Lack of exercise and stimulation can lead to boredom and undesirable behavior, and it can cause stress that negatively impacts health.
Our Yorkies Max and Teddy are remarkably hardy for small dogs who don’t have the benefit of an undercoat, but our recent weather has proved to be too much for them. All of the doggy winter protective wear in the world isn’t enough to make outdoor activities enjoyable. When we can’t go outside, Max becomes vocal and I have to remind him that barking is not an approved aerobic exercise. Teddy grows quiet and lies around with the most heartbreaking, pitiful look on his face.
We play fetch, tug-o-war, and chase indoors. Some dogs are happy to do this all day. I am convinced my dogs appease me by playing along in hope that I will reward them with a trip outdoors (forgetting that conditions outside are intolerable).
Anxiety builds as the day wears on and the dogs wonder if they will have their long walk or trip to the park. A special chew bone reserved for days like these helps alleviate anxiety and frustration. Our Yorkies have learned that on dreary days, we give them their favorite chew bone. They perform dramatic sits in front of the cabinet where we keep the treats, in case we forget.
Like humans, dogs need mental stimulation. We exercise our dogs’ brains with obedience and trick training. The mental workout reduces pent up energy and helps prevent depression. We also use interactive KONG and Planet Dog toys that require the dogs to work for the treats that we put in the center.
Dogs have keen noses. One of the top reasons dogs find outdoor activities so pleasurable is the stimulation to their sense of smell. When it is too cold for a walk, and if the roads are safe, we take the dogs for a car ride to the post office or wherever our errands take us. We open the window a little for the dogs to sense all of the wonderful scents in the air. Small dogs also have the advantage of being able to tag along many places in shoulder carriers.
Cold, damp weather and reduced physical exercise can lead to aches and pains especially in older, arthritic dogs. Massage therapy provides relief and relaxation, soothes achy joints and reduces anxiety. Dogs also need a comfortable place to nap, a good dog bed to provide cushioned support and warmth.
For social dogs, arrange indoor playdates and look into local doggy daycare. Join a group or start one yourself and look for an indoor venue that provides the dogs with a little running room. We have a dog gymnasium and training center in our area that rents the main gym for $35 an hour.
We live in the Mid-Atlantic states and thankfully have relatively mild and short winters. If we were back in our former home Chicago, I would be tempted to train our dogs to use a treadmill. Max and Teddy would probably insist on an elaborate virtual reality setup that includes video projection, audio, and smells to make it more realistic.