While the calendar says spring is waiting just around next month’s corner, many parts of the country will likely be stuck in the glacial grasp of winter for much longer than that.
So what’s a pet owner to do with all those long, gray days that lie ahead? Are we all doomed to endless weeks of couch potato-itis with our furry companions?
Hardly! Sure, it’s not as easy to get outside when the weather is frightful, but as long as you’re prepared, there are plenty of great outdoor options for you and your dog to enjoy. You’ll need to bundle up, but since most dogs carry around their own version of a full-length winter coat (and for those that don’t, doggie-coats are available in pet stores everywhere), there’s no excuse for Fido or Fifi — or YOU! — to stay stuck indoors watching YouTube videos of pole-dancing cats.
If you live in an area that gets snow, you’ve probably already discovered that most dogs love the white stuff. There’s something about snow that brings out the joyful puppy in them, even oldsters: they sprint, they leap, they roll in it and burrow into it and can spend forever catching tossed snowballs.
If you’re a cross-country skier, some Nordic centers set aside a portion of their trail system for skiers with dogs. Or you might try something I mentioned in an earlier column: skijoring, which is basically cross-country skiing while being pulled by a dog. It’s still a bit of a niche sport, but every year, more dog lovers and Nordic ski enthusiasts discover it.
Another terrific snow activity is snowshoeing. It’s said that if you can walk, you can snowshoe: I’ve seen everyone from toddlers to 85-year-old grandmothers snowshoeing in our Northern California mountains, along with dozens of dogs. Even though dogs aren’t permitted in national parks, many state parks and BLM lands do allow dogs, and it’s rare not to be able to find somewhere to snowshoe with your dog.
Make sure your dog is healthy, though if you’re attempting a cardio-intensive winter activity: If he’s generally a bit sedentary, start off slowly with shorter jaunts. Remember too that for dogs, walking through snow is just as physically demanding as it would be for you without snowshoes or skis. The last thing you want is to have to carry an exhausted 70-pound Labrador five miles back to your car.
And since you’ll likely be in the backcountry, take precautions: The ASPCA says that more dogs get lost during the winter months than in any other season. Your pet should always have current I.D. tags, be microchipped and perhaps also be wearing a GPS pet-tracking device (just understand that these GPS devices have a limited range). Also, be sure to inspect your pup’s paws afterward because snow can melt and re-form between their toes and create painful ice balls.
What if neither you nor your dog is a snow bunny? There’s no reason to stay inside on a rainy day: You can wear wet-weather gear and get a rain slicker for your dog if you want to keep her a little drier. Dogs love going for walks, even if it’s raining. In fact, most don’t seem to pay any attention at all to the drizzle! And not every single day between now and springtime will be cold and damp, so take advantage of those clear days to get outside with your dog.
Another option is to take a trip to the beach for the day or a weekend. At least here in California, often when the inland weather is the nastiest, it’s spectacular at the ocean. Just be safety-conscious and keep your dog away from dangerous rocks, crashing waves and possible riptides.
There are also plenty of indoor wintertime activities for you and your dog to try. How about playing a game of hide-and-seek or tug-of-war with your pooch, or teaching him a new trick? Winter is a great time to take an obedience or dog-agility class or simply join a group of friends for a play date with your dogs.
And while it’s certainly not going to burn a lot of calories or energy, you can always go for a ride in the car just to get you and your pooch out of the house for a while to relieve cabin fever.
So enjoy these remaining days of winter weather with your best friend instead of pining away for spring — it’ll be here before you know it!
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her golden retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at email@example.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.