I think one of the hardest things about being a pet owner is figuring out how to keep your dog entertained in the winter. It is important to provide your favorite pooch with exercise, and entertainment, and to prevent boredom. But in the winter it is particularly challenging. When temperatures drop below 40 and the wind chill factor is freezing, who wants to go out for a walk?
Going outside can be a challenge for some dogs. Yet, many dogs thrive in cold weather and have a lot of fun in the snow. The key to keeping your dog entertained in winter is to first recognize your pooch’s tolerance to cold, inclement weather and plan accordingly. Keep your time outdoors shorter when it is really cold. Create fun outdoor games, but also find alternative indoor places to play.
- Create fun outdoor games
- Shorten the time spent outside
- Protect your dog from the elements
- Play more indoor games
- Find alternative indoor places to take your dog
- Prevent boredom with mental simulation
Keep reading to learn more and find out about some of the creative ideas of other owners.
(This post contains Amazon affiliate links for which I may earn a commission for referring purchases.)
You Don’t Have to Stay in When it Snows! Create New Games
There are a lot of outdoor activities you and your pooch can do together even in the snow. As long as you are both prepared for the elements, wintertime fun doesn’t have to be so different from what you normally do year-round.
Walking and Hiking
If you already have a walking routine, try to stick with it. You may just need to keep it shorter and take some measures to protect yourself and your dog from the elements. If you have favorite places you enjoy hiking with your furry friend, you may be able to go to the more protected areas even in the winter. Parks and trails that have a lot of trees can offer a buffer from the wind. Just be mindful of slick or icy patches.
We recently had some really bad weather where I live and it was much colder than we are used to. So, I just got into the habit of driving my dogs to the nearby park rather than walking. If the weather suddenly turned really bad we could always make a mad dash to the car. We also avoided hiking in unprotected, open areas and near large lakes during the cold snap. Wooded trails seemed much friendlier and more protective.
Play Fetch with a Ball or Frisbee
If your dog loves to play fetch with a ball, this can still be a fun game in the winter. Just be sure to use a bright yellow or blue colored ball or disk, so your dog can see it. Dogs do not see the full spectrum of colors as humans, but yellow and blue stand out for them. Interestingly, the color red actually looks gray to a dog, even though it is one of the brightest colors that we can see.
If there is a lot of snow on the ground, you may want to use a Frisbee as it is less likely to get buried in a snow mound. But again, keep the sessions shorter than you would in warmer weather and pay attention to how well your dog navigates the snow or harder, frozen ground.
Build a Snow Maze and Igloo
When I was a kid growing up in Iowa, we used to make the most of “snow” days when schools were closed following a huge blizzard. We created igloos from the snow and hardened them by packing down the snow with our shovels. They made great little shelters for us and our little dog, Skipper whom we pulled around the yard on a small sled. Then we took the sled inside the igloo to sit on as we all huddled together to warm up.
We also dug mazes throughout our backyard from the two to three feet of snow that had piled up. We had a ball running through them with Skipper barking and chasing after us.
What kid, young or old, doesn’t like sledding! Dogs love it too! Your dog may choose to run after you on the sled or may really enjoy sitting on your lap as you slide down a hill. Some dogs have even learned to slide down a snowy slope on their bellies!
Just make sure your dog has good recall training if you are playing in an open area or park, and that he is microchipped and wears identifying tags.
My sister, Judy, who lives in Iowa, has a young Golden Retriever who absolutely loves the snow! Her other two smaller dogs run quickly outside to potty and then come right back inside again to get warm. But not Sadie. She loves to frolic and run in the snow. She especially loves to dig holes and plunge through snow mounds. My sister sometimes loses track of her and has to call her to come back inside for fear that she may freeze to death!
Go for a Car Ride
If your dog enjoys car rides, this could be a great way to do a quick outing. Just driving around your community for a while with the windows cracked can be fun. Your pup can take in some new scents and views. And, you can always make quick pit stops at different local parks or fields. Sometimes just being outside for 5-10 minutes at each stop can be really exciting for a pooch who has been stuck in the house all day.
