Fun things to do with your dog in the winter

The days are shorter, air is cooler and our favourite footpaths are ankle-deep in mud from all the rain. We've spoken to an animal behaviourist, vet and dog owner to find out the best ways of exercising your dog in cooler weather.

Dog exercise has to carry on as normal even in the worst weather... doesn't it? If winter fatigue is setting in and your normal walks seem less than appealing, there's no need to worry if you don't want to venture out. Your dog may not actually want to go out either! There are plenty of ways for your pet to get the exercise he needs and for you both to have some fun.

The animal behaviourist says... give mental stimulation

ASAB-certified clinical animal behaviourist Claire Hargrave understands that in bad weather, owners can be less than enthusiastic about long walks but says that not all dogs want to go out anyway.

'Older dogs or those in discomfort may not welcome pounding the streets in very cold or wet weather,' says Claire. 'We often think that our dogs need to go out for walks every day but sometimes it's not the best thing for them. Don't feel guilty about not taking your dog out as giving him mental stimulation is just as important and this can be done anywhere. Kitchens, garages and conservatories all make ideal spaces for dog exercise.'

Claire says that the best way of providing mental stimulation for your dog is by tapping into his natural seeking behaviour to create a positive emotion. You can use this in a variety of ways to give your dog's brain a good workout.

'Your dog will have fun using his brain to look for stuff he wants to engage with so use puzzle feeders, Kong toys or even just scatter his food,' says Claire.

'Simple scenting work is also a useful activity, which can be used in any location. You can introduce this game to your dog by dropping little treats as you walk to form a scent trail. Sometimes it's better to drive to a bland environment to do this sort of game or use agility equipment in the garden than to walk cold the streets in winter, particularly for older dogs or those who are off-colour. Also, young dogs born in spring may be frightened of encountering objects in darkness for the first time.'

The vet says... grab a dog coat

Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner says some dogs love to play in the snow but cold weather is not for everyone. How much time you spend in the cold depends on the breed, age and health of your dog.

'I wouldn't suggest you think about stopping walks altogether, but you might consider shortening the amount of time your dog is out in the cold,' says Brian.

'Some dogs might benefit from clothing in the coldest months, especially short-haired breeds. However, most dogs in the UK won't need paw protection from snow and ice unless the temperature drops below minus five degrees. Of course, paws will get cold but don't be tempted to plunge them into warm water after a cold walk – that extra throbbing can be uncomfortable.'

As traditional countryside trails may be less accessible to owners in the winter months, Brian suggests looking into alternative dog exercise methods.

'Hydrotherapy can be good for animals of all fitness levels and some dogs especially enjoy swimming. Lots of obedience training can be done indoors and there are agility centres where your dog can burn off energy and have fun by climbing, jumping and weaving.'

The owner says... play hide and seek

Rachel Scarff owns Charlie, a seven-year-old Labrador, who loves to be out and about whatever the weather. Rachel is happy to brave the elements, believing there is no such thing as bad weather – simply bad clothing. However, Charlie was recently diagnosed with arthritis and so his usual long all-weather walks and sessions with his favourite ball thrower have had to change. Rachel and her son, Barney, have tried being inventive when coming up with alternatives to keep Charlie fit and happy.

'We have quite a robust dog and he'd still happily swim in rivers in the snow but we've had to try alternative winter activity so that we don't aggravate his arthritis,' says Rachel. 'One low-impact activity that Charlie loves, which we can do in our moderate-sized garden, is hide and seek. I ask Charlie to sit and then cover his eyes while Barney hides a tennis ball somewhere in the garden than to walk the cold streets. Once it is hidden, I uncover his eyes and say, “go find it!”. To start with, it took Charlie quite a while to find the tennis ball but the more we've played it, the better he has got and we've had to start coming up with trickier hiding places. When Charlie finds the ball, he likes to have a good chew of it and sometimes we'll give it a gentle throw but more often we'll reward his finding with some tasty cooked chicken. The great thing about this game is that we can play it indoors, too.'

We would love to hear more of your top tips for entertaining your pets during the winter. Share your stories on social media using #PethoodStories

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