Cognitive Enrichment and Physical Activities for Dogs in Winter

We all know it’s important for us to help keep our dogs physically and mentally engaged, but the cold, snow and wind that often comes this time of year may make it harder for us to step out and get that physical activity and cognitive enrichment our dogs need. And we all know our Wisconsin weather can be unpredictable, sometimes bringing blustery snowstorms and extreme, unwelcome cold that may limit our options of activities to do with our beloved canines! But don’t let that hinder you from taking advantage of our Wisconsin winter weather!

Below you’ll find some ideas for activities to do indoors when it is too cold to go outside as well as some fun, cognitive-enriching activities to do outside in the snow when the weather does allow! It’s also important to be aware of the dangers of the colder weather our Wisconsin winters bring, so we’ve included some cold weather safety tips to keep in mind when you’re able to play outdoors with your dog.

Cognitive Enriching Activities and Exercises to do Indoors

1. Play hide-and-seek. A child’s favorite past-time may be just what your dog needs for some cognitive enrichment at home! You can try hiding your dog’s favorite toy and ask your dog to fetch it. It may be best to start out easy until your dog catches on. Or, if you have enough time to sneak away, you can be the one to hide! Once you’ve found your hiding spot, call out for your dog and reward him when he finds you! You can keep playing over and over. If your dog finds this game a bit difficult at first, you can entice your pup by leaving a trail of treats leading to you! He will have to sniff and follow the trail to find you, testing his sense of smell.

2. Use stuffed “brain-teaser” toys for treats to make your dog work for them! If your dog needs encouragement to play, there are brands of toys such as Kong that offer fun options to keep your pup engaged and active, even while trying to enjoy a snack. Try a stuffable Kong toy and fill it with some of your dog’s favorite treats! This will keep your dog busy when you can’t provide one-on-one attention to him or when you have to step away.

If you have scheduled vacations or have days or times you need someone else to be with your pup when you have to be away, reach out to Milwaukee Paws Pet Care today. We offer pet sitting in Milwaukee, and we make sure to provide cognitive enrichment for dogs when you can’t be there to provide it for them. 

3. Provide some puzzle toys for your dog. We know it’s important to not only keep our dogs physically active, but cognitively engaged, as well. Try some mentally stimulating toys such as a dog brick treat puzzle or a Trixie Activity Fun Board. Or check out your local pet store to find the toys right for you and your pup! These tricky “brain-teaser” toys will help keep your canine immersed in a cognitively-enriched environment.

4. Exercise together! If you enjoy doing yoga, or other indoor workout moves including abdominal crunches, try to get your dog involved in getting his exercise in, too! For example, if you are doing ab crunches, try having your dog’s favorite toy in your hands. After every few crunches, throw your dog’s toy so he can chase after it! (Of course, make sure it’s a soft toy so you don’t damage any surrounding furniture or accessories). Or if you enjoy doing squats, you can do something similar! After every few squats, tap your dog with his favorite toy and then raise it above your head so he has to jump for it! Doing these simple exercises can help keep him engaged and active during your workout, making it fun and interactive for both of you.

5. Dog Stairs. Speaking of indoor exercise, if you have stairs in your home, use them! You can put your dog on a leash and walk up and down the stairs together! To get some variety, you can try taking two steps at a time, jogging up and down the stairs or even walking sideways to switch things up! Make sure you take breaks and have water available for both you and your pup as this can be a tiring but rewarding exercise to do together!

6. Play fetch or tug-of-war! Just because it may be too cold or blistery to play outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t find room to play one of many dogs’ favorite games! Find an open area or long hallway clear of any obstacles or breakable items. You can even try playing fetch up and down a stairway if your dog is agile enough!

7. Get creative! When your usual indoor activities aren’t cutting it anymore, try using things around the home to create your own toys or challenges for your dog to complete! Check out Pinterest for DIY toys you can make at home if you need some more ideas. You can even try creating your own ball pit for your pup to search for treats! Simply fill up a kiddie pool with some plastic balls, throw in some healthy dog treats, and enjoy watching your dog surf through the balls to be rewarded with his treats! (If you do this with more than one dog at a time, be careful of any food aggression issues that may arise between them; It may be best to do this with only one dog at a time for this reason).

8. Create an indoor obstacle course! Another fun idea is to create your own obstacle course in your home! Use items such as laundry baskets, tunnels, hula hoops or blankets to create a fun and challenging obstacle course for your dog to solve and complete! Encourage your dog to crawl through hand-made tunnels, over baskets, and around other objects to get to a special reward at the end.

9. Go on indoor outings. Do you have friends or family who also have dogs at home? Plan an indoor play date to let your pups burn off some energy together! Or make your dog feel pampered and take a road trip to a pet-friendly shop or pet store to buy your dog a new toy or a special treat!

If you are having trouble finding enough time for your dog to socialize with other people or dogs, Milwaukee Paws Pet Care has you covered! We are happy to step in when you are unable to provide your beloved dog the cognitive enrichment and exercise he needs.

