Winter is here. Days are short and the nights are dark. The weather is colder and wetter. This combination often means that keeping ourselves active becomes even more challenging than normal. The same applies to our dogs.
However, exercise and activity are important, not just for the physical health of our canine companions, but also for their behavioural and emotional health.
Much as we might like to hibernate over the next few months, incorporating activity of some description can help both us and our dogs keep fit and healthy, even during the shortest days. This means that come the sunny springtime, we can make the most of it as soon as possible.
The problem is that keeping our dogs active in the autumn and winter months comes with challenges. Here is Science Supplements’ guide to wonderful winter workouts for your dog.
Cold Weather Creative
Time constraints, limited daylight and often pretty unpleasant weather can make the thought of going outside, a less than fun option. However, activity is important to maintain a healthy bodyweight, allow our dogs time to sniff and explore their environment and give their body and brain a workout.
This is important for our more active breeds and types of dog, who enjoy getting wet and muddy and would find restrictions to their exercise output difficult. Indeed, for some dogs, working gundogs for example, autumn and winter are when they are most active – the summer months are their relaxation time!
However, you can keep your dog physically and mentally active during the darker, colder months with a bit of creativity.
If you can, exercise your dog during daylight when possible and if it is safe, allow managed free running to burn off energy. You might be more structured and incorporate specific activity training such as agility, canicrossing or even retrieve work to their exercise. On darker days, practicing loose lead walking can a great training opportunity both inside and outside, especially when off-lead activity might not be a safe option.
You can even explore fun indoor activities for your dog. This might be heading to training classes, but you can be creative at home too by practicing key skills and expanding your dog’s skill repertoire by looking at trick training and exploring new activities such as scent work.
Indeed, scent work is a fun, calming and surprisingly tiring activity for many dogs and you can learn the basics and make hunting for sniffs or objects at home a fun activity for you to do together. You can even incorporate a functional aspect to it by attaching a fabric keyring that will hold scent to your keys and training your dog to actively search for this. You never know when this skill might come in useful, especially if you are like me and drop or lose your keys regularly!
You might not be covering the same mileage during the winter months as you would normally with your dog, but you can absolutely maintain a level of both physical and psychological fitness with some creativity and ‘brain games.’
Watch out for ‘weekend warriors’
One word of warning however – if your dog is a little less physically active over winter than normal and their Monday to Friday activities are rather limited, try not to be tempted to do ‘ALL OF THE THINGS’ at the weekend! This can predispose your dog to injury and for dogs with existing conditions where more regular and consistent activity is indicated, you might make exercise less than fun and something that they start to avoid.
A good example is repetitive retrieving of a thrown ball or toy – many dogs adore balls being thrown and will chase and retrieve for hours. However, it is clear that exercise like this can have significant negative impacts on joint and overall health, particularly for dogs that might be less well conditioned or be carrying a little extra bodyweight. Just because they can or they want to, doesn’t always make it a good idea.
Training and conditioning are always important for health and wellbeing – sometimes we need to help our dogs make good choices too.
It is often said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. This also applies to our dogs. While many people baulk at the idea of dressing dogs, functional ‘clothing’ such as warm, waterproof coats, reminiscent of miniature horse rugs might be a useful addition to your canine kit.
Not does canine clothing make heading out in cold, wet weather more pleasant for many dogs, especially thin coated or older dogs, they can make coming home easier. You dog will be drier and possibly cleaner – really useful if you are rushing to get yourself ready for work for example.
On colder days, coats, or fleece ‘jumpers’ are a good option for warmth and keeping clean, both outside and at home. Dogs with very fine coats such as whippets will often appreciate an extra layer. Older dogs who might be slowing down and have joints that benefit from being kept warm, will also enjoy the additional comfort that such clothing can offer – both at home, in the kennel and when out and about.
If you are using ‘clothes’ for your dog, do allow them time to get used to wearing them and having them put on and off. Make it a rewarding and fun exercise by associating it with some tasty rewards and gentle handling.
Ensure a good fit of any coats or jumpers too. This is important to make sure your dog can still move freely and that the item will not rub or cause other discomfort, and make sure to wash any items regularly too – especially anything worn outside. The heady aroma of soggy dog will linger far longer otherwise!
Occasionally, seasonal amends to our dogs diets are needed too. If your dog is much less active over winter, don’t be afraid to reduce their daily food intake or amend their diet so that they are consuming fewer calories. This in important to help them at a lean, healthy bodyweight.
Regularly weigh and body condition score your dog too – visual checks are not always robust at highlighting gradual increases in weight and even small weight gains can have negative impacts on the joint and overall health of our dogs.
Indeed, if your dog is showing signs of slowing down, being less keen to exercise or stiffness in movement, seek veterinary advice and guidance. Correct diagnosis and management are critical for your dog’s health and happiness.
You might also want to explore additional support for your dog in the form of supplementary help. Old Friend from Science Supplements might be a useful option for our more mature canine friends to support their overall health. Joint support can be found in the form of FlexAbility Regular, or FlexAbility Working for the more active dog. These supplements come as tasty powders that can be easily incorporated into your dog’s daily meals.
Be Safe, Be Seen
One final important aspect of the darker days is making sure you and your dog can be seen when out, even on days that are darker than normal. You can now get reflective or light up collars, coats, or lights that your dog can wear. These are invaluable to help make other road users aware of your presence and might even mean that where safe, you can allow your dog to free run, but you can still see where they are.
My own dogs also have reflective, and light up toys, meaning that we can still do a little bit of our normal play and training after work. In truth, the light up toys are much more important so that I can see them – dogs tend to use their noses more than their eyes but being able to play and train together can help make the winter months pass a little quicker than they might otherwise.
We all know that winter can be a tricky time for keeping active, but with a little bit of planning and creativity, you and your dog can still enjoy doing things safely together and not hibernate entirely!
Science Supplements offer a range of high specification, canine supplements that can help to support your dog’s health and wellbeing all year round. We offer options to support your dog’s joint, skin, and digestive health as well as supporting them during periods of anxiety or worry.