Are you not entertained? Strategies for coping with canine cabin fever

Guest post by Liz N

Winter is coming, and with it, comes cabin fever. As bad as it is for humans, it’s even worse for canines.

Having worked in upstate New York as a foster for a local dog rescue, I know canine cabin fever. I have never been so out of my depth as when I fostered a husky and a Great Pyrenees at the same time. Both breeds love snow, laugh in the face of 10-degree weather, and, quite frankly, thought it was odd when I wanted to go inside before our digits fell off. (Have you ever heard a husky throw a tantrum because she wanted to stay outside and play? No? Lucky!)

Another time I was fostering a dachshund mix, and even above 50 degrees – shorts weather in upstate New York – she loathed going outside. I would take her outside for a walk and the moment the cool air touched her, she would freeze and glare darkly at nature until I took her back inside to her fortress of solitude.

Through these experiences, I learned that when the weather gets cold, you have two options on how to entertain your pooch: suck it up or get creative.

Suck it up outdoors

For the husky-type-dogs, who are virtually immune to cold (and/or have large amounts of energy to burn off), going out is necessary. Seriously, Google “husky destruction” if you ever want to see what a husky is capable of when not properly tuckered out. Most working dogs don’t like to be idle!

For these dogs, especially when it is above freezing, sucking it up and braving the cold works best. I got reusable hand warmers, a ski mask, insulated leggings to go under flannel jeans (ski pants also work great), and went on regular-but-shorter walks/runs. Or even schlepped them to the dog park. It’s upstate New York, so many dog parents would also be there, huddled together like penguins while our dogs frolicked oblivious to the elements in their fur coats.

Snow opens up a new realm of possibilities, especially if you enjoy outdoor sports. For a real fun bonding activity, I recommend skijoring — where you harness your dog to your waist and let them pull you along as you ski. It’s about as close to the Iditarod as you can get with only one dog. If you want to go that route, make sure you read up to make sure skijoring is a good fit for you and your pup.

Safety tip: If you have a dog with shorter fur, make sure you invest in clothing like Fido Fleece (or reuse old sweaters!) to keep your pup warm. Dogs can get frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold maladies, so be careful about staying out too long!

Get creative indoors

However, for those with the brave little dachshunds who hate the cold, there are many ways to get around long walks across arctic tundra. And even for dogs that like the cold, having some options to entertain them inside will help with your sanity this winter…

1. Food dispensing toys:

There is a whole world of food toys beyond Kongs, and many you can make at home. An oldie but a goodie: getting a muffin tin and some tennis balls. Put some treats in the muffin tin, tennis balls on top of that so that they hide the treat, and boom! Food toy. In the winter, I often give my dogs their meals in food dispensing toys, so they get extra play but don’t get plump from tons of extra treats.

2. Practice tricks (or learn a new games):

Keeping your dog cognitively stimulated is as important as keeping them physically tired. Performing tricks, or trying to learn new ones, is one way to keep dogs tired during the winter months. Think of it as a Sudoku puzzle with the added bonus of great bonding time with your dog. One of my favorite games is hide and seek. Ask your dog to stay in one room, and then go hide a toy or treat (or yourself!) in another. If you have a partner in crime, one of you can stay in the room while the other hides. This is a great activity that works even for limited spaces like one bedroom apartments.

3. Open the window a crack:

In my house, we call this “Doggie TV.” Pick a spot where your dog can look out the window — behind a couch, on the bed, near some stairs. Then open the window just a tiny crack to let some of the air in. The scents from outside open a whole new world of experiences for your pup! My dog will literally sit for hours staring out the window, nose busy as he takes in the smells of the neighborhood. It’s his version of Netflix.

4. Take a car ride:

Sometimes you just gotta get out. On days when I don’t fancy freezing at the dog park, I pile everyone up into the car and head to Petsmart or another pet-friendly store. We get to stretch our legs, see a new place, practice our manners, and the worst that happens is I come home with new toys.

5. Schedule a playdate:

Finally, one of the benefits to fostering is that I almost always had more than one dog in my house, and a network of other dog lovers. Invite a friend over who has their own pup for impromptu playdates, and you will both win by having tuckered out pooches — not to mention a chance to chat. You can also reach out to a local dog rescue to see if they have any dogs that would need temporary fostering. With the holidays coming up, many rescues have permanent fosters going on vacation and are desperate to find dog-savvy people who could take a pup in even for a weekend. Check out your local shelter to see if they maybe have the same needs!

Hopefully you can survive any canine cabin fever coming your way. Whether you need to suck it up and roll with the cold, or get creative in how to entertain your pup inside, it’s all about keeping your dog happy.

How do you keep your dog entertained in the winter?

Comments on Are you not entertained? Strategies for coping with canine cabin fever

  1. Oh man, I remember trying to tucker my dog out during those long Syracuse winters. Our neighbors would take their husky and Great Pyrenees to the neighborhood sledding hill to chase toboggans.

    My current dog is spoiled and loves his mild DC winters.

  2. My 11-month Samoyed is currently experiencing his first winter for real and oh how he loves snow. Good news: I love snow too. I take him to a sledge hill where we can both have fun: I slide downhill and he runs, I walk uphill and he runs. We do one-sided snowball fights: I throw, he catches. Or runs. Simply running a little in deep snow seems excessive fun to him, so I gladly oblige. Running is life.

    But then, he has this 2-inches fur and thrives under cold conditions, while he was miserable in our hot East Coast summer (as hot as East Coast could get in Canada, anyway). I wear my full snow regalia complete with snow pants and waterproof gloves, and since I’m active too, the cold doesn’t sting much.

    Bonus: cuddling with him once the snow-frolicking is over. Priceless.

  3. I have two border collies, and also live in upstate New York. (I’m near Albany.) One of them loves to chase snowballs. The other one hasn’t experienced a proper snowy winter yet (last year was mild), so it’ll be interesting to see what he does. (As I type, he has his head on my lap wondering why I’m not petting him. Gotta run.)

  4. I have a husky who has never been too cold, even in -30F windchill (thanks, Chicago!). I wear two winter coats at a time (one short down coat and one long down coat) and I suck it up for her. I’m glad I have a pup who forces me to move around in the winter and avoid the winter weight gain 🙂

  5. I have had my 15 month old Labrador/Whippet mix since he was two months old. Last winter he was still such a puppy that the biggest challenge was house training during winter. I consider this winter his first “real” winter. So far it has only been cold for a few weeks but we are already noticing a difference. Since he has really short fur he is not a true winter dog but his energy level requires him to be. I just tried putting his winter coat on him, something that didn’t bother him at all last year, and this year he just freezes in place and refuses to move. He is getting boots for Hanukkah and I am pretty sure that will be a similar problem. For now we just go out to play in the back yard a few times a day. Hopefully he will get used to his winter gear and we can go to the dog park.

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