Yes, it’s still winter. There’s still snow on the ground, the temperatures are still low, and the days, although getting longer, are still short. If you and your canine companion are getting a little weary of it all, here are some winter activities, both indoors and outdoors, to liven up your winter days. After all, your dog needs activity and stimulation regardless of weather, and it’s good for you, too!
Outdoor winter fun with your dog
Skijoring, a popular Scandinavian sport, has really caught on in the U.S. It translates to “ski-driving” and combines cross-country skiing with some of the same skills as dog mushing. It requires are one or two dogs that weigh over 35 pounds and like pulling; cross country skis and poles; a pulling harness for your dog; skijoring belt; and a towline. Basically, you’re cross-country skiing with your dog leading the way.
Although you might think it’s a sport meant only for northern dog breeds like Huskies, almost any dog that loves running, weighs enough, and is tall enough to negotiate snow makes a great skijoring partner.
Skijoring is becoming so popular that there are even competitions, with regional and national championships. So whether you’re longing for some winter competition or just love the quiet and exhilaration of skiing a fresh trail through snow, skijoring is wonderful exercise and a great bonding opportunity for both of you.
If you and your dog are not quite ready for the Iditarod, but love the idea of mushing, try kicksledding. Developed in Scandinavia (of course) as a way to navigate icy streets, kicksledding requires a sled, harness for your dog, and towline. It’s not meant for deep snow and works best on flat, slick surfaces or packed snow. It also requires that your dog learn some kicksledding cues, since she must respond to your voice commands. While not quite as complicated or taxing as mushing, be prepared for a pretty vigorous workout.
For a gentler winter workout, try snowshoeing with your dog. All you need are snowshoes, a belt, harness, and towline. Depending on how adventurous you’re feeling and how much exercise your dog can handle, a snowshoe outing can be as leisurely as gliding through familiar trails and parks or as rigorous as making your way through deep powder.
You don’t need snow to enjoy winter activities with your dog. Canicross is cross-country running, but as a team, with your dog in the lead. Canicross requires minimal equipment; your dog will need a well-fitting harness in which she has the freedom of movement to run, and you’ll need a waist belt and a bungee line.
As in kicksledding and mushing, the human is the driver, issuing voice commands, so your dog should know and respond to commands. Your choice of locale is virtually unlimited, from forest trails to local parks, to the beach, or the mountains. It’s best to vary terrain between harder and softer ground since that will be easier on muscles for both of you. Although working breeds tend to be most popular for canicross, any dog that likes to run and is in good shape can make a great canicross teammate.
Who says you have to venture away from home to have outdoor adventures with your dog? How about a scavenger hunt in your own backyard? Make little snow mounds or dig out shallow holes in the snow to hide treats and toys. Then have your dog use his nose (and eyes) to find them. Not only will he get exercise, but he’ll also have to use his tracking and problem-solving skills to find his prizes.
Indoor winter fun with your dog
Even on frigid, wet winter days, your dog will benefit from mental and physical activity. With a little ingenuity, you can both have some indoor fun. Whether it’s playing hide-and-seek, learning new tricks, practicing obedience training, setting up a DIY obstacle course, or treat puzzles for your dog, don’t let being stuck indoors keep you both from having fun. Here are some indoor winter activities to get you started.
Finally, and most importantly, before you embark on any adventures with your canine pal, assess whether it’s appropriate for his age, size, abilities, and general health. If in doubt, check with your veterinarian. Once you’re confident that you’re both up for it, get out there and have some fun!