As the autumn season approaches the leaves begin to change color and fall from the trees and the flowers and outdoor plants begin to slow their growth and stop flowering. In addition the weather starts to get colder and it gets harder and harder to get motivated to be outside and take the dog for a walk or a run. In some areas the fall season also brings about rain, making it doubly challenging to find ways to exercise your dog and stay dry and warm.
While there is challenging weather in the autumn months, by the time winter rolls around there are some definite issues for owners of dogs. Some dogs really don't enjoy being outside in the cold and even those that do need careful monitoring. Being creative with your dog and trying some new types of activities can help ensure you and your dog can stay active and safe during the cold fall and winter months.
There are few options for exercising your dog indoors unless you happen to live in a community or an area that has an enclosed track or recreational area that is open to dogs. In communities indoor facilities are restricted when it comes to animals, however the exception may be a dog club or dog training program that rents an indoor area. Getting involved with a dog club or group that routinely trains year round can be a wonderful way to ensure you will always have some type of indoor exercise space, even if you don't choose to compete or enter your dog in events.
Some of the most common training classes and dog club events include obedience training and competitions and agility events. Usually these two activities are open to any dog, purebred or mixed breed, of any age or talent level. Competitions can be strictly for fun or they can be more serious and geared towards points or standings within the club or dog organization.
Typically the cost of these types of events on a local level is very small. A yearly membership fee to the organization and perhaps a small training fee is usually all that is required. Supplies include a lead and a collar and that your dog is fully up to date on all vaccinations. Even kids can complete in these events and this can be a terrific way to keep both the kids and the dogs active over the longer, cold winter months.
Most of the small and toy breed dogs will self-exercise in the house. This means that they will keep themselves busy going from room to room and playing with their toys so that they don't need prolonged, extended exercise outside. However this is not all the exercise these dogs need. Even toy and small dogs need to have routine, longer exercise periods that get them really moving and maintain their exercise levels for at least 20 minutes once a day.
If your dog will fetch or play in the house, be sure that he or she has room to play without causing any type of damage to furniture, plants or your flooring. A basement room or even a garage space can be converted into a winter dog room.
Larger breeds typically don't stay really active in the house, usually because owners have worked hard to train them to stay calm in the house and quietly lie down and relax. It may be very confusing to say the least to suddenly try to train your dog to play inside, so for these large breeds using the garage or even one specific room of the house may be easier. Like the small breeds, larger dogs also need at least one good, brisk 20 minute exercise period per day. Since most of the larger dogs can tolerate the cold better than the toy and small breeds, going outdoors is not as much of an issue for these dogs.
Keeping Dogs Warm During Winter Exercise
Dogs, just like people, can have problems with the cold weather, especially during exercise. Since dogs use panting as a way to cool off, when a dog is really breathing hard in cold weather he or she is bringing huge amounts of very cold air into their lungs. Limiting exercising to moderate levels is highly recommended and for very short muzzled dogs keeping outdoor activities in below freezing temperatures to light exercise only is essential. Dogs can develop respiratory infections and problems when too much very cold air is taken in at one time.
Dogs that are fully acclimatized to being outdoors in cold weather don't have this problem. Siberian Huskies, Spitz breeds and other types of sled dogs are able to run and work very hard all day even in horrifically cold weather, but this is only because they have been bred for these types of conditions. Typical housedogs are not prepared for this type of activity and will need to be gradually exposed to the cold for longer periods of time before they can stay outdoors for extended periods.
If you have a dog that is a housedog and has not been able to acclimatize to cold weather there are a variety of dog sweaters, sweatshirts and even winter coats and snowsuits that are both functional and fun. If you are planning on buying your dog some winter gear be sure to get clothing that is properly sized and take time to get your dog used to wearing the item. Provide lots of treats and start with just a few minutes in the clothing, gradually increasing as your dog gets more comfortable and used to the clothing.
Finally be very careful of your dog's feet when exercising outdoors. Snow and ice can gather between the toes and pads of the feet, leading to hard balls of ice. These ice balls will cause abrasions to the pads and also can result in a lot of pain for the dog. They can't simply be pulled off either since the ice will form around and through the hair. If you are walking your dog a lot outside through snow consider carefully trimming the hair between the pads of the feet and also monitoring the feet at the first sign of irritation or biting at the toes while outside.