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How to Properly Exercise Dogs in the Cold Winter

Feb 2nd, 2022

Chicago winters can get pretty chilly, especially with those strong gusts plowing bitterly cold wind off Lake Michigan. With all the snow, cold, gray skies and overall frostiness of Illinois’ winter months, it can be hard to venture out of our cozy luxury Chicago apartments to walk our dogs as often as we would in the summer.

Our sweet dogs, though, are at our complete mercy when it comes to getting exercise and mental stimulation, and it’s up to us to provide them with plenty of opportunities to stay healthy and happy.

Here are some handy tricks and tips to getting your dog enough exercise in the winter, even if the weather is miserably cold!

How to properly exercise dogs in the winter 

Keep your dog warm when outside

If you do still go outside for regular walks or extended hikes, keeping your dog properly warm is crucial for keeping them comfortable and safe. And although our furry, four-legged friends may be descendants from mighty wolves who survived the most recent Ice Age, most canines today are less prepared for the cold than their ancestors were, and therefore need a little extra care and attention when it comes to protection from the elements.

Dogs regulate their body temperature differently depending on their breed, so take stock of how your dog’s fur, age, coat color and weight will affect their ability to keep warm on a walk outside.

  • Age & health: very young or very old dogs are more easily affected by the cold, and if your dog is suffering from an illness or recovering from an injury, then they are even more susceptible.
  • Coal thickness and length: Thin coats are obviously less cold resistant than pups with thicker coats, as are shorter coats.
  • Color: interestingly enough, even your dog’s skin color and fur color will play a part in its ability to keep warm. Dogs with darker fur or darker base skin color can better retain heat than dogs with lighter coats or lighter skin.

It’s important for us as dog owners to keep an eye on their warmth while walking outdoors in the winter. Dogs have a harder time sensing temperature changes than humans do, so if they reach the point where they start to shiver or get chilly, it’s likely well past their point of comfort. Keep an appropriate dog sweater handy if you plan to be out for a while, and don’t wait for them to signal to you that it’s too cold for them. 

Make time spent outdoors more exciting

Unless your dog absolutely thrives in the cold, it may be difficult to get your dog (and you) excited about being outside in the bitter winter air for longer than absolutely necessary. This can interfere with your dog’s mental and physical stimulation, leaving them feeling antsy or overactive indoors without having had a proper outlet for their energy. All in all, not a great combo for a season where we are all cooped up indoors already.

If you do get chances to go outside to exercise, think of ways to make it more interesting so that your dog can get the most out of their walks, remembering that even something as simple as new sights and smells can provide great variety and interest. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Walk with a friend: extra company, whether it's another dog or just a plain ol’ human, can change up your regular routine and add some extra fun to your walks.
  • Try a new route: like we said, new things to sniff, new environments to explore and new territories will keep your dog on their toes (paws?) and their brains curious.
  • Reinforce positive outdoor time: bring some treats with you on your walks to make being outside in the cold more rewarding for your dog, especially if they are already feeling hesitant.

Do more indoor activities

It’s never a bad idea to add more mental and physical stimulation activities into your indoor life, especially when the winter weather naturally keeps us feeling a little more cozy and quiet. 

Check your local area for dog spas, indoor doggy pools (yes, those really do exist!) or indoor dog parks to switch up the routine and get some of those puppy wiggles out. Set up a play date with another friend and dog, head to a dog-friendly café for lunch (if your dog is well-behaved enough, of course) or let your dog choose a new toy from a pet store. There are plenty of outings you can do with your dog which, even if they aren’t physically challenging, can still add some mental work and stimulation into your dog’s routine. 

You can also incorporate some fun indoor activities into your apartment life to keep your pup active and emotionally regulated, like teaching them new tricks, giving them treat puzzles or playing brain games

Cycle through these activities at home to add some fun and variety into your dog’s day:

  • Treasure hunt: teach your dog to seek out its toy by having your pup sit and stay while you hide the toy in plain sight of them. Give them the cue to release, and reward them for finding the toy. Start easy, then ramp up the difficulty by hiding the toy in different rooms.
  • Tug of war: this age-old game of dominance is easy to do and doesn’t require much space, and by encouraging your dog to jump to catch the rope to start they can get some much-needed exercise from it, too!
  • Race fetch: this game gives both you and your dog some exercise and is a great way to create some quality play time with your pup. It’s as easy as it sounds, too; tell your dog to sit and stay, throw or roll the toy, then release them and race them to the toy!


Though this requires some work from you, too, walking your dog up and down stairwells is an excellent way to get some cardio into your dog’s day. You’ll never have to go outside if you don’t want to, but your pup will get a great equivalent to a hike or walk out of it. For an extra challenge, try racing your dog up the stairs to shake things up a bit! 

This winter, take some time to examine your dog’s daily exercise routine and see if they could use more physical and mental stimulation, as it's likely they could use a whole lot more than we might think. Luckily, though, these methods for incorporating more exercise when it’s cold outside are tried-and-true, so give them a shot and see how you like them!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/CaludiaWollesen

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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