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Indoor winter workouts for your pet

November 28, 2018

It can be a challenge to make sure your pet is getting the exercise they need to stay healthy in cooler temperatures — especially if some situations don’t allow you and your four-legged friend to go outside.

“You’d be surprised at how much activity your pet can get indoors,” says Karen van Haaften, BC SPCA senior manager, behaviour and welfare. “Cold weather can present some challenges, but it doesn’t mean you have to put the brakes on your pet’s physical activity.”

If you’re trying to keep your pooch active in the winter, and you need to stay inside, here are some tips and tricks to take advantage of.

Turn the day inside into a learning opportunity. Learning can be even more tiring than physical exercise. If your dog already knows ‘sit’ and ‘stay,’ you can teach them how to balance a treat on their nose. Have them wait before giving them a command allowing them to consume it. No matter the trick, handing over treats when your dog is successful will make the experience a win for everyone, as the combination of rewards-based training and a positive attitude will allow you to bond with your dog in an affirmative way.

If your dog doesn’t do well in the cold, you can opt to sign them up for indoor agility classes or a scent work class. This is in the same vein as training your dog at home, but if you are able to commute, and your dog doesn’t like chilly conditions, sign up for indoor training classes to keep them out of the cold.

Hide-and-seek. This favourite human pastime can also be great for dogs. Hide-and-seek is a good workout for both your dog’s body and brain. Not only will they need to walk around the house — they’ll need to figure out where you are.

If you’re trying to teach your dog how to play hide-and-seek, begin by keeping the games short. Call out your dog’s name and hide somewhere easy for your pup to spot. As your dog gets the hang of how the game works, they’ll eventually use other means, like scent, to find you. Once they find you, celebrate! Reinforce their success with a belly rub, praise, treats, or a favourite toy.

Short, high-energy games. If there’s enough room in your home, try games of fetch, or, you can even give a flirt pole a whirl. “A flirt pole is a long pole with some type of rope attached to it, and a dog tug toy at the end,” notes van Haaften. “Flirt poles are great because they allow you to control the toy’s movement — versus just playing with the toy. If used right, it can provide a challenging session of exercise for your dog.” When using a flirt pole, allow your pup to enjoy the thrill of chasing after a toy.

Playing with toys. Some people think that toys have to be expensive, but they don’t. If your dog likes crinkly noises, why not try a water bottle wrapped in an old, sturdy t-shirt? If you prefer toys that incorporate food into the mix, what about attaching sweet potatoes to some rope? You can even play tug-o-war with an old pair of denim jeans. The possibilities are endless, so long as the materials you choose to use are safe for your pet.

Try a jacket or booties. If it isn’t too stressful for your dog to wear booties or a jacket, they may be able to tolerate the lower temperatures that way. This option is best if you are looking to take your dog out for a walk around the block. If you choose to put a jacket on your dog, it’s best to avoid putting them in social situations where other dogs are involved, like going to the dog park. Clothing that covers a dog’s hackles can cause communication problems between pups, so it’s best to do this only if you know your dog won’t be in the presence of other canines.