Outdoor activities are essential for dogs, even during the coldest winter months, and games provide not only exercise and fresh air, but also mental stimulation and bonding with owners that can keep a dog happy and healthy all winter long. Fortunately, there are many different games that can be fun for both dogs and their owners in winter.
- Fetch: Fetch is the universal canine game for any season, and dogs will love bounding through snow to retrieve a tossed object. When snow gets deep, opt for a brightly colored foam ring, Frisbee or other object that may not sink as deeply into drifts, and avoid tossing objects so far that dogs cannot find them or are unable to reach them through heavy snow.
- Catch: Dogs love to catch anything tossed in the air, and it's easy to toss snowballs for them to play with. As they catch snowballs, chomping and biting instincts will also be satisfied, but avoid roughhousing play at the same time to avoid any accidental bites. Use only clean snow for the snowballs (no salt, dirt or other debris), and do not pack them too tightly.
- Sledding: Sliding actions can intrigue a dog because it is a more unusual activity, and dogs can easily learn to enjoy sledding or sliding down gentle slopes. Be sure dogs are welcome in a suitable sledding area, and gradually teach them how to balance on a moving sled. With patience, dogs can learn to conquer faster slopes or even snowboarding.
- Dogsledding: If a dog is more interested in pulling than riding, dogsledding can be an ideal game, particularly for larger breeds. Attach a small sled to the dog's harness – never to a collar that could present a choking hazard – and gradually add weight to the sled for a greater challenge. In time, large dogs may even enjoy pulling their owners along on walks!
- Snow Maze: Dogs love to explore, and it's easy to shovel or trample a simple maze for them to use. Paths do not have to be complex but the snow depth should be adequate so they are not tempted to jump out of the pathways. Make the maze more challenging by positioning your dog at one end then calling them to you at the other, or add treats throughout the maze to encourage their exploration.
- Obstacle Course: A more challenging version of a snow maze, a snow obstacle course not only includes multiple pathways, but also short arches or tunnels for dogs to negotiate, as well as low walls or deeper pits to jump. This can be a great diversion for dogs with agility training or just for fun, but be sure to monitor them in the course so it stays safe while they use it.
- Hide & Seek: Give a dog's nose a winter workout by playing hide and seek with their favorite scents outdoors. Use scented bait or treats and bury different objects in the yard for them to find, or leave objects outdoors when snowfall begins so they can find them when the storm ends.
Tips for Outdoor Fun
With so many great winter games to play, it's easy to spend time outdoors with your dog, but always do so safely.
- Limit outdoor time during the coldest days, and adjust playtimes to compensate for colder weather or wind chills
- Stay in safe outdoor areas away from dangers, such as barely frozen ponds or wire fences, which may be hidden by snowfall.
- Dress your dog for the weather with an added coat or canine boots if necessary, especially for very young or elderly dogs.
- Keep liquid water on hand to keep your dog from dehydrating, and train them not to eat snow or ice that can lower their body temperature and put them at risk for hypothermia.
- Rinse your dog's paws free of salt and make sure they are able to dry off and warm up quickly after playing outside.
With the right games and basic winter safety, it's easy to spend quality outdoor time with your canine friend all winter long.