The Weather Channel: Taking Care of Your Dog In The Winter
Dogs have lots of energy. And when they do not get enough outlets for that energy we can see an increase in attention-seeking behavior like barking and pawing and self-reinforced behaviors like inappropriate chewng and counter surfing! The cold weather and snow fall that we get in the winter can prevent us from taking our normal neighborhood walks, leaving our dogs frustrated and full of energy! So, how do we give our dogs those outlets they need when the weather keeps us inside?
Backpacking is one great way to turn that short neighborhood walk or trail hike into a full-body enriching and exhausting experience. Backpacks are designed to allow dogs to safely carry weight while walking, which can be convenient as they can carry snacks and water on the trail. By adding a little weight to a pack you can also tire your dog out faster if cold weather shortens your walks in the neighborhood.
Backpacks, like this Ruffwear Palisades pack, are safe and comfortable for dogs to use and appropriately distribute weight over the shoulders. We recommend that clients let their dog wear it empty to get used to the feeling before adding weight. You can reward your dog with treats for putting the backpack on and walking around in it to help them build a positive association with this new piece of equipment. As your dog gets comfortable, you can slowly increase the amount of weight your dog carries from 5% to 20% over the course of several weeks. Be sure to evenly pack the saddle bags so that the weight is even on both sides and the backpack stays level while walking. And as you head out on adventures giving your dog this new job, be sure to monitor their panting and any soreness so you can take a break or lighten the load as needed.
Food enrichment is another wonderful way to work your dog while inside this winter! All dogs have to eat daily, so we might as well use their food for some fun brain games! There are a variety of food puzzles on the market ranging from beginner-friendly toys to expert for those master level problem-solvers. Food puzzles can work the brain and body and help burn off some of their extra energy in a more positive manner.
When first offering a puzzle toy for your dog, make it easy! Our goal is that they can work through the puzzle successfully to get their food out. If the puzzle is too hard then it can leave them feeling frustrated instead of satisfied. Food puzzles that look like bowls with mazes and toys with larger openings will be easier, while the smaller holes and multi-level puzzles should be reserved for more experienced dogs.
Do you want to learn more about food puzzles? We have two free videos that you might enjoy! Whether you are looking to add to your toy collection or you want to get creative and make some DIY puzzles at home, we have you covered for all your food enrichment needs!
As we spend more time stationary indoors over the winter, our dogs can often lose muscle tone. This is not only harmful for their well-being and can result in an increased liklihood of injury, but it also makes it more dangerous for us to resume activity in the spring! The good news is that canine fitness is not only fun, but it can also be done right in your own home leaving you with a physically and mentally satisfied dog!
Canine fitness does not require a lot of fancy equipment. You can work on tricks like spin and obedience skills like sit and down. And for our youngsters or our dogs who may be more worried about their surroundings, we can help boost our dogs' confidence through some fitness activities with equipment.
One of the basic pieces of equipment that can be used for a variety of canine exercises is a foam balance pad! We can use these pads for foot targets, teaching back up, improving sits, building core, and more!
A great foundation activity to start with is sit on a platform. By practicing sit on a smaller target like the foam balance pad, our dogs have to use their brains to carefully move their feet and stay on the pad as they place their bum to the balance pad. This exercise can improve body awareness as they mindfully place all four feet on the foam pad and can also improve the form of their sit (from sloppy to square), which is important for their physical health!
If you have an older dog or one who is recovering from an injury, we recommend that you connect with a Veterinary team or Canine Rehabilitation Professional to help guide your fitness routine.
Trick training is another fun way to work your dog's brain and body while indoors. Tricks are not only a cool party trick! Certain tricks like hand targets can be used to teach your dog to come when called, tricks like spin can improve body awareness and fitness, and all tricks are a way for you and your dog to bond! A relationship based on trust and positive reinforcement training is a strong one!
Spin is a great beginner-friendly trick that will work your dog's brain and body, leaving you with a tired pooch ready to relax. Here you can find an easy-to-follow tutorial, so you can get started on teaching your dog something new!
As you start, be sure to work in short 3-5 minute mini sessions. I recommend that you work on direction at a time (either clockwise or counter-clockwise). You also will want to be sure that your dog has traction while practicing this, so look for carpet and rugs versus hardwood floors where they can slip.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your dog is given appropriate outlets for all of their energy. This way you can help set them up for success! A tired dog is a good dog... and that means an appropriate balance of both physical and mental exercise. By giving them new and productive things to do on their own and with you, you can avoid the headache of home destruction.
Keeping up with training through the winter can also help keep your dog well-mannered. We hope that this inspires you to pull out some treats and work on a few new skills with your dog this winter!