by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Winter is a season when dogs, just like people, have to work a bit harder to maintain a healthy weight. Hot, humid days and warm temperatures in other seasons often markedly reduce a dog's appetite and as a result they eat less. No such problem in the winter when hearty appetites can easily increase caloric intake. Also, cold weather is likely to reduce outside activities. This double whammy - more calories in, fewer calories burned - leads to unwanted weight gains. It is important to find some activity, despite snow and cold days, for your dog to enjoy.
If you happen to own an Arctic breed dog such as an Alaskan malamute, a Siberian husky or a Samoyed you will probably have no difficulty getting your canine outside to enjoy winter. There are some really exciting sports where these breeds often compete. I am referring to dog sled racing or dog sled pulls. Such competitions are organized by various dog breed clubs throughout Ontario. Remember, though, that dogs of other breeds may enjoy these activities as much as the breeds we traditionally associate with them. For several years a team of Standard poodles competed in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, probably the most famous race of its kind.
For dogs that enjoy a similar rigorous level of exercising, flyball competition is becoming an increasingly popular sport. Just about any breed of dog can participate in this fast -paced, action-filled activity. This sport also has the advantage of being able to be played inside. Therefore, there is no off-season. Flyball competitions in arenas may be a bit more deafeningly loud for the human spectators but the dogs enjoy it just the same, anywhere it is played.
Dog sled racing or flyball action may be a bit more athletic an endeavour than you think your dog would enjoy. If so, I would encourage you to continue, even in the cold weather months, that most popular of dog activities - walking. Most dogs are not really bothered by sub zero outside temperatures. A walk in the snow may be even more exciting for them. Sweaters, coats and jackets for dogs come in a variety of sizes and materials if there is concern that a pet may become chilled during a wintertime walk. I have not yet heard about a dog who skis, but, I have had many people tell me their dog loves to go with them when they do some cross country skiing. If your dog has a fenced in backyard, even though it may less interesting for you out there in the winter, the same may not be true for your dog. They still like to patrol their territory, investigate the changed landscape, communicate with their doggy neighbours and so on, at any time of year. Again, as long as they can get back inside when they wish or find protection from cold winds and dampness if they need, they will be just fine. Don't make the decision for them that they need to spend more time relaxing by the fireplace.
Many dogs, even if not retrievers by breed, enjoy playing 'fetch' with a playmate. In winter, all you have to do is make sure the object being retrieved will not disappear in the snow and be hidden. Frisbees work well even in the snow since they will usually remain quite visible when they land, if not caught before. A stuffed woolen sock or a favourite dog toy will likely work equally well.
Swimming is great exercise for a dog. When ice and freezing temperatures prevent a dog from doing this in a backyard pool, lake or pond, just move inside for the winter. There are several canine pool facilities in our area. It will be an exciting car ride, a chance to share some time with you and meet some canine friends with similar interests for your dog.
A change in seasons does not bring about a change in exercise requirements for our pets. Keep your canine companion active and it will help reduce winter waistline worries for both of you.