Labs of Steel

No matter what the breed, exercise, combined with a balanced diet, can improve muscle tone, keep joints supple, help organs function and prevent your dog from gaining weight.

While we all know the benefits of exercise, keeping your dog fit during the winter months can be challenging. Lower temperatures and a decrease in our own activity levels make us less eager to play with and exercise the family dog. But these mostly indoor activities can help you and your dog warm up to winter:

  • Throw a ball. Find a tennis ball or a soft ball and toss it. If space permits, play in a long hall or large room to encourage "long-distance running."
  • Play hide-and-seek. Show your dog any object and let him sniff or chew it. Ask him to sit and stay while you hide it. (Be sure to place it where he can get it.) When you're ready, urge your dog to find it. You might even try hiding yourself!
  • Go "fishing." This is ideal for small dogs and places where space is limited. Tie a rope to the end of a stick, with a toy at the end of the rope. Dangle the toy and encourage your dog to jump for it. A word of caution: If your dog has had muscle or joint problems, this exercise may not be advisable.
  • Set up an obstacle course. Create a course in a large room'be sure to include tunnels to crawl through (a large box or an old, open-ended barrel will do quite nicely) and objects to walk around or over (chairs, tables or boxes). Complete the course together or encourage your dog to go solo through each "station."
  • Form doggie playgroups. If you know someone else who has a dog, arrange time for them to play together. Assuming they're compatible, they'll amuse themselves. Throw a ball, play hide-and-seek or try the obstacle course to see which dog can finish first.
  • Find an indoor obedience class. Watch for dog-training classes in the newspaper, at a park district or as part of continuing education programs. Attending weekly sessions will ensure that you and your pooch spend some time together. Plus, classes will introduce you to other dogs and their owners. Use them to set up doggie play groups.
  • Play Flyball. This is a popular relay event for athletic dogs and their owners. Find out if there's a local club by calling a veterinarian, a breeder or an obedience instructor.
  • Catch a breath of air. Take your dog outside if it's not too cold. Come inside if he's shivering or appears uncomfortable.
  • Throw snowballs. He'll love a winter game of fetch if he can find the snowball. Wipe his paws afterwards to be sure they're free of salt or other ice-melting chemicals that might irritate the skin.

As always, before trying any new rigorous exercise routine, consult your veterinarian.