Exercising dogs in winter

It’s horrid outdoors. You don’t really feel like going out. But your beloved dog needs exercise, so off you go cheerfully into the cold and the gloom. But hang on a minute… winter is different, and exercising your dog in winter is an entirely different thing to summer and spring exercise. Here are some top tips to help you give your dog all the winter exercise they need in comfort, safely and enjoyably, our guide to how to exercise a dog in winter.

Dog walking in winter

Can other people see you and your dog in the dark? It makes a lot of common sense to wear reflective clothing for yourself and a high vis harness or other reflective wear for your dog. You can even get handy clip-on LED collar lights.

It’s really cold underfoot, and your dog will feel it. Many breeds are built to cope with the outdoors perfectly naturally, but it’s essential to protect their paws against salt and grit by giving them a gentle wash in warm water when you get home, to prevent cracking and drying. Wipe down your dog’s tummy and legs too, to get rid of any irritating grit or salt.

Like humans, dogs can get arthritis as they age, which makes the cold weather very uncomfortable. Your vet is the best bet for sensible advice tailored to your pet.

Indoor winter dog activities

Indoor games are great if the weather is nasty. Dogs are fantastic at finding lost and hidden items, great fun for both of you. And they adore learning new things, which means winter is great for extra training. You could even learn tricks together!

Dogs love playing on the stairs, and stair play is wonderfully tiring. Throw a favourite toy up or down the stairs for your dog to fetch and they’ll exercise all sorts of different muscle groups as well as exercising their intelligence and skill. Dogs are clever. You can teach them the names of items and they’ll remember them. Because a dog needs to exercise their mind as much as their body, a few lessons will go down a storm.

Doggie basketball is huge fun! Take one ordinary laundry basket or a cardboard box. Drop a ball into it to show your dog what you want them to do, saying “drop”. It’s simple, but very effective. You can also spend time making an obstacle course in your home, using thrilling things like tunnels, hoops, jumps, and things to weave around. You don’t need special dog equipment – furniture, sofa cushions, blankets and old pillows do the trick.

How to keep dogs warm in winter

Some dogs feel the cold more than others. When you know your dog well you can tell when they’re uncomfortable or miserable. Your dog might look really cute in a winter coat, but take care they don’t get too hot; tThey might start off on a walk nice and warm but soon get hot and fed up. Make sure to monitor their doggie emotions!

In winter, frequent short walks are better for your dog than a single long walk. If your weekday walkies are cut short by the dark and cold, make up for it at weekends with an interesting walk, ideally somewhere new and different. There are also indoor Dog Agility classes all over the country, perfect fun for terrible weather.

Some dogs just can’t resist jumping into water… but it’s far too cold in winter. Do your best to prevent them from leaping into freezing cold water. If they do, get home as fast as you can, dry them off and make sure they’re fully warmed through after their ordeal. Like humans, dogs can easily get hypothermia.

Protect dog paws in winter

You can protect your dog’s paws in winter by carefully trimming the hair around the paws, especially if they have a lot of feathery hair on their paws. This ensures the minimum of hair comes into contact with the ground, and the feet stay drier. It also helps prevent ice balls forming between their toes, which can be very painful for the dog. You can also use Bag Balm or another kind of special paw wax on the pads to protect against the cold and salt.

Bear in mind that ice can cut a dog’s paw pads and make them very sore. If you can, stick to the grass where it’s softer and less sharp. And remember that ice on rivers, ponds and lakes might look like fun to run on, nice and solid, but ice can crack and your dog could end up drowning.

If it’s too cold for a long walk, cut down the distance. Keep an old towel in your car or handy at home so you can dry him or her off straight away so they don’t have to stay wet for any longer than necessary. A lovely warm blanket or towel can be really comforting.

Dog booties prevent injury to a dog’s feet, keeping them safe from salt, ice balls and cuts. It’s important to get the exact right size of boot so they’re comfortable. If they don’t like their boots at first, you should be able to train your dog to actually enjoy wearing them.

A lot of the advice about walking dogs in winter is common sense. Follow our guide and you will both have a winter-wonderland of a time together!

Top 10 tips for exercising your dog in winter
  1. When walking your dog in the dark ensure you use reflective wear or clip-on LED collar lights.
  2. Protecting dog paws in winter – remember to clean your dog’s paws with a warm wet cloth when you return home to remove any salt or grit. If not washed this can easily cause irritation and pain as it encourages the paw to dry out and ultimately crack. Also wipe down their legs and belly too.
  3. Try to you walk your usual route so not to confuse your dog.
  4. Make sure you wrap up, take a phone and a torch in case of an emergency.
  5. Indoor games are great if the weather isn’t very good. Dog toys are great to hide and get the dog to seek. See Dog exercise and play for more ideas.
  6. Dog Agility classes. There are great indoor dog agility classes that you can go to and burn some of that energy off, why not give it a go.
  7. Tricks and Training. There is always time to top up with dog training or use this time to teach them something new. Remember, Repeat, Reward and Reinforce, see Dog Training for new tips and tricks.
  8. Exercise more at the weekend. While regular exercise is best, if it’s too dark to go out at night try to walk them a bit further at the weekend.
  9. Joint Care, if your dog suffers from arthritis please take the cold into consideration as the cold can aggravate the joints. Speak to your vets for advice during the winter period.
  10. Frozen lakes and ponds. Some winter days can be freezing and dogs love jumping into dirty, muddy water. Please take extra care and when you can, deter them from jumping into water as this can cause hypothermia.

Last tip…… dogs body temperature is slightly warmer than ours, so next time you are cold instead of grabbing your blanket cuddle up to your dog.