As anyone with a canine companion can attest, dogs can – and often will – get bored and restless during the winter months. While some pooches are perfectly content to cozy up on the couch and snuggle, there are many breeds who long for the warmer days outdoors, including laps around the yard, chasing squirrels down the sidewalk, and sniffing every conceivable thing once they’re at the dog park. However, when it’s colder, ensuring the family dog is getting enough exercise can be challenging on several accounts – for one, most folks dread going out into the freezing temps and snow. Secondly, although there are some pooches who love the outdoors even into the single digits, there are many who dislike the chilly weather. Finally, once outside, the slick driveways, icy roads, perilous snowdrifts, gusty winds and other seasonal conditions can make it not only uncomfortable, but hazardous for both dogs and their owners. So what’s a pet parent to do? Read on for tips on indoor exercise for dogs, including helpful suggestions to keep four-legged friends happy and healthy even in the harshest weather conditions.
10 Ways To Give Your Pooch A Workout: Exercising Your Dog Indoors
Whether a dog lover lives in a small apartment in the city, a sprawling home in the suburbs, or somewhere in between, one thing is for certain: dogs of all ages need exercise year-round, rain or shine, sleet or snow. However, there are certain times when taking the pooch for a stroll in the park simply isn’t an option – from heavy rains to freezing conditions that include snow, hail and ice, the winter months may not allow for outdoor exercise for pet parents or their beloved four-legged friends.
On the other hand, dogs who are kept indoors all winter long without any exercise can suffer both physically and emotionally – a complete lack of activity can lead to hyperactivity, increased aggression and anxiety, as well as other behavior-related issues. Dogs at every age need an appropriate level of exercise based on their physical condition, breed, and pre-existing health issues, if any. Therefore, it’s important to consult with the dog’s veterinarian first and foremost before beginning a new indoor exercise regimen, as certain activities or exercise techniques may not be appropriate for him.
Keeping all of this information in mind, it’s important to figure out a safe indoor exercise routine that works for everyone – which may include mixing it up here and there to avoid boredom for pups and owners alike. Below are 10 popular indoor dog exercises/activities to consider this winter:
- Go Fetch: Although it may be one of the oldest dog games known to man (and his best friend), fetch can actually be a great form of exercise for the family pooch. This activity may be a bit easier for homes with a long hallway, corridor or other spacious area (e.g., the basement or an empty garage), and best suited for small to medium-sized dogs, as larger breeds may be prone to knocking things over, especially in small apartments.
- Stair Master: For owners who happen to have a flight of stairs in their home, running up and down can potentially be a great form of exercise for some dogs. Because the steps create an additional challenge to his workout, climbing up and down the stairs engages different muscles than those used on a typical dog walk. However, owners should proceed with caution and use their best judgement, as this form of exercise isn’t appropriate for all dogs – particularly senior dogs, canines with arthritis, hip dysplasia, or other joint or spinal conditions, as well as dogs who may be suffering from other known health issues.
- Doggie Day-Trip: Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to be limited to the same four walls! For pet parents with friends or family members who also love dogs (or have dogs of their own), consider visiting someone else’s home – especially if they welcome the idea and have plenty of room for the dogs to play and move around. Another great option to consider: local indoor pet centers, which are popping up all across the United States. Such scenarios are excellent for socializing dogs with other pets, as well as other people, particularly if they are puppies or young dogs who are still learning socialization skills. There are also certain stores that welcome dogs, so consider bringing your furry friend out the next time you go shopping!
Note: Be certain to check with at-home hosts first to see if 1) they are okay with visiting dogs, 2) no one in the home is allergic to dogs, and 3) that the host’s dogs or other pets (if there are any) are friendly with other canines. It’s always wise to bring a crate with a dog’s favorite chew toys, a snuggly blanket, treats and other familiar items in the event that the dogs (or other household pets) do not get along with one another, or in the event that one’s dog shows signs of stress or canine social anxiety.
- Hit The Treadmill: The treadmill isn’t just for humans – believe it or not, dogs can also use treadmills, but experts recommend getting one that is designed specifically for pets. For the dog’s safety, be sure to get him used to the dog treadmill when it’s turned off. Next, turn it on using the slowest setting, and watch him closely to make sure he’s not overexerting himself. Be sure to observe him from the front end of the treadmill with treats on hand, and keep an eye on him during his workout. As stated earlier, it’s always best to consult a trusted veterinarian before incorporating any indoor dog exercise equipment into a canine exercise routine.
