Coping with the Cold

Let’s be honest: the winter months are the time of year that it is the least fun to have a dog. (Especially if you live in brutally cold Wisconsin like me, where the temperature might drop to -50 degrees with the windchill this week!) It can be difficult, if not downright dangerous, to take our dogs out as much as we usually do, and they can easily get stir-crazy and antsy. Here are some ideas that will help to wear your dog out, all the while keeping them occupied, happy, and warm.

1. Training, training, training!

It will surprise nobody that one of my favorite things to do with Sasha when we can’t go outside and exercise is to train her. I use it as an opportunity to perfect old commands and teach new tricks, as anything that makes a dog use their brain will help to tire them out. I taught some of Sasha’s favorite tricks to her on days that the weather was too cruddy to go outside. And she loves it too! I can tell she is enjoying herself when I can see the “lightbulb moment” and she starts offering the new trick on her own.

2. Puzzles and Games

Puzzles are always a good idea, but especially this time of year! Sasha’s Christmas present this year was an activity mat, which has so many different spots to hide food. (The cats love it too!) I also have been playing a lot of “Find It”, which entails hiding food or treats around the house and having Sasha sniff it out and find it all.

3. Indoor Agility

Another fun activity is setting up a mini agility course right inside your house. It’s easy, and you don’t even need to buy anything for it! For example, I like to balance a broom between two chairs to create a makeshift jump. You can make several of these jumps in a row, and also make one that’s higher for your dog to crawl under. It’s fun seeing how quickly I can get Sasha to complete the courses that we make.

4. Chewing Projects

Chewing is another great way to keep your dog busy and happy. We keep a stockpile of stuffed Kongs in the freezer, along with frozen bones and other chews like bully sticks and beef tendons. Often, we will do one of the above activities with Sasha’s dinner, and give her a chewing project afterward. That way she gets some of her energy out and then can wind down with a delicious chew.


Hopefully these suggestions will enable you to make the most out of winter and help save your dog’s sanity (and your own!). I know they definitely helped me to enjoy the winter, rather than bide my time waiting for spring to come. With luck, the same thing will happen to you!

One of Sasha’s new favorite tricks (taught to her on a cold winter day!) is “hold”, which we worked to generalize to any small object. Though not useful in the traditional sense, this trick was fun for her to learn and was great enrichment when it was too cold to go out and walk.

A quick disclaimer: even when it is nice enough to get out and exercise your dog, training should still be part of your routine! But when it is nearly impossible to be outside, extra training is a great option. 🙂

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