Keeping your dog calm in the Winter

December 26, 2023

Cebastian works on a puzzle near the Christmas tree.

Here in Virginia, we are lucky enough to only get a few months of the year when the weather is too horrible to walk the dogs. This is especially true if we have mild winters. That doesn’t mean we want to be out in the cold. So what do we do with our dogs when it’s cold and dark and we just don’t want to go for a walk? Here are a few of my favorite things to do with my dogs instead of walks.


Avoiding Vet visits is always a priority in my house. Some things are unavoidable like upset tummies and the various lacerations my dogs seem to find. (It’s embarrassing how often I ask Cargo why she is bleeding) One of the things I try to avoid is lameness. Since my dogs have no sense of self preservation, I try to keep their bodies in top shape to compensate when they do something dumb like jump off the top of the 6 ft A-frame in my yard.
Conditioning routines look a lot like our gym workouts in that they have a number of sets and number of reps the dogs must complete. My dogs first work on body awareness to help them understand that they have feet and a rear that they can in fact move independently and with thought. Some of my favorite exercises are “Sit to Stand” and “Tuck sits” which both help work the dogs rear and avoid devastating surgeries from torn cruciate ligaments.

Puzzle Toys

Some days I just don’t have the mental capacity to entertain my dogs. Enter puzzle toys! I have a variety of these, and at dinner time I put my dogs food into their puzzles, separate them and let them work through their dinner. Depending on the dog and the puzzle, they could be working up to 20 minutes. This means when they are done, they are quiet and they have let me get some stuff done. Puzzle toys also tap into your dogs need to forage for their food, shred things and sniff out where the food has disappeared to.

Scent Work

Nala works her muscles using inflatable conditioning equipment.

This is the one thing I have found to really mentally wear out my dogs. Scientifically, this is because a dogs olfactory center is housed in most of their frontal lobe. All that sniffing is using up quite a bit of brain power!
I have taught my dogs to find the normal AKC trial scents, birch, anise, and cypress but I also can toss a chunk of meat in a container. The small ziplock containers that usually hold a serving size of M&M’s or peanuts work just fine. Punch a few holes into the top and toss a piece of cheese or leftover dinner in there. The first few reps, show your dog where you are putting it so they know what game they are playing. After that you can start with some easy hides, then over time make them harder and harder. Want to get really difficult? Put out multiple hides each time you play, or work on your dog staying in one place while you put out your hides.

These games are also great for our dogs with big feelings. When the weather is nice, all the other dogs are outside and some dogs just cannot handle that. Spending some one on one time with them playing games will only improve your bond, and keep your dog from rehearsing behavior you wish they wouldn’t.
The nice weather will be back soon but in the meantime make sure you spend some time playing with your dog. You will both be happier for it! Who knows it might become one of the things you and your dog both look forward to!

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At The Freckled Paw, we are committed to kindness towards both you and your dog. We understand that every dog and owner team is different and will have their own unique challenges. We pride ourselves in listening to your challenges and coming up with a plan that will help you reach your goals for your life with your dog. Let us help you navigate your challenges and come up with a plan that works!