Luckily, a good majority of our winter weather should still allow for plenty of outdoor play time and exercise! When you’re ready to bundle up and play outside, here are some ideas of different games and cognitive enrichment activities to keep your canine physically and mentally stimulated in the fresh, outdoor air!

Outdoor Cognitive Enrichment Activities and Exercises for Dogs

1. Go for a walk or run! It may be colder, but if your sidewalks are shoveled and you have a clear, safe path to take, a walk/run is still an excellent activity to do with your dog. Just make sure you’re dressed for the elements.

If you are struggling to meet the needs of your beloved pet or simply need pet care in Milwaukee, reach out to Paws Pet Care today. We understand the dynamic cognitive, physical and behavioral needs of your pets and would love to talk to you about how we can help, whether it’s through pet-sitting or dog walking in Milwaukee, among our other services!

2. Play fetch! Just as with warmer weather, playing fetch is a fun, physical activity that will help your pup burn off some energy! Just be sure to use a brightly colored ball or frisbee so that it’s easier to spot in the thick snow.

3. Play “find it” fetch! This may be especially fun when there is snow on the ground to make the “hunt” a bit more challenging. Let your dog smell some treats, then take a few of them with you outside and hide them around the yard or in the snow! Then let your dog come search for his tasty treats in the snow! It will be fun to see how good your dog may be at finding his treats and will test his ability to hunt and retrieve!

4. Have a fetch race! Throw one of your dog’s favorite toys and run/chase with him to get it. See who gets there first! Be sure to find a safe, slip-free space to play and be sure to avoid any patches of ice so no one gets hurt!

5. Take a trip to the dog park! Keep some variety in your outdoor destinations. If you usually play in your backyard with your pup, change it up and take your dog to the dog park, a nature trail or another exciting change in scenery that will help mentally stimulate your dog. Just be mindful if you do take your dog to a dog park, be sure that he does not have any aggression issues and will call when commanded; this will help ensure a positive experience for everyone at the park.

6. Play and frolic in the snow! Make sure you’re dressed for the elements, and go out and run, jump and hop through the snow! Make some snowballs for your dog to chase down a hill, or create piles of snow for your dog to jump in! Your pup will get an excellent work out jumping through the piles and you will undoubtedly enjoy watching your pup enjoy the beautiful white snow!

7. Take your other “indoor” activities outside! Most of the activities listed above in our suggestions of indoor activities can easily be accommodated to do outside, as well! A good game of tug-of-war or a fun and challenging obstacle course are great physical activities to take outdoors that will help encourage your dog’s focus while keeping them cognitively stimulated.

Doing these and other physical and cognitively engaging activities outdoors throughout the year will help your pup stay healthier, less stressed, stimulated and at a healthier weight. Additionally, providing your dog with ways to burn up energy also helps keep them from developing behavioral issues and other health problems. However, with the colder weather comes a few extra precautions we should keep in mind to also further protect our pets. Please keep these guidelines and suggestions in mind when planning outdoor activities with your beloved dog.

Cold Weather Safety Tips when Playing Outdoors

1. Dress for the weather. When playing with your pup outdoors in the colder elements, you want to be sure that not only are you dressed properly, but that your dog has the right attire, too. Smaller dogs or dogs with shorter hair or of certain breeds may require more protection from the cold, so a sweater or other cozy dog-apparel may be needed. You can check with your local Vet to be sure of your dog’s needs.

2. Take advantage of natural protections and barriers. Taking a walk through a wooded trail or in town where there are tall buildings will help protect you and your dog from the wind on those blistery days. Additionally, the smells and sounds you will experience while walking through a forest or nature trail will be much more cognitively stimulating and interesting for your dog than a simple stroll around the block.

3. Invest in waterproof attire for wet days. Our Wisconsin weather is unpredictable, so we need to be prepared for all elements! Invest in gear for yourself and your dog to wear on days when rain or snow may be in the forecast.

4. Stay hydrated and well-fed. It may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes when we get busy with an activity and the sun isn’t making us sweat, we forget about the basics. Staying warm uses up more energy, so be sure you and your pup are getting enough water and eat regular meals to keep energy levels up.

5. Ask questions and keep regular Veterinarian visits. Your dog may have special needs or requirements so be sure to follow the guidelines and recommendations from your dog’s Vet. Pay attention to your dog’s cues that may signal he is being over or under-exerted during play and exercise.  Also, chances are that if you are cold while playing outside, your dog is likely cold, too. Go inside, warm up and take advantage of some cuddle and relaxation time with your beloved pet!

Are you having a hard time meeting the cognitive enrichment and physical activity needs for your dog? We understand the time and dedication it takes to meet all of your beloved dog’s cognitive, behavioral and physical needs and we are here to help! Milwaukee Paws Pet Care offers pet-sitting and dog walking in Milwaukee, in addition to providing cognitive enrichment for dogs. If you have questions or would like more information about our Milwaukee services, please reach out today! And happy frolicking!

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