When gray skies and cold weather roll in, you -- like us -- may be tempted to leave your dog’s leash hanging on its hook and hibernate instead under a blanket on the couch. But there’s no need to put playtime on hold until spring – known as “mud season” here in Maine. Here are some ideas for fun outdoor and indoor activities to shake things up during cold weather.
8 ways to have fun with your dog this winter.
- Play fetch with snowballs or a winter-proof toy. Do you live in snow country? Enjoy the running room of a fenced yard or dog park and pack some snowballs for your pup to chase. Some dogs just love bounding through the drifts. Bring along a weatherproof toy. The kind with with a long rope tail is less likely to get lost under the fluffy stuff. Or pick out a toy from nature -- what dog doesn’t love a well-seasoned branch? For the record, my Bella isn’t a “fetch” kind of girl, but she appreciates when others put the effort in for her. She’s a vicarious exerciser…she may get that from me!
- Create or find the perfect winter sweater for your pooch. Have you tried purchasing snuggly warm clothes for your dog? A visit to your local pet store is just the ticket. You can repurpose your own unused sweaters into dog clothes, too. A sleeve can become a coat. The cuff becomes a collar! You’ll have to be crafty to cut and bind holes for the legs, but boho is all the rage, as are unfinished edges. Our dachshund Lucy (RIP) was a fashionista with a sweater I knit from the ends of a scarf for my daughter. Lucy was one colorful sausage!
- Skijoring with your dog. If your best buddy is fit and energetic, they can get especially antsy during the long winter months. You’ve no doubt heard of dog-sledding, but how about skijoring, the winter sport of cross-country skiing with your dog? There are associations and local clubs that can help get you started, or you can even get involved in competitions if your dog loves to run! Bella, however, will be enjoying this sport from inside a toasty lodge.
- Play outdoor hide-n-seek. If your dog only ventures off your porch to poop and pee when the weather is cold, give them a little extra incentive to poke around. Fill a Kong or other stuffable toy with peanut butter and tuck it a hiding spot atop a garden bench or behind the snow shovel for your dog to discover. If it’s too cold for your dog to spend a half hour in the snow licking away at their stuffed prize, set a few dry chewable treats here and there for your pup to find and gulp down before they come back inside to warm up. If your dog really, really hates the cold, bring your hide-n-seek game indoors.
- Shovel out a maze for your dog. Some dogs really love to follow a trail, so grab a shovel and create a twisting, winding pathway in the snow. Add a few t-intersections and dead-ends for a bit of a surprise. A maze may coax even the most reticent dog to be a bit more adventurous outdoors. After each play session, be sure to check your pup’s furry feet to be sure they are free of the salt from the streets or paths. Stinging toes ruin all the fun.
- Cuddle in for a movie. While it’s important that you and your dog don’t miss out on fresh air and outdoor exercise, there’s something to be said about snuggling in together under a warm blanket for a little TV binge-watching. Bella certainly loves her cuddle time, along with a tongue bath from Moose the cat.
- Warm things up with home-baked dog treats. Get that kitchen oven cranking and fill your home with the wonderful smell of home baked cookies. Your dog will love easy-to-make baked dog cookies made with wholesome, simple ingredients. We make Bella snacks with whole wheat flour, eggs, pumpkin, and peanut butter. Go super-simple with this three-ingredient oatmeal biscuit: just oatmeal, peanut butter, and banana!
- Make an adventure out of visiting dog-friendly stores. Winter is a great time to get some home projects done. If you are jumping into the car to pick up a few items at the hardware store, get your dog away from the house by inviting them to ride along for a warm winter adventure. Check the store’s dog-friendly status online. If it’s your dog’s first shopping trip, make it a quick stop for a single item or two until you learn how well they tolerate the new sights, smells, and sounds of commercial buildings.
“Dooloop it” in winter, too.
I know that it’s tempting to leave dog waste behind during cold, snowy weather, hoping that new snow will soon hide those poop-bombs under a pristine blanket of whiteness. Although we know you’d rather keep your hands in your warm coat pockets, it’s especially important to clean up waste during the winter. It can accumulate to alarming levels, especially in community areas where so many pet parents bring their dogs to play. Those brown pup-nuggets are SO easy to scoop out of the fresh snow, but if you wait until they freeze solid or melt into mush, then…. yuck! With the first thaw, melting snow will wash the poop – and the parasites, bacteria, and nutrients it contains – across lawns and into streams and storm drains. The microscopic creepy-crawlies can infect other animals and the nutrients can overload streams to produce algae blooms that smother out aquatic life.
It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) a dooloop will be your bestie in the cold. Keep a couple of empty poop bags slung through your dooloop so they are ready when needed. Pull them halfway through or tie them on to keep them secure. Here’s a pro tip from Bella’s significant other: If your hands are really cold, you can even wait to knot your newly filled poop bag until you get home. Just pull it through tight enough to be secure. I always assumed a knot was required, but...nope!
So, enjoy the beauty of winter while it’s here. Get out and play!