What Can You Do with Dogs in the Winter?

Winter weather is here… gloomy, freezing, snow, and sometimes slush. It’s not always the most appealing or motivating weather. Especially when the sun goes down so early. 

We end up hibernating indoors a lot—missing out on that much-needed exercise and fresh air. But we’re not the only ones missing out. Our pups get bored, lethargic, and stir-crazy being cooped up all winter long. So, what can you do with a dog in the winter? And is it ok for dogs to exercise less during the cold months?  

Do Dogs Need Less Exercise in the Winter?

Dogs do not want or need less exercise in the wintertime. Although your pup will try to adapt to your rhythms and routines, they still crave physical activities, fresh air, and sunshine all year round. 

Dogs were bred to be workers, herders, and hunters. They have fur coats to help them stay warm. Dogs were originally wild animals, and they still need physical and mental stimulation, no matter the time of year. 

So let’s figure out some ways you can exercise your pup indoors and outdoors… in the middle of a winter wonderland. 

Should You Walk Dogs in Cold Weather?

For the most part… yes. You can definitely take your pup for a walk in the cold winter weather. But of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re both staying warm and safe. Dogs don’t typically feel cold or uncomfortable until the temperature drops below 45° F. 

If the temperature gets below 32° F, pet parents of the dogs below should be cautious of the cold:

  • small dogs
  • older dogs
  • thin dogs
  • dogs with short fur coats

“Once temperatures drop under 20° F, all owners need to be aware that their dogs could potentially develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia and frostbite.”

Even if the temperatures are still above 20° F, make sure to watch out for additional weather factors like wind chill, moisture, and lack of sunshine. These will make you and your pup much colder while trying to get some outdoor time. 

How Can I Exercise My Dog in Cold Weather?

Don’t let the cold temperatures scare you off. The advice above is just to help us all be aware of how to keep our pups as safe as possible. But most of the time—depending on where you live—temperatures are safe throughout the majority of the winter season. So let’s take a look at some of the best ways to give our pups outdoor exercise and fresh air. 

The 6 Best Outdoor Activities for Dogs in the Winter:

If you’re ready to get outside with your pup, try out the outdoor activities below during the winter. 

  1. Walk or hike with your dog
    As long as the temperatures aren’t too cold and it’s not too wet outside, taking your canine for a walk in the park or a hike on the trails will help him or her get proper exercise. And the nice part about walking or hiking in the winter is that you’ll likely have the trails to yourself!
  1. Throw a ball, frisbee, or snowball
    If your pup needs exercise but you’re not in the mood to move around a whole lot, you can always play fetch with your dog in your backyard. Try using a Romp-n-Roll Dog Toy (read The Daily Dog’s full review here) or the Chuckit! Ultra Rubber Ball Dog Toy (review here)—they won’t get soaked with moisture, and they’re long-lasting. Or you could even throw snowballs for your pup to catch. My dog loves jumping up in the air to bite at the snowballs we toss for her.
  1. Treat hide-and-seek
    Is your pup a great sniffer? Dogs love a good challenge! So go outside ahead of time and hide some treats in the snow in your backyard. Then let him or her loose to run and hunt. Let your dog sniff a treat and show them the first hiding spot, so they understand the game. 
  1. Sledding with your dog 
    Some dogs were bred to be sled dogs, but I’m actually talking about putting your dog on a snow sled with you. Find a great hill and a sled big enough for the two of you. Let your pup sit in between your legs, and then hold on! If your dog is adventurous, they will love the speed and thrill. And then you can both work up a good “sweat” running back up the hill each time.
  1. Create a snow maze for your dog
    This genius idea is hilarious! There are videos online like this one of people digging out paths in the snow of their backyards for their dogs to run. I don’t know about your dog, but my two pups love following a trail. There’s something about it that is instinctual for them. And getting to run through a snow maze will keep them entertained for quite a while.
  1. Skijoring
    If you’re a pretty active winter sports kind of person and you love skiing, this could be a good one for you. Ever heard of skijoring? It’s a cross between cross-country skiing and dog mushing. Just connect a long rope to your dog’s harness, and let him or her pull you while you’re on skis.  Check out this video to see what it’s all about. 

How Do You Keep a Dog Busy Indoors in the Winter?

If you’re not such a big fan of the cold temperatures during the winter, we do have some fun indoor activities that will help keep your pup entertained too. 

  1. Treat hide-and-seek indoors 
    Just like we did outside, you can hide treats around your house for your pup to sniff out. Or you can even hide their bowl of food when it’s time for breakfast or dinner. 
  1. Play fetch on the stairs 
    As long as your pup is still young enough and agile enough, try playing fetch on the stairs! You will stand at the top and throw the ball down, or vice versa. Let your pup do all the running—he will wear them out for a while! 
  1. Give your dog a treat puzzle
    You might have seen this advertised online. These treat puzzles will keep your pup entertained while they try to push around the sliding pieces to find all of the food or treats hidden inside. 
  1. Take your dog to an indoor dog park 
    Yes, I said indoor dog park! These really do exist. There’s usually some kind of entrance fee or yearly membership to visit and use their facility. But it’s totally worth it during those cold winter months. 
  1. Buy a dog treadmill 
    And yes, these exist too! Dog treadmills are a real thing, and they definitely help pups stay active and fit while being indoors. This is a great idea if your pup is overweight and needs some extra exercise, or if you’re too busy or physically unable to take your dog on a walk. 
  1. Have a dance party with your dog
    Some dogs love dancing, and they’ll dance right along with you. You can either pump up the jams and let your pup run, jump, and do their own thing. Or you could actually train your dog to do a choreographed dance right along with you—like this lady did

Looking for more articles about pet-parenting advice? Check out the Blog at TheDailyDog.com.