By the time winter finally ends, most of us are just about going crazy from being cooped up indoors. If you think you had “cabin fever,” imagine how your dog must feel! So as you get ready to head outside to enjoy the warmer weather, choose some activities that you can enjoy with your dog. Bring on the sun, the swimming, and the hiking. Just remember to consider your dog’s abilities, behavior, and needs. When you plan appropriately, you and your dog can share warm weather fun that is safe and enjoyable for both of you.
No matter where you take your dog or what activity you choose, there are some basic safety considerations you must keep in mind. You may think these safety rules go without saying, but it is my experience that when something “goes without saying,” it really needs to be said twice.
- A hot car is deadly.
- Dogs need to stay hydrated too.
- Don’t assume other dogs are as friendly and/or as healthy as yours.
- Always consider your dog’s abilities and temperament when choosing activities.
Swimming is a non-impact activity, meaning it puts no jarring stress on the dog’s bones and joints. For this reason, swimming is great exercise for an older dog or a dog that has hip or joint problems. However most dogs enjoy the water just because its fun!
I highly recommend that dogs wear a life vest for any deep-water swimming or activity. Not all dogs are actually able to swim. Some deep chested dogs will sink like a stone. Even if your dog is a good swimmer, he may tire and need help staying afloat until he reaches solid ground.
You will obviously need to evaluate your dog’s swimming ability before allowing him to move independently into deep water in which he cannot stand. Be prepared to get into the water with your dog; he may need you to guide him or encourage him, or possibly even rescue him! If you are keeping the leash on your dog, make sure it doesn’t get tangled in his legs or obstacles hidden beneath the water.
Even if your dog can’t or doesn’t like to swim, you can play Frisbee or ball with him in shallow water. When your dog plays in the water, he stays cool while burning energy because his feet are wet and cool. The cool, splashing water will also add variety to the usual game of fetch or catch.
No matter what kind of water activity you and your dog enjoy, make sure he is not ingesting excessive amounts of the water. Pool and pond water can both cause digestive problems.
A game of fetch is a great warm weather bonding activity. It provides one-on-one interaction and strengthens your dog’s focus on you. Make sure to give your dog a walk before starting the game to allow him to stretch his muscles before he begins sprinting for the ball. Keep a bowl of water available so that he can pause for a drink when he needs to.
When the temperatures climb, you can play variations of chasing games that will not overheat your dog. As mentioned above, you can play fetch in shallow water. With dogs that can swim, you can play fetch with floating toys that they have to swim to get. If you don’t have a pool or a pond handy, try having your dog chase the spray from the garden hose. Many dogs will chase the water hitting the ground as avidly as they chase a tennis ball. If some of the hose water splashes on your dog, all the better!
Hiking and Walks
The best activity for you and your dog to share in any weather is a walk. A walk establishes you as Alpha and teaches your dog to follow your lead. A walk provides smooth, steady, low impact, aerobic exercise. Finally, a walk stimulates a dog’s mind with a variety of scents and sights. With the arrival of warmer weather, you may find it easier to get motivated to try new parks, walking paths, or trails. Your dog will find the new environment even more interesting than the familiar route you may have been taking all winter. Whether you are hiking or walking in the park or the woods, remember to take bags for picking up waste. Even if your dog did his business before you left the house, the excitement of the walk could very well bring on another bowel movement. Also be sure to bring a bowl and some water. You can get a doggie backpack and have your dog carry his own supplies!
If your dog walks well by your side and keeps his focus on you, you can try sharing other activities, such as biking or roller blading. If both of you have the speed, stamina, and coordination, these activities can take your exercise program to a new and exciting level!
Keep in mind that you and your dog are not the only ones to reemerge as the weather warms up. Be alert for wildlife that might incite your dog to bolt away from you; use common sense when approaching unfamiliar people and dogs; and check yourself and your dog for ticks when you return home.
What About Dog Parks?
Many dogs playing in public dog runs lack proper social skills and play too aggressively. You have no way of knowing whether or not the people in the dog park are able to control their dogs. You also don’t know if all of the dogs in the park have had their vaccinations.
You will never see me with my dogs in a public dog run. My dogs socialize only with dogs that I know–dogs that have manners and training and dogs that know when and how to play. You have so many other options for warm weather fun—why take a chance on a dog park?
Exercise is always important for your dog. However, as the weather warms up, getting out and about can be a pleasure as well as a responsibility. Take the time to enjoy the outdoors with your dog, but–as always–use your common sense. Don’t let your dog get overheated or dehydrated; don’t take chances with unfamiliar dogs; and don’t allow your dog to take on activities beyond his abilities. So get ready to trade cabin fever for spring (and summer) fever! As long as you follow basic safety rules, you can enjoy the great outdoors in a way that is safe, fun, and enjoyable for both you and your dog!