Some Dogs are More Tolerant of Cold Weather than Others
The important thing to be aware of is how tolerant your dog is of colder weather. If being outside is hard on your dog, then you should limit his exposure and keep the activities short.
Pay attention to your dog when it is cold outside or in the house. Does your dog shiver and resists going outside to pee or poop? Do you have the type of dog who dives under the covers and tries to snuggle up as close to you as he can at night? Or do you have a hardy dog who is thrilled to bound through the snow and loves to be outside a lot longer than you do? This should tell you a lot about your dog’s tolerance to cold weather.
I used to worry about my medium-sized, mixed-breed dogs getting cold at night as they slept on top of my warm comforter. I was nice and toasty underneath, but their fur seemed cold when I petted them. So, I kept trying to cover them up with a blanket, only to discover that they would kick it off in the middle of the night. When they are cold, they will curl up into a ball to warm themselves. But when they get too hot, like when I cover or snuggle with them, they often stretch out full length to try to cool down.
On the other hand, if your dog is always shivering or walking stiffly with his head down, he is probably cold. But if he seems oblivious to colder weather and enjoys going outside on cold days, his fur and metabolism are probably sufficient to keep him warm.
Here is a sample list of dogs who do well in cold weather:
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Border Collie
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Great Pyrenees
- Golden Retrievers
- Irish Setters
- Labrador Retrievers
- Norwegian Elkhound
- Saint Bernard
- Siberian Husky
Dogs who do not do well in cold weather include:
- Basset Hound
- Most Terriers
- Pit Bull
Keep in mind that every dog is unique, so pay attention to how he or she reacts during cold weather. Also, know that puppies and older dogs have a harder time regulating their internal temperatures and may be more sensitive to extreme cold or warm weather.
How Cold is Too Cold for a Dog to be Outside?
Once the temperature drops below 45 degrees, the cold weather can be challenging for more sensitive dogs. Small dogs and toy dogs usually do not tolerate cold weather very well. Likewise, senior dogs, small puppies, or dogs with arthritis or other chronic health conditions, may struggle in colder weather.
Adult dogs who are healthy and have thick coats or undercoats will usually be okay until temperatures drop to below 32 degrees which are freezing levels. At that point, outdoor activities should be shortened and dogs should definitely not be left outside for long periods or at night. Also, large dogs often do better than smaller dogs. Below is a handy chart created by Dr. Kim Smyth based on an assessment scale developed by Tufts University Veterinarian School:
Bundle Up Your Pooch
If you have a dog who is small, elderly or has a thin coat be sure to bundle her up before going outside. There are a lot of great sweaters and vests for dogs as well as caps to keep their ears and heads warm. For outdoor use in snowy, damp weather, I like this RUFFWEAR, Stumptown Insulated, Reflective Cold Weather Jacket for Dogs which you can see at Amazon. It has a reflective trim and an opening for a leash. It is quilted and made of durable, water-resistant fabric and is easy to put on and take off with a quick release.
There are also numerous sweaters, coats, and vests for cold weather, but if you are planning to take your dog outside get an easy on-off vest that is thick and water-resistant. Also think about getting a warm hat to protect your dog’s neck, head, and ears. I like this Christmas hat which is made of soft knit material which covers your dog’s ears, head, and neck and can be easily pulled on and off. See this hat and more from Amazon.
Protect Your Dog’s Paws
Booties like these CovertSafe & Dog Boots from Amazon may be a good option for your pup to protect his paws from water, ice, and frozen ground. They are adjustable, waterproof, and non-slip boots that are easy to put on. If your dog will not wear boots or they seem to inhibit his movement you can also try simple vaseline or Musher’s Secret Dog Paw Wax on the bottom of his feet. This helps to coat and protect his paws from dampness and cold and keep them from drying and cracking. It was originally developed for Canadian sled dogs.
