Winter Activities and Enrichment Ideas For Dogs 

Winter Activities and Enrichment Ideas For Dogs 

We all know it’s important for us to help keep our dogs physically and mentally engaged, but the cold, snow and wind that often comes this time of year may make it harder for us to step out and get that physical activity and cognitive enrichment our dogs need. Of course, it's much easier for this to be achieved in warmer weather.

This kind of weather can be unpredictable, sometimes bringing blustery snowstorms and extreme, unwelcome cold that may limit our options of activities to do with our beloved canines! But don’t let that hinder you from taking advantage of the winter weather.

Snow activities for dogs are extra fun and enriching. Snow days are exciting times for most dogs who enjoy the opportunity to run, jump, and play in the snow. If you have a fenced yard for your dog or access to a nearby dog park, snow days are especially fun. There are a variety of winter activities for canines and added games for the snowy conditions. When playing in the snow, many of your dog’s favorite games take on a new challenge. Here are some activities your dog is sure to enjoy.

Build A Fort

If the snow is piling up in your yard, build a fort or igloo for your dog to play in. The size of your fort depends on your dog’s size and how much snow you have. If it’s super snowy, you may even be able to build a snow structure that both you and your dog can fit in together. Use treats and toys inside the snow fort if your dog is nervous about going inside. And remember to offer lots of praise when your dog does go inside. 

Winter Agility

For athletic dogs, a snowy agility indoor obstacle course provides ongoing fun. You can build snow hurdles for your dog to pounce over, snow trenches to go through, and snow mounds to weave around. Once you’ve built a snow agility course for your dog, use their favorite treats and toys to encourage them to go through.

Snow Dig

Dogs who love to dig are often big fans of the snow. Designate an area of your dog specifically to let your dog dig in the snow. If you’re concerned about your dog’s digging damaging the grass or plating underneath, you can bring out a small baby pool like your dog probably plays with in the summer. Fill the baby pool with snow, and let your dog have fun digging. To encourage digging behavior in the snow-filled baby pool you can bury toys for your dog to find.

Snow Foraging Area

For dogs who are less certain about running and frolicing in the snow, a foraging area is a fun way to introduce snow playing. Start in an area with shallow snow and drop treats into the snow. Then encourage your dog to find the treats in the snow. Automatically your dog will be rewarded for engaging with the snow. As your dog gets better at sniffing out the treats, you can bury them deeper for an extra challenge and fun game.

Snow Fetch

For dogs who enjoy a good game of fetch, there’s nothing better than playing your favorite game in a winter wonderland. Toss your dog’s ball or frisbee in the snow and watch them have fun chasing their toy through the snow. Try a soccer ball (or other large ball) which won’t sink in the snow as much. Larger, lighter balls will alleviate frustration for dogs who don’t like their balls getting lost in snow.  Keep in mind that playing fetch in snow is going to be more physically demanding than a regular game of fetch on grass. So remember to keep fetch sessions shorter than usual as your dog will tire faster when running through snow.

Safety First

When your dog plays outside, make sure that they aren’t too cold. Pay attention to the weather conditions to ensure it’s warm enough to safely play outside. Take regular breaks to go inside and consider winter gear for your dog.  Dogs who aren’t used to cold weather climates, dogs with short coats, young puppies, and elderly dogs get cold the fastest. These dogs need more frequent breaks to warm up. Also, check that snowballs and ice aren’t building up on your dog’s paws and legs which is particularly a problem for long-coated dogs.

When It’s Too Cold To Go Outside

It’s easy to feel like you’re lacking as a pet parent when it’s frigid out. As much as we know our dogs need exercise and mental stimulation, sometimes winter storms get in the way of our usual adventuring. But have no fear: Although it’s a challenge, it’s possible to keep your dog from going stir-crazy even without spending the usual amount of time outdoors. The key is focusing on mental exercise instead of physical exercise, and remembering that quality time with your dog is a valuable commodity that can compensate for less activity. Below are eight ideas for indoor activities you can enjoy with your dog.

Cognitive Enriching Activities and Exercises When You're Stuck Indoors

Play Hide-and-Seek

A child’s favorite past-time may be just what your dog needs for some cognitive enrichment at home! You can try hiding your dog’s favorite toy and ask your dog to fetch it. It may be best to start out easy until your dog catches on. Or, if you have enough time to sneak away, another fun idea is you can be the one to hide! Once you’ve found your hiding spot, call out for your dog and reward him when he finds you! You can keep playing over and over. If your dog finds this game a bit difficult at first, you can entice your pup by leaving a trail of treats leading to you! He will have to sniff and follow the trail to find you, testing their sense of smell.

