Well, it’s that time of year again.
The snow is falling. The dog park gets dark at 4 o’clock. Sidewalks are icy or slushy or buried underneath that fluffy white stuff. You were already tired of shoveling before you even started. And then there’s your dog. She doesn’t care how cold or snowy or icy it is… she’s gotta burn off that energy somehow! Winter in Minnesota with dogs is hard. As our gift to you, we’ve compiled a wishlist for your dog to help you survive these long winter months. After all…. Even naughty dogs are still on Santa’s nice list!
Gift ideas for the cerebral pup:
Sniffing, licking, and chewing all count as exercise and enrichment! Mental exercise can’t replace all of your dog’s physical exercise needs, but it still tires out your pup on the days when you can’t withstand the negative temps. If your dog is stuck cooped up inside, puzzle games and interactive toys are a great way to save your sanity! It's totally possible to make up your own games, but sometimes you just don’t feel like DIY-ing it. For young puppies or dogs who are new to work-to-eat toys, we recommend starting with the Outward Hound Puzzle Toy, Tricky Treat Ball, or the Kong Wobbler. They’re great toys to increase your dog’s confidence before moving onto more complex puzzles, but these are also tried-and-true favorites for even experienced adult dogs.Of course, no dog’s enrichment “toy box” is complete without a Snuffle Mat. There is no easier enrichment than a snuffle mat! Pour your pup’s usual kibble meal on top, then fluff up the mat so that the food falls down into the crevices. Your dog is treated to a sniffy hide-and-seek game with her breakfast, and you are treated to 15 minutes of peace and quiet.
If you need to bring out the heavy artillery of doggy distraction, have a few sturdy stuffable toys on hand and ready to go. The Kong is the tried-and-true classic contender, but don’t overlook the toys made by West Paw: We adore the Toppl and the Tux because they’re a little easier to destuff and clean. The Tux in particular is great if you have a flat-faced doggy who struggles to reach his tongue inside other toys. If your dog is a beginner with these toys, start with the easiest possible stuffing - loose kibble or a yummy smear right on the opening that’s easy to reach. Most dogs can be taught to go nuts over stuffable toys - we’ve just gotta start them off with some easy wins.
If you’ve been through Puppy & Me with us, you know the number one thing we’re going to recommend to all of you folks with puppies and young dogs: the Squishy Face Flirt Pole! This is the easiest way to physically tire out a pup in limited-sized spaces. You can change out the toy at the end of the rope to refresh this toy over and over again. All you need to do is flick your wrist, but your dog goes scurrying.
We also love a great game of tug! Long, stuffing-less plush tug toys are a smashing success with many dogs. You can play tug with any toy, but we recommend the longer toys to keep sharp puppy teeth further away from your fingers. If your pup pulls hard enough to destroy regular stuffies, try out a more durable fire-hose type tug toy or a rope tug toy.
Does your pooch fetch? Fetch is a great energy burner! Toss a squeaky tennis ball, JW Crackle Heads Ball, or the unpredictable (and nearly indestructible) West Paw Jive up and down the hallway. (Protip: If your dog is young or new to fetch, don’t ruin the fun! Reward your dog for bringing the toy back by playing tug for a while or by handing out a snack. Sometimes we accidentally punish out a nice retrieve because all we do is throw the ball!)
Gift ideas for the dog-on-the-go:
We all go a little stir crazy. Some of your dogs just HAVE to get out and do stuff more than others. If your pooch craves dog/dog play, drop him off at Doggy Day Care a couple times a week.
We might be biased, but winter is a great time to take a class! We’ll always send you home with a tired pup, and classes give you homework to practice throughout the week. Continue working your way through levels 1-4, or repeat a class for extra practice and off-leash play! If your dog has passed level one, we’d love to have you in our Tricks & Talent course. Although the behaviors we teach in Tricks & Talent are purely for fun, you and your dog are still learning the most important skill of all: how to effectively communicate and work together as a team!