Alternative Fun Activities When It Is a Really Cold, Winter Day
Doggie Day Care and Other Indoor Areas Offer Fun and Shelter from the Elements
When the weather is simply freezing and it is miserable outside or if your dog just cannot tolerate the cold, consider other fun alternatives. Most urban areas have a variety of kennels and facilities that offer doggie daycare with indoor areas for playing. Or if you have a large basement, garage, or barn you can easily convert it into a play area for fetch, tug-of-war games, or agility work. You can use cardboard boxes, chairs, and broomsticks to create tunnels and weaving and jumping courses.
Pet Stores Are a Great Place to Take Your Dog on a Cold Day
Don’t forget about your local pet store. The larger ones such as Petco or Petsmart offer a lot of space to walk around in. Your dog can get a lot of exercise not to mention some fun nose work. Your pup will probably want to check out every aisle!
Additionally, many national brand stores allow dogs as long as they are on a leash. Here is a list of some retail chains that welcome dogs:
- Home Depot
- Bed Bath and Beyond
- L. L. Bean
- Tractor Supply Co.
- The Apple Store
How to Stimulate Your Dog and Prevent Boredom in Winter
Dogs need mental stimulation as well as exercise. So, if your options are sometimes limited and even going out to doggie daycare or dog friendly stores is not possible, you still have some options.
Indoor Fetch, Keep Away, Tug-of-War
Use your longest hallway for a quick game of fetch. Just make sure you use soft tennis or rubber balls and watch out for lamps! I actually broke a lamp recently while playing fetch in the living room and it shorted out. So now, I only place fetch in the hallway leading from the living room into the guest bathroom.
For extra fun, I try to toss it into the waste basket. It isn’t that deep, but it takes my dogs several minutes to figure out how to get their head into the basket far enough to get the ball. It is actually a good exercise to get them to use their creative thinking skills.
Another way to give my dogs some exercise and a little more fun is to throw the ball upstairs onto the landing. They race up to get it and then race back down again to bring me the ball. After going up and down a few times, they are ready for a nap!
You can also use a flirt pole such as this Squishy Face Studio Flirt Pole V2 with Lure which you can see at Amazon. It is a 36″ pole with a long line and a prey-like dog toy, which is great for a game of keep-away. Although you may need a little more space to fully employ it. The vendor recommends using it in an area that is at least 15′ x 15″. So a hallway may be confining, but you can still use it in a modified way to lure your dog down the hallway.
And of course what dog does not like tug-of-war with his favorite tough toy. My dogs love to chase each other around with their favorite Snuggle Puppy Tender-Tuffs rabbit which I usually buy from Amazon. I prefer tough animal toys over ropes for tug-of-war as they are usually safer. Rope toys can become unraveled and if ingested can cause serious GI problems for dogs.
Treat Games and Puzzle Toys Help Keep Your Dog Entertained in Winter
There is a long list of puzzle toys available for dogs which usually involve some thinking and pawing to find the hidden treats. My favorite puzzle toys are the Outward Hound Nina Ottosson puzzles. They are durable, clever, and come in different stages of difficulty. The one I use for my pups is the green Hide and Slide Interactive toy puzzle. It has a medium level challenge which keeps my dogs busy for several minutes but doesn’t frustrate them.
Sometimes keeping it simple is the best way to entertain your dogs, as it takes less effort on your part and can be done anytime. My dogs’ absolute favorite game is “find the treats”. I close them both up in the guest bathroom and then throw handfuls of treats or kibble around the house. I also hide them in shoes, under rugs, behind chairs, and on the stairs. They bound out of the bathroom as soon as I open the door and raced around to see who can find the most treats. This is also great for nose work, which has a calming effect on them as they sniff for treats. I am amazed at how well they can sniff out those treats!
And there is nothing better than the old standby basic Kong small cones. They are made from safe, durable rubber which is great for aggressive chewers. I smear the inside of the cones with peanut butter or soft cheese and it will keep them busy for an hour or more. They have to figure out how to get their tongues far enough into the cones to lick out every bit of their special treat. Be sure to see my full list of recommended toys for more ideas.
Cold, wintery days don’t have to be a drag. You and your pup can find plenty of fun things to do both outside and inside. You just need to be a little more creative and be sure to button up and protect both yourself and your dog from harsh, blustery weather when you go out.