Use Stuffed “Brain-Teaser” Toys

Make your dog work for them! If your dog needs encouragement to play, there are brands of toys such as Kong that offer fun options to keep your pup engaged and active, even while trying to enjoy a snack. Try a stuffable Kong toy and fill it with some of your dog’s favorite treats! This will keep your dog busy when you can’t provide one-on-one attention to him or when you have to step away.

Provide Puzzles

We know it’s important to not only keep our dogs physically active, but cognitively engaged, as well. Try some mentally stimulating toys such as a dog brick treat, puzzle toys, or a licky mat. Or check out your local pet store to find the toys right for you and your pup! These tricky “brain-teaser” toys will help keep your canine immersed in a cognitively-enriched environment.

Exercise Together!

If you enjoy doing yoga, or other indoor workout moves including abdominal crunches, try some new tricks to get your dog involved in getting their exercise in, too! For example, if you are doing ab crunches, try having your dog’s favorite toy in your hands. After every few crunches, throw your dog’s toy so he can chase after it! (Of course, make sure it’s a soft toy so you don’t damage any surrounding furniture or accessories). Or if you enjoy doing squats, you can do something similar! After every few squats, tap your dog with their favorite toy and then raise it above your head so he has to jump for it! Doing these simple exercises can help keep him engaged and active during your workout, making it fun and interactive for both of you.

Dog Stairs

Speaking of indoor exercise, if you have stairs in your home, use them! You can put your dog on a leash and walk up and down the stairs together! To get some variety, you can try taking two steps at a time, jogging up and down the stairs or even walking sideways to switch things up! Make sure you take breaks and have water available for both you and your pup as this can be a tiring but rewarding exercise to do together!

Play Fetch or Tug-of-War

Just because it may be too cold or blistery to play outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t find room to play one of many dogs’ favorite games! Find an open area or long hallway clear of any obstacles or breakable items. You can even try playing fetch up and down a stairway if your dog is agile enough!

Cold Weather Safety Tips when Playing Outdoors

1. Dress for the weather. When playing with your pup outdoors in the colder elements, you want to be sure that not only are you dressed properly, but that your dog has the right attire, too. Smaller dogs or dogs with shorter hair or larger dogs of certain breeds may require more protection from the cold, so a sweater or other cozy dog-apparel may be needed. You can check with your local Vet to be sure of your dog’s needs.

2. Take advantage of natural protections and barriers.  Taking a walk through a wooded trail or in town where there are tall buildings will help protect you and your dog from the wind on those blustery days. Additionally, the smells and sounds you will experience while walking through a forest or nature trail will be much more cognitively stimulating and interesting for your dog than a simple stroll around the block.

3. Invest in waterproof attire for wet days.  Winter weather is unpredictable, so we need to be prepared for all elements! Invest in gear for yourself and your dog to wear on days when rain or snow may be in the forecast.

4. Stay hydrated and well-fed. It may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes when we get busy with an activity and the sun isn’t making us sweat, we forget about the basics. Staying warm uses up more energy, so be sure you and your pup are getting enough water and eat regular meals to keep energy levels up.

5. Ask questions and keep regular Veterinarian visits. Your dog may have special needs or requirements so be sure to follow the guidelines and recommendations from your dog’s Vet. Pay attention to your dog’s cues that may signal he is being over or under-exerted during play and exercise.  Also, chances are that if you are cold while playing outside, your dog is likely cold, too. Go inside, warm up and take advantage of some cuddle and relaxation time with your beloved pet!

Hopefully, it won’t be long until you can return to your normal indoor and outdoor activities. In the meantime, do what you can to make your dog’s days as interesting and full of fun as possible.

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Paige Chernick is a Social Media and Communications expert living in NYC. For 10 years, she ran her own consulting company called PaigeKnowsFirst where she managed social content & strategy for many brands, finding her niche within the pet industry.

Paige has been a guest contributor for several publications and featured in articles on her successes with pets and social media. Paige’s rescue dog, Charlie, famously known by her social media handle @puppynamedcharlie, has accumulated hundreds of thousands of fans and made her a successful pet influencer early on in the game. Paige is also one of the Founders of The Pet Summit, a conference in the pet industry for creators and marketers, where she used her experience to create programs and classes to help guide and teach others.

In 2022, Paige became the Social Media Director for PRIDE+GROOM. She is now the Senior Vice President of Communications and remains very immersed in the pet industry on both the corporate side and the influencer side.