- Tricks For Treats: While the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” may be somewhat true, training a dog in various forms – from new skills or tricks to obedience lessons – can benefit him in several ways. In addition to keeping his body active, training one’s dog can also help to keep his mind busy and sharp at every age. For owners who know how to train their dogs properly – including appropriate verbal praise, positive reinforcement and tasty dog treats – the activity is not only an excellent form of exercise, but a great way to bond between dogs and owners.
- Toy Time: Another great way to burn a few calories: dog toys and chews. Depending on the dog’s breed, a trusted vet can advise the best (and safest) type of doggie chew toys, including appropriate sizes and materials. Most dogs go nuts over a new toy or chew, so giving him one can potentially provide him with many days’ worth of entertainment and good old-fashioned exercise, which is great news for cooped up pups suffering from the winter-time blues. Bonus: for pooches who are apt to chew on anything that’s not nailed down (especially dogs with separation anxiety), a sturdy chew toy can save furniture, clothes and shoes from canine destruction sprees.
- Swimming Indoors: It may not be the first form of exercise that comes to mind, but for owners of smaller breeds or puppies, using the bath as a place to practice the doggie paddle is another good form of physical activity. This can also be a valuable time to get puppies used to being in the water, particularly for owners who like to bring the family dog to the beach, lake, pool, on the boat, or anywhere else where there is open water (and the potential to swim). Teaching dogs to swim at a young age in the tub is an excellent way to prevent a fear of water while providing them with gentle exercise during the colder months. Always monitor your pup closely while in the bathtub, always follow the proper water safety tips for dogs, and reassure them often so as not to instill a fear of water.
- Dog Duty: For dogs who are already well-trained and generally obedient, owners may be able to teach their dog how to help with chores around the house. Some people have successfully trained their dogs to understand a few words, including household objects, which will obviously affect the success of putting dogs to work. For example, there are instances where pet parents have taught their furry friends to pick up laundry and carry it over to the hamper in their mouths on command; doggie treats are often used as a reward for such accomplishments. In other scenarios, dogs have also been known to engage in a fancy game of fetch – for example, bringing their owners things they need, such as the TV remote or the newspaper. This is yet another indoor activity that promotes exercise and pet/owner bonding, as well as honing a dog’s obedience skills.
- Mind Games: Another activity that has grown in popularity in recent years, mind puzzles for dogs are a great way to engage both his brain and his body. When faced with a mental challenge, most dogs become quite active. For example, there are specially-designed activities, such as interactive dog “puzzles” and food-dispensing toys, which provide hours of mental and physical stimulation for pooches of all ages. This is an especially good activity for dogs during the winter, since it does not require a great deal of space and is appropriate for nearly any size and breed. Caution: As with any dog toy or chew, it’s important that such toys and activities must be used only under human supervision – never leave dogs unattended with interactive toys or puzzles, as they can potentially pose a choking hazard, depending on their design, size, or the material that they are made of.
- Hide & Seek: Last but not least, a spirited game of hide & seek with one’s dog is not only the perfect opportunity to add physical activity to his afternoon, but a great activity for the entire family on a cold winter’s day. Simply tell the dog “sit” and go hide in another room. Then owners and other family members can call the dog and let him find everyone – the more people involved, the more interesting it gets! While the goal in this activity isn’t winning, per se, pet parents may want to slip pups a little dog biscuit when he “finds” people. After all, what’s a good playtime session without a tasty treat?
- Newton, Casey, BS, CPTD-KA. “How to Exercise Your Dog Indoors.” Preventive Vet.com, March 1, 2017, https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/how-to-exercise-your-dog-indoors. Accessed February 27, 2020.
- “16 Ways to Exercise Your Dog Indoors.” Pet Cube.com, February 27, 2018, https://petcube.com/blog/indoor-dog-exercise/. Accessed February 27, 2020.
- “How To Exercise Your Dog Indoors.” Cesar’s Way.com, September 12, 2019, https://www.cesarsway.com/how-to-exercise-your-dog-indoors/. Accessed February 27, 2020.