By Margaret Meier Jones, Animal Wellness of Buffalo Valley
With winter nearly upon us, we tend to find ourselves curled up next to the fireplace with a blanket and warm cup of cider until the warmer weather returns. We fall out of the habit of taking our dog out for a long stroll through the park and keep them inside with us to avoid that bitter wind and slushy sidewalks. However, a dog’s exercise needs remain consistent all year and behavior problems often arise when these needs are not met. Similar to us, dogs can also develop “cabin fever” if they are cooped up inside for days on end. It’s important to keep them active and mentally stimulated every day, especially during the colder weather.
There are multiple ways to meet your dog’s exercise needs when the weather turns sour. Experiment with different games such as tug-of-war or fetch by alternating the toys and making it challenging by tossing the toy upstairs. Consider arranging a play date with your dog’s favorite dog friends, whether at the dog park or even your backyard. Practice some agility with your dog. Agility is a year-round sport and both humans and dogs can run, jump, and weave through tunnels. If you don’t have the time or budget to attend a class, make one in your living room with dining room chairs and boxes.
You can also keep your dog’s mind busy by making games out of eating breakfast or dinner. Dogs are natural scavengers, designed to spend hours searching for food. Rather than filling up their food dish at meals, put your dog’s kibble into a food puzzle or food ball. It’ll keep them busy for a while and satisfy their drive for hunting food. Another way to keep them occupied is to stuff a hollow toy or treat, such as a Kong or beef trachea, with canned food and freeze it. This may get messy, so it’s a good idea to put them in an area of the home you don’t mind getting a little dirty.
When all else fails, bundle up and head outside! Most dogs love snow and will get a thorough workout by running and diving through it. While you’re out, take a drive to your veterinarian’s office to engage your pet with the staff for a positive experience or stop at a pet-friendly store to have them meet other people and animals, maybe even pick out a new toy!