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Home > Pet News and Articles > Winter's No Reason to Stay Indoors

Winter's No Reason to Stay Indoors
Article By: Glenn Redmond

While we settle into winter, you might want to sit by the fire on a snowy day, but that does not mean your dog shares the same vision. Most dogs love the snow and are still rearing to go, even after the mercury drops.

Many pet owners struggle with winter exercise for their pooch as salted side walks restrict leisurely strolls around town. Knee deep snow makes walking wooded trails an exercise in frustration for owners who by now think 10 C and rain in July is utopia.

But don't despair. There are many winter activities that you and your dog can participate in, taking the sting out of that cold air and providing fun and exercise at the same time.

Dog Sledding

If you envision large teams of huskies and malamutes when you think of dog sledding, think again. Two dogs are all you need to pull a sled and most breeds over 30 pounds can participate.

You will need a sled and harness as well as ganglines that attach the dogs to the sled. All of the equipment will cost between $500 and $1000 for recreational users.

Start slowly, allowing your dogs to get accustomed to the equipment. Stick with two dogs so both canines and humans can learn their limits. As your skills improve, you can add a friend's dog, keeping in mind that your speed increases with every dog added.

Skijoring

This is a sport in which you stand on skis rather than a sled and unlike sledding, only requires one dog. The idea is for both dog and skier to move in unison and therefore does not require the same pulling power as dog sledding.

You will need ski equipment, a skijoring belt for yourself and a good harness and tow line for your dog with a quick release snap. You could get started for roughly $150.00. High speeds can quickly be attained in this activity, making it essential to have good control of your dog before you start. Dogs should at least know the commands of "down", "stay", "stand" and "stop" to ensure safety for both of you.

Snow Shoeing

Snow shoes enable you to use trails that otherwise would be inaccessible. The simplest activity of them all, snow shoeing does not require any special training or conditioning for your dog. Remember, in deeper snow, your dog will work twice as hard thus expending more energy. Frequent breaks are advisable. You can purchase a pair of snow shoes for between $50.00 and $250.00.

Things to Remember

1) Check with your vet: Schedule a check up to ensure your dog is healthy enough to be in cold weather and participate in winter activities. Remember that puppies and senior dogs have special requirements and sometimes find it hard to regulate their body temperature in cold weather.

2) Protect the paws: Snow and ice can quickly build up between the pads, so check these areas often, removing any frozen chunks immediately. Watch for salt build up in parking lots and have water on hand to wash away salt or other chemicals that have gathered on the pads and to prevent licking and ingesting these harmful substances. Booties offer great protection from the elements and can be purchased at most pet stores.

3) Prevent dehydration: Dogs dehydrate as quickly in winter as they do in summer. They cannot get enough fluid by simply eating snow. Carry clean drinking water along with you. Letting them quench their thirst from rain puddles carries the risk of illnesses such as Giardia.

4) Prevent hypothermia: Exercise temporarily increases body temperature, but during break time, especially if the fur is wet, dogs will lose body heat. Shivering is the earliest sign that a dog is too cold and as hypothermia sets in, dogs become weak and lethargic. Have a towel ready to dry your pet. Owners of short coated breeds or dogs with little undercoat should consider carrying a properly fitting sweater or jacket for their pet. After exercise, bring your dog indoors and let them rest in a warm dry place.

5) Carry extra food: Never exercise your dog on a full stomach as this may cause bloat, a life threatening condition in which the stomach distends with gas and twists on itself. Feed small snacks during exercise to ensure your dogs' fuel needs are met.

6) Be aware of your surroundings: Keep your dog away from rivers and ponds that may not have completely frozen over and large snow drifts that your dog could fall into. Familiarize yourself with wildlife in the area and watch for signs of their presence. Most wild animals will want to stay away from you, but your dog's natural inclination to pursue wildlife may elicit a defensive response, making even a normally docile species potentially dangerous.

We do not have to lie dormant with our dogs all winter, longing for the easy days of summer. Chilly, grey winter days do not dull a dog's zest for life or its need for exercise. In fact, a dog's enthusiasm can serve as great motivation for getting out and enjoying winter sports.

Many who have started winter sports get so much enjoyment and bonding time with their dogs that they now wish the winter would never end.

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