Older dogs don’t always tolerate the cold as well as they may have done, in their younger years. In spite of that, getting exercise is important no matter what the conditions outside are.
A coat over a sweater, walking around a big box store and teaching him how to use a treadmill are just 3 of many great tips…so keep reading!
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A two-part post
I’m dividing this article into two parts. The first will talk about how to prepare your dog for those winter walks, and the second will list specific ways to exercise your dog.
Keep Them Warm Outside
There are many clothing options for dogs as I’m sure you’ve noticed, so keeping them warm while on a walk isn’t that difficult. You should invest in a sweater and a coat he can wear over it. There are many styles to choose from, so when deciding pay attention to how easy it is to put on and take off. Some dogs have limited patience, like mine does, so if it takes too long it’s game over. For that reason I ended up crocheting quite a few for Jack. I followed this super easy Youtube video.
This link is for the type of sweater I like to buy, and here’s why:
◊ It’s quite easy to get on and off
◊ The neck is high for added warmth
◊ It’s soft and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time
◊ The sweater is flat in the back. Some have a rounded end that is supposed to fit over their butt
◊ It has a slit in the back for those whose dogs wear a harness
◊ It doesn’t have the elastics that go over the legs to stop the back from flying up in the wind. It is a helpful feature, but my dogs don’t like it!
Most coats don’t cover a dog’s stomach, so they end up with soaking wet fur. I bought a lined raincoat with an extra panel that does cover it, and it’s amazing. The picture above is of Red wearing that raincoat over a sweater. I bought it ages ago on Amazon and it’s not there now, but they do have a lot of coats that offer more coverage.
Doggie pants and onesies/pajamas, are great for providing warmth to areas coats and sweaters don’t.
The warmer your dog is, the greater the chance he or she will be willing to venture out…even if it’s just 5-10 minutes at a time.
Helpful tip: Before putting on a sweater, I would drape it over the radiator for a minute to warm it up a bit.
Now that we’ve talked about clothing, protecting your dog’s paws from the cold and ice are next on the list.
One option are booties which are the best protection, but not every dog will agree to wear them. There are a few styles so if he doesn’t like one, he may be okay with another. The benefit of buying in a pet supply store is, you can usually try them on so you know, on the spot, if he’ll wear them or not.
One style of waterproof booties look like deflated balloons and they are super popular. When I was in Canada last winter with my dog, I spoke to a lot of dog parents who say they’re fantastic. They didn’t work for Jack because if something takes too long to put on him, he gets a little annoyed. For size reference, he’s a MalteseX and needed an xs.
I finally found a pair he was okay with, but they were made of felt so of course they didn’t keep his paws very dry. They were great in terms of protection from salt which was most important. They would work if you’re looking for something purely to protect against cold, and don’t have to deal with snow and ice.
The picture above is of Jack looking very unhappy! We don’t live where it snows so this took some getting used to. He’s bundled up in a coat I crocheted, another waterproof winter coat on top and the felt booties I mentioned.
If any kind of bootie is out of the question, I recommend you buy paw wax. One of my dogs put up such a fuss, wax is the only thing she let me put on and it was amazing. It protected her paws from the pain of walking on ice.
Be Careful of What’s Under the Snow
Black ice, sharp objects and holes are all potential hazards, but we can’t see them to avoid them. If your dog is used to walking off leash, you may want to keep him leashed just in case.
Walking in the Snow is Hard!
You can get a pretty good workout just walking through the snow, but think about the strain on an old dog’s heart and joints. When out for a walk, try and stick to paved paths and keep an eye on the clock.
Get Them Dry Right Away
As soon as you get home, take off your dog’s wet clothes and dry him off. I always keep a towel by the door, so the dogs don’t track paw prints throughout the house. It can also be harder to catch them once they’ve scampered off.
Now that we’ve got all the talk about prep work out of the way, let’s look at exercise options.
Walks are best, but some days, despite our best efforts, venturing out for anything more than potty breaks is out of the question.
