Ten Doggy Exercise Tips for Avoiding the Winter Bulge

I am guilty myself of being less eager to walk the dog in a bitter blizzard. Let's face it: wintertime isn't always such a joyous wonderland for outdoor activity with your dog, but daily exercise is essential to maintaining your dog's health. Besides, two to five extra pounds on you during the winter months are not the same as two to five pounds on your dog. Each excess pound on a Pug is equal to 19 pounds on a 5’ 9” male! Read below for tips to keep your pooch trim when the mercury falls.

  1. First things first; gear up! Small and short-haired dogs will need warm apparel if you live in a land of harsh winter elements. On the other hand, if your dog has a thick fur coat, they have just that—a thick fur coat. They likely need little more than encouragement to enjoy a cold-weather romp. Keep in mind that puppies can't tolerate extreme temperatures as well as adult dogs. Even if you have a furry puppy, a fitted winter coat is a good idea and will make for some very cute pictures.
  2. Doggie booties aren't just for people that like to buy their pets clothes. If there is snow, ice, or salt on the ground, walking without protection can be irritating and painful. Dog boots are an easy solution—if you dog tolerates them. If you find Fido is a bit bashful strutting in his new shoes, disposable latex feet protectors or even some simple petroleum jelly or dog-safe wax may be your solution. If this seems too high-maintenance for you, make sure to wipe down paws with a warm moist rag after coming back inside, just make sure the rag doesn't stick to cold toes!
  3. Distract and engage! Summer walks in open parks or along the waterfront are lovely, but that waterfront is less stunning when the cold air bites your and Fido's eyes. Consider moving winter exercise sessions to locations less prone to blustery breezes. Not only will the trees provide protection from the wind, but the new noises, smells, and sights are sure to keep your pooch's mind engaged and off of the cold. You may even spot some wildlife, so be sure to hold on tight to the leash.
  4. If your dog is reluctant to go on his morning winter walk, consider bringing treats (or even breakfast) for along the way. Be extra enthusiastic when she does something right and instead of listening to your iPod, talk to your dog! The more you include her, the more willing she will be to get off the couch and leave the fire. Offering kibble while walking is a great way to get Fido excited about morning walks. This is safe to do while walking, but feeding while jogging is not safe. On mornings you have time, add a few minutes of training and tricks; this will give your dog a satisfying start to her day.
  5. Regardless of the season, jogging is a no puppies allowed activity! This high impact exercise is dangerous to dogs until their growth plates are fully closed. For some small breed dogs, you can typically begin slightly around 10 months of age, but for large and giant breed dogs, it can take 18 months or more. Ask your vet if you are unsure, and always make sure to start canine exercising programs at a lower level of intensity and duration and work your way up.
  6. Just as swimming after eating can be dangerous for us, exercising your dog after he finishes a meal isn't a good idea. Deep-chested dogs should avoid exercise and rough play after eating to reduce the chance of gastric-dilatation-volvulus, aka GDV or bloat, a life-threatening condition in which the stomach can twist on itself and cause death within an hour without medical intervention.
  7. Coming out of the cold into the dry heat causes your pet's skin to itch just like it does ours. Use a humidifier in your home and towel dry your pet as soon as she comes inside. Pay special attention to the feet, in between the toes, and any other place where snowballs are hiding. Switching to a moisturizing shampoo in the winter and less frequent bathing may also help.
  8. Don't let your dog off-leash while on snow or ice where they have a much more difficult time following their sense of smell. Trust me, if you are not thrilled about walking your dog in a blizzard, you will be less thrilled searching for your dog in the snow, especially if they are white. I would know; I spent one memorable New Year's Eve this way. Yes, vets are humans too.
  9. When Fido grunts and refuses to go out the front door, consider staying inside. Winter is a great time to find an indoor training classes. Ever considered agility or even some basic obedience classes? Find an indoor class in a heated building. This provides both physical and mental exercise—and you may have a better behaved dog when springtime arrives.
  10. No classes in your area? Pick up a dog trick book, play tug of war, and bring the party inside your own house. Even if all you have energy for is a movie in front of the fire, grab some grooming supplies, or a Kong filled with treats, and turn it into a low-key evening for two.

A recent study by Association of Pet Obesity Prevention found that 54% of our nation's pets are overweight or obese. Even worse, Banfield's State of Pet Health 2012 study found that 76% of dog owners and 69% of cat owners believe their pet is just the right weight when clearly, they aren't. No season is appropriate to let your pet become inactive and overweight. What are your favorite dog-friendly winter exercises?

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