Great ideas to help you and your dog get the best out of the season...
1. Get crafty!
The days may have grown shorter and the weather has taken a turn for the worst, but you can still keep yourself occupied by getting crafty and making something fun or practical for your dog.
A home-made snuffle rug will help to keep him entertained; this is an innovative idea that encourages scent work, and is a great activity for older and convalescing dogs, and really quite easy to make.
All you need is an ordinary rubber doormat with drainage holes. Simply thread different coloured fleece strips through the holes, tying them securely in a tight knot. Once all the holes in the mat have been filled and the fleece strips tied up, you can turn it over, sprinkle dry treats on to the rug, and encourage your dog to sniff them out! There are plenty of YouTube tutorials online to help you get started, or you can even buy ready made snuffle rugs.
2. Paws for thought
Did you know that icy conditions and cold weather could have an adverse effect on your dog’s paws and nails? Regular nail trimming will help to prevent your dog’s nails from snapping. You can either ask your dog groomer to do this, or invest in some clippers and gently remove the end of the nails, being careful not to go too far up and cut the quick, which can be painful and cause bleeding.
Ice, snow, and salt can be very damaging to your pet’s pads and so it is important to make a habit of immediately washing and drying your dog’s feet after every walk. If your dog’s paws are particularly susceptible to cracking you could even consider buying him some special protective dog booties, although not all dogs are happy to wear these. Covering your dog’s paws in a canine protective wax can also help to keep paws healthy and in good condition during the winter months.
3. Be seen
Walking in the dark on a winter’s night can be a little unnerving, but investing in some high-visibility reflective clothing will ensure you are seen and that you and your dog remain safe. There are plenty of jackets and gilets on the market for owners to wear, as well as a range of reflective coats, collars, and leads for dogs. You can also buy collars and tags fitted with bright LED lights so that other dog walkers and motorists can easily spot you. And if your dog loves to play ball, it may still be possible in the dark if you treat him to a glow in the dark or flashing dog ball.
4. Ditch the itch
Some people are under the impression that they only need to treat their dog for fleas during spring and summer. However, it is important to remember that flea treatments are still necessary during the colder months. It’s true that dogs are less likely to catch fleas while playing outside in the winter, but unfortunately fleas can thrive all year round in our warm, centrally heated homes. Treating your dog and your house regularly will help to prevent flea infestations and associated allergy problems.
5. Snow fun!
Some dogs adore the snow, and if your dog hasn’t seen it before make sure you get your camera at the ready to film his reaction. As well as walking and playing in the snow, try throwing snowballs for him to catch, encourage him to catch the snow on his tongue, roll in it to make snow angels, and then bury some toys and treats for him to find. Another fun activity for all the family is to make a snow dog. See if you can make one that resembles your own dog, then sit your real dog next to it and take a picture. Send your pictures into our gallery — we would love to see them!
6. The great indoors
If you are missing getting out and about with your dog during the winter months, why not enrol him in some fun indoor classes? You could try indoor agility or flyball, heelwork to music, or trick training. Any of these will help to keep your dog happy and socialised, and you will meet some great new human and canine friends.
If your dog already knows a few tricks, you could consider choosing some music and putting a little routine together, then having a go at a video competition. The ‘Video Dogs’ group on Facebook runs several competitions a year, and some are suitable for complete beginners, as they allow the use of food and treats. Video competitions are particularly useful for people who live in remote areas and cannot attend shows, or who have a reactive dog who would find a show situation too stressful.
7. Perfect timing
In the summer it is recommended that people walk their dogs early in the morning or later in the evening, when the temperatures are cooler. However, if you and your dog feel the cold, it’s better to change your routine and walk him later in the morning and during the early afternoon, when the temperature becomes a little warmer.
People and dogs can benefit from the uplift in mood that winter sunshine brings, so on those occasions, when you notice the sun is shining, make sure you get outside and play a game of ball or Frisbee in the garden with your dog, or hide some toys and treats for him to find. Fun in the sun is not just for summer!
8. Cosy up...
Some dogs actively choose to sleep on a cool floor during the summer months, but in winter it’s much nicer to provide them with a warm, raised bed. If your dog is elderly, or has a very thin coat, he may appreciate some extra blankets and a bed that is situated in a draught-free corner of your house, in proximity to a radiator or fire. And, just as we like to put our electric blankets on during the winter months, you can now buy low voltage and self-heating thermal pads for dogs, to ensure they are as cosy and happy as you are!
9. Get physical
With a bit of careful preparation there is no reason why you and your dog should lose fitness during the winter. As well as enjoying long winter walks together, you can get creative and set up some fun indoor games and activities. Try putting up an indoor agility course for your dog to negotiate, using broom handles, buckets, and cushion tunnels, and if your dog is fit and healthy you could throw a ball up the stairs for him to run and fetch. Running up and down the stairs for short periods can also help to keep owners fit!
Mind games are just as entertaining and tiring for dogs, so invest in some interactive toys and food puzzles that will stimulate your dog’s senses and help to develop his mental skills and body awareness. Interactive games are particularly useful when the weather is at its bleakest and the thought of a long walk seems particularly unappealing!
10. Brush up!
Make sure you keep on top of grooming your dog’s coat during the winter months to remove any tangles and matting so that the hair continues to provide him with the insulation and warmth that nature intended. Your dog may not need the short cut at the groomer’s that he has in the summer months, but a long, matted coat can cause multiple problems for him.
On the bright side, one of the great joys of winter is being able to go on a long, relaxing walk on a frosty morning. The very best thing about frost is that you can say goodbye to muddy paws and dirty coats — bliss!