Spending time outside doesn’t have to stop because it’s cold or snowy. Here are 5 winter activities you can enjoy together, and what you need to consider before setting out.
Many people (and their dogs) tend to spend a lot of time indoors during the winter. While it’s best to stay put when the weather is severe, there’s no reason why you can’t head out for some fun and activity when conditions allow. Check out these five fun winter activities you can enjoy with your dog, along with some important tips and considerations.
1. Winter camping
Winter camping means fewer bugs, fewer crowds, fewer distractions, and more peace and quiet in which to enjoy nature together. Whether you’ll be in a tent, RV or cabin, it’s important to make sure you and your dog are prepared with the right supplies. The first step is to pick a dog-friendly campground. If you and your dog are new to winter camping, or to camping in general, start by planning a short trip – maybe just one night to begin with. It’s also be a good idea to have a backup plan – a dog-friendly hotel you could retreat to in case camping in the cold is just a little too much for you or your dog.
The right winter camping gear is essential. For your dog, pack water, an extra day of food, healthy treats, bowls, vet records, a current ID tag, a harness and leash, poop bags, towels and a first aid kit – and don’t forget winter apparel, such as a couple of warm, moisture-proof dog coats, dog boots and some cozy bedding.
It’s important to double-check the weather forecast before you head out. The last thing you want during your camping trip is a winter storm or unbearably cold conditions.
2. Winter hiking
Hiking is another ideal way for you and your dog to enjoy the great outdoors and get some healthy physical exercise during the winter months. When choosing a trail, make sure it’s dog-friendly, and consider your dog’s limits when deciding on trail length. Consider using an active trail; since winter hiking isn’t as popular as summer hiking, you’re unlikely to be crowded by other users, but at the same time you won’t be as isolated as you would if you choose a trail that’s not as well-used.
Keep your dog on a leash, especially if the trail is also being used by skiers, snowmobilers and other hikers and dog owners. Make sure your dog isn’t going to be spooked by the noise and speed of snowmobiles. If your hiking trail is a bit more remote, check in with the ranger station prior to hitting the trail. Your gear should include a small spot beacon, first aid kit, trail map, water, power food and pepper spray. Boots for your dog are also a good idea if ice might be an issue.
When winter camping or hiking with your dog, have a check-in buddy who knows your itinerary and timeline. Set up a backup plan, and don’t take unnecessary risks.
Skijoring is a cross between cross country skiing and dog-sledding. The dog wears a sledding harness which is attached to your waist while you ski. You and your dog work as a team: you use ski poles and your dog helps by pulling. If you have more than one dog, no problem – more than one dog can skijor at a time.
This is among the most vigorous winter activities, so your dog should weigh at least 35 pounds, be athletic and in good health, over 18 months of age, full of energy, and with a love for running.
The best way to start is to do an internet search for local skijoring clubs – talking with experienced people will help you learn how to participate safely in this activity. As a bonus, you and your dog will meet more like-minded enthusiasts.
4. Road trips
Road trips are always on the table when weather permits, and might be a better choice for dogs with less physical stamina (see sidebar). You don’t have to venture too far from home; just pick a community you haven’t explored before. Hop online to research what sorts of dog-friendly activities the town or city offers, such as parks, hotels or dog-friendly stores. You might go for a day, or a whole weekend. Again, make sure you bring along weatherproof doggy apparel, poop bags, ID, water, food and treats.
5. Outdoor trick training
This is a good way to combine exercise and fresh air with learning and fun, and you can do it right in your own backyard. It’s another option for dogs that don’t have enough stamina for winter activities like camping, hiking or skijoring.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to teaching your dog tricks. Using positive, reward-based training, you can easily teach your dog to roll over, wave or bow, roll a ball with his nose, or weave between your legs. Teaching your dog behaviors such as sitting pretty, backing up, and spinning can increase his mobility, strength and coordination. If there’s enough snow, build up some simple jumps or ramps to create a mini-agility course. Avoid icy areas, where your dog might slip and hurt himself.
Consider your dog’s breed and size
Not all dogs are suited to spending long periods outside in cold or snowy weather. Be sure to consider your dog’s breed, size, age and health status before subjecting him to the challenging weather conditions of winter. Active breeds such as Labs, retrievers, huskies, hounds, beagles and their crosses will probably enjoy all your winter activities. But Chihuahuas, pugs and other very small or brachycephalic dogs aren’t as rugged and won’t do well with prolonged exposure to the cold. Similarly, if your dog is a senior and/or has health problems, check with your veterinarian before planning any lengthy outdoor activity.
Every moment you can get outdoors and have fun with your dog counts – their lives are way too short to miss out on a quarter of the year because of the weather! Just play it safe, and have fun!