By Ashley Gallagher, DVM
Cold weather and short days make it is easy for both us and our pets to get a bit lazy in wintertime. Nevertheless, it's important to stay active to maintain a healthy body condition and optimal health, even when the outdoor temperature drops. Here are a few tips to help you and your dog stay busy this winter.
Most dogs will enjoy a stroll on a brisk day. However, keep in mind that sidewalks treated with salt or chemicals to prevent ice can be harmful to your dog. Use booties to protect his paws or rinse them off once you come inside to prevent irritation and keep him from ingesting any reside that might be left. Also if your dog has short hair, consider having him wear a coat.
There are many ways to stimulate his mind and body without venturing into the winter weather. Offer his meals in a feeding toy rather than just a food bowl. Studies have shown that dogs enjoy their food more when they have to work for it. This will also slow down how fast he eats which can help prevent serious gastrointestinal conditions.
There are two simple ways to make giving your dog treats more interesting — use a treat-dispensing toy or play a game of hide a seek using the treats. Start by keeping your dog in one room while you hide treats in another. Then let him loose to find all the hidden goodies. Make the treats fairly obvious to find in the beginning so he understands the game, and then work up to more elaborate hiding places.
There are countless tricks and training lessons you can do from the comfort of your own home. Start with a simple dog trick like "stay" or "shake," and work up to something more complicated like "roll over." These tricks will result in good behavior and help you and your dog bond. Do try to keep the dog training/trick sessions to about 15 minutes or so. This will ensure it stays fun for everyone.
Outdoor activities like hiking, Rally-O or agility training are excellent ways to keep your dog in tip-top shape. Agility classes normally teach your dog to navigate a course of obstacles to jump over and run through, while Rally obedience (or Rally-O) competitions consist of a series of commands you ask your dog to complete. Most cities have training centers that offer a variety of classes that can introduce you and your dog to new challenges… some are even offered indoors!
Any changes in your dog’s activity can lead to weight gain or weight loss. Monitor his body condition closely (Try petMD's Healthy Weight Calculator) and consult your veterinarian about dietary changes if you notice a fluctuation in weight.