NOTE: In this article, exercise is not only physical exercise but mental stimulation as well. Keep a dog’s mind occupied is as important as exercising him. It will help stave off boredom and even tire him out.
Have you heard of mall walking? I think it’s a great way to keep people active, and give them a chance to socialise. Why not adapt that for your dog? While most malls, at least in my experience don’t allow dogs, many big box stores do. Load up the car and take your dog for a walk, even if you have nothing to buy. Once around the store can be a great workout, and it’s a change of scenery which will do everyone some good.
Play Fetch in the House
Even if you have a short hallway, you can still get in a game of fetch. Simply throw a favorite toy, encourage him to bring it back and give him a treat. If you haven’t played this game before, sit on the floor and start by dropping the toy right in front of you. As he gets the hang of it, throw it further and further away.
Create an Obstacle Course…in the House
You can find lots of pieces online to create your own obstacle course, or make your own for free.
◊ Hold or hang a hula hoop and let your dog walk through it. How high off the ground will depend on his mobility.
◊ Rest each end of a broom handle (or something similar) on a brick or pillow, and have your dog walk over it. Again, mobility issues will determine the height.
◊ Buy cones in the dollar store, space them out and guide your dog through them.
See where I’m going with this?
Make a Ball Pit
All you need is a kiddie pool, plastic balls and you’ve got yourself a ton of fun. If the balls aren’t too deep, try hiding treats and see what happens! If you don’t have a pool, a cardboard box will do.
Training, tricks, agility, games and more. Check your local area for the types of classes offered that might be the right fit for your dog.
Up and Down the Stairs
If your still is in good enough shape, stand at the top of the stairs, throw him a favorite toy and have him bring it to you. If you have too many stairs, sit on a step you know he can comfortably reach.
Visit a Doggy Friend
If you haven’t seen much of your friends lately, now is the perfect time to pay them a visit…especially those who have a dog. Not only will the change of scenery do both of you some good, your dog will have a friend to run around and play with. He’ll also have some new toys to discover!
Play Hide and Seek
Whether you hide the treats or yourself, this is a fun game with great rewards for the effort. If you’re hiding, be sure there’s an extra special treat for when he finds you.
A quick search of “indoor swimming pools for dogs” will bring up a list of swimming or hydrotherapy pools in your area. It’s such a great form of exercise in all weather, and perfect for achy joints.
Walk on a Treadmill
It’s possible to teach your dog how to walk on a treadmill, and they even sell them especially made for dogs. Start off on the slowest speed, no incline and see how he goes.
Buy them or make them, puzzle toys come in varying degrees of difficulties to challenge even the cleverest dogs. This is the one I have for Jack and he likes it. There are varying levels of difficulty, so it can be as easy or difficult as your dog can handle.
Play the Cup Game
As I write this, I realise it’s been a long time since I played this game with my dog Jack.
I took 3 cups, easy enough to knock over but not too easy they wouldn’t stand up. With him watching, I would put a tasty treat under one of the cups. I would them move them around a couple of times and let him find the right one. He was rewarded with food, which he loves, and a ton of praise from me.
Teach Your Dog New Tricks
Even if your dog is well trained, there are probably a few tricks you can still teach him. It’s a great cure for boredom.
Treat Dispensing Toys
Fill them with treats and watch them fall our as your dog rolls them across the floor, or watch him try and get the treat out on his own! A Kong is a great example, and you can even freeze it to make it more challenging.
Burying food or treats in the snuffle mat and letting your dog find them is a great boredom reliever, as well as fun.
Chew Toys or Bones
Potentially long lasting and a great boredom buster. They’re available in a wide range of sizes and types, some with meat on them and some without. You’re bound to find one or more to interest your pup.
Which Hand Holds the Treat
Another game I played with Jack was to put a piece of chicken in one hand, hold them both out for him to find.
How do you make sure your dog gets enough exercise in the winter? Sharing helps others so please leave a comment below, or on my Facebook page.