If your pup is mourning the loss of summer, The Dog Tank is a great indoor place where your dog can swim and learn dock diving. Who knows... maybe you’ve got an athlete on your hands who would like to compete! Whether for fun or for competition, dock diving is HUGE energy burner. For the Love of Dogs also offers other fun sport classes. Let your pup try his paw at barn hunt or scent work! Classes like these are especially wonderful for sniffy or prey driven dogs - they can channel all of that energy into an acceptable outlet that doesn’t drive humans insane.
Gift ideas for the snow dog:
Whether your dog loves the snow or hates it, there’s a pretty good chance she needs some sort of winter gear! If you have a dog who freezes in the cold, or a dog who gets covered all over in snowballs, we recommend the Canada Pooch Slush Suit or the spendier, but perfect for long, slender breeds Hurtta Snow Suit. Suits like these cover a lot more of your pup’s legs and neck than a traditional coat, which means snowballs don’t have as much fur to cling to. For dogs who get too hot in a full jacket, we’ve seen Snow Pants used with great success to prevent snowballs and dirty legs. Whenever you’re choosing a coat, make sure you check the underside. Many coats are entirely open to the elements on the bottom, and they aren’t very warm!
Especially chilly dogs or dogs with thin ears can benefit from a Snood, which protects ears and necks on even the most bitterly cold days. Boots are really hit or miss; many dogs simply hate wearing footwear of any kind. If you want your dog to wear boots, start young and reward, reward, reward! For dogs that need or tolerate boots, these little rubber Pawz boots work pretty well. Be warned that they don’t last that long before wearing out, but they come in packs of 12. (If you’re not very handy with your fingers or your dog is very wiggly, the tool to put them on works great! Just be sure you buy the correct size.) We also like the boots from DogBooties.com because they stay on well. You can order them individually and they’re pretty affordable, so you can have extras on hand for when they get lost or worn out.
For every dog living in Minnesota, we highly highly recommend Musher’s Secret, a balm that protects dogs’ feet from the bitter cold, and prevents cracked, owie paw pads. Once those paw pads dry out and crack, the salt and cold is really painful! Something that we love about Musher’s Secret is that it doesn’t seem to stain or leave goop behind on our floors and furniture. We don’t know how, but it works!
Gift ideas for the human:
Sometimes, we just have to suck it up and take the dogs out when it’s cold. Make the best of it! It’s good for both of you to get out of the house. Whenever your fingers are covered by mittens or gloves, we recommend using a Squeeze Tube for easy treating on the go. No more fumbling with tiny treats! These reusable tubes can be filled with canned spray cheese, canned dog food, or anything that’s the right consistency for the tube!
When you’re out at the dog park or walking on icy sidewalks, Micro Foot Spikes work great to give you extra stability and traction. It’s difficult to balance when you’re trying to wrangle a dog, too! We like the micro spikes because they’re easier to walk in than many other shoe traction products on the market, but they still work great.
To keep your hands warm and functional on winter walks, we recommend a thin pair of grippy gloves. We like the Canada Pooch gloves because they still provide plenty of dexterity. Although they’re not as warm as other gloves, they more than make up for it by allowing you to open poop bags, grip leashes, and touchscreen devices without taking them off. We still use big heavy warm gloves when we have to on bitterly cold days, but they’re such a pain.Dogs are messy. They’re especially messy when winter rolls around and they’re tracking road sand, slush, and snowballs through your house. To keep your house clean and dry, we recommend using a paw washer after your dog comes in from outside. Using the washer is easy - fill it with warm water, dip your pup’s paw inside, then dry off with a towel. Snowballs melt off in the warm water, and the sand, salt, and dirt stay inside the paw washer. (Protip: If your dog is covered in snowballs from head to toe, the easiest way to get them off is to throw them in the tub and rinse off with water. Melting the snowballs off is a much faster method than trying to pick them off of fur!)
Last, can we suggest a bottle of wine? (Kidding!! ….Mostly.) We know that the cold and ice is no fun, but take a cue from your dog and live in the moment. Find ways to make the most out of winter, and have fun with your pups. Winter won’t last forever!
Dog Life Coach, Andi
(Apple & Picasso's Mom)