Winter Activities for Therapy Dogs

Jasmine Marie and her two dogs
Jasmine Marie is the program coordinator and dog trainer for Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC), part of CSU’s School of Social Work.

by Jasmine Marie

2019 is officially in full swing! The post-holiday season can leave us in a bit of a slump—too much holiday food, winter weather keeping us indoors, and days getting longer but not quite long enough. At this time of year, your veterinarian may note your animal has put on a bit of “winter weight” due to lack of exercise and too many table scraps.

Staying active and healthy over these chillier months is extremely important for physical and mental well-being. Here are a few ways to keep your therapy dog active during the winter season:

Winter dog walks

Daily walks will always be the best form of exercise. Sunny days aren’t hard to come by in Colorado and they make for beautiful brisk walking weather. However, keep in mind a dog’s paws, tail, and ears are most susceptible to cold weather, with paws being most at risk, because they are in contact with the ground.

Here are some helpful hints to keep your dog’s paws comfortable during winter season walks:

  • Keep them off the sidewalks or roads where heavy deicing salts and chemicals have been used. Try to walk them in the snow or grassy areas.
  • You can buy products that help to create a barrier between paws and the winter elements. I use Bag Balm, not only on paws, but on noses too. Apply regularly to moisturize paws and help prevent cracking. It also helps keep salts and chemicals from getting into any of those paper cut-like cracks. Ouch!!
  • Even while using protective balms or sprays, wash and dry paws after each walk to remove toxic deicing products. It will prevent burning, and discourage dogs from licking their paws and ingesting something harmful.
  • Dog booties are your best option to keep paws safe. If you decide to get booties, they should stay in place while your dog is walking, but not be so tight that they prevent walking with a normal stride. Keep in mind what type of traction is needed: City sidewalks? Off leash in the mountains? Our local feed stores can help you with this too!

Avoiding snowballs

For some dogs, having fun in the snow can mean the collection of ‘snowballs’ in the coat’s feathers and between the pads of the paws. I learned the best tip for preventing snowballs in a dog’s fur while living in Steamboat Springs with my Golden Retriever, Jacob.

Prior to going for a walk, spray your dog’s feathers and inside their paws (if not wearing booties) with cooking spray. Yes, you heard me right: cooking spray, such as “Pam.” This helps prevent snow from sticking to their fur. Trust me, it does not leave the coat oily; the snow will rinse it off. (I have three Steamboat winters as proof.)

Jacob wanted to lick the oil when I sprayed him with it, but to remedy that I made sure to send him outside immediately. The excitement of going for a walk takes your dog’s mind off it.

Indoor games and activities for dogs

Playing games inside can also be a great way to keep dogs active. You may not have your usual amount of space and have to be a bit more careful, but playing fetch indoors will keep your dog moving around instead of lounging on the couch all day.

So too, practice commands and tricks for mental stimulation. Hide and seek or “find it” just like when we taught our dogs the “cups” command in the HABIC Level 3/AAT class is a perfect indoor activity at home. Here is a good link to review teaching the “find it” command.

If you’re absolutely desperate to leave the house, try taking your pet with you to dog-friendly areas around town, such as to the pet/feed store to pick up their food. Ace Hardware, Home Depot, Lowe’s and most retail sporting goods stores and are also pet friendly and would be a fun outing for your pooch.

Food puzzles and plans

This is a great time of year to make meal time more interesting by utilizing puzzle toys for treats and food. Kong toys can provide mental stimulation while making your dog work for treats. However, please consider adjusting your dog’s daily calorie intake based on the level of activity they’re getting during winter months.

If your dog refuses to go out in the cold, reduce calorie intake to match reduced activity levels. On the other hand, if your dog loves the snow and plays in it all day long, you may actually need to increase daily calorie intake. If you need help deciding how much to feed, contact me or your veterinarian.

Whether you love or hate winter weather, keep your pet in mind when planning daily activities! Adjust walks based on the weather outside, get creative with indoor games, and monitor food intake over these next couple months. Keeping your pet healthy and active now will help your dog stay healthy for years to come!

About Human-Animal Bond in Colorado

Founded in 1993, Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) is a center in the School of Social Work, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. HABIC’S mission is to improve the quality of life for people of all ages through the therapeutic use of companion animals, with particular focus in the areas of community outreach, teaching, and research.