ""Hide & Seek"" and ""Treasure Hunt"" for example. If you share a dwelling, or live in an adjoining apartment, do be conscious of your neighbors and the noise level.

Playing Safe

Regardless of the season, safety should always remain top of mind when playtime rolls around. Here are a couple of safety tips to remember before and after venturing outside during the cold months.

Pace

Don’t overwork your dog and start with small simple activities at first. Cold temperatures are worse for dogs that suffer from arthritis and joint conditions. Also, be mindful of your dog’s age before deciding how much time you plan on spending outside.

Warmth

If you’re planning on being outside for an extended period of time, dress your dog accordingly. Avoid going out in deep-freeze weather altogether. And remember to keep your dog dry—while fur is an excellent insulator, many dogs do succumb to hypothermia in the winter.

Paws

Watch for icicles and snow building up on your dog’s paws. They make walking and running uncomfortable for your pet. Sidewalk salt can also cause your dog’s footpads to crack. Consider a pair of booties or rubbing your dog’s feet with a petroleum jelly product before each walk. Be sure to wash and wipe off the petroleum and salt once you come back inside.

Water

Often people just associate dehydration with heat and sweating. Your dog can become just as dehydrated playing in the snow. So be sure to carry a bottle of fresh drinking water for your dog. It’s cleaner and healthier than letting him eat snow.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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