Every winter we have 1-3 weeks of absolute bitter cold. Not just regular winter, but the kind where advisories go out about the danger of being outside in the cold. When air temps drop to the double digits below zero, I manage Gus’s time outside by shortening walks to ten minutes.
Or, if he is feeling okay with the sun shining, I just watch for his tell tale paw prancing. Where he either holds a paw off the ground, or high-steps while walking. He also sometimes starts sneezing incessantly when his wet nose is starting to form icicles. But, obviously, I try to avoid him getting to that point.
So what to do with a very active pup, when you have to shorten your walks to 10-15 minutes stretches?
Well, I’ve come up with several rotating activities (some of which he likes more than walking even) to tire him out.
He loves playing tug of war with his rope. I bring the rope out very sparingly, so that it is a special and exciting toy. He shakes his head and tries to push me off with his paw. And whenever he gets the rope he tries to run away with it so he can chew on it. We had a rope once that he slowly untied over the course of several days…which is why I keep the rope up and out of reach.
I’ve recently also begun trying to get him to follow directions a bit better. But he is an old dog….and you know what they say about old dogs. With the help of dogggie turkey jerky, we practice “here,” “stay,” “sit,” and “down.” I recently also started adding “boop!” Which means he had to nose bump my hand and then the opposite hand will give him a treat.
And then, when searching online forums, I found some other people recommended going up and down stairs as a little workout. So, one day I decided to use the turkey jerky and walk up and down the stairs with him over and over and over and over. He started to catch on to the game, and despite wanting the turkey jerky treat at the end of each trip up or down the stairs, he eventually decided all that effort wasn’t worth it and he laid down on the couch in defeat. I guess I’ll have to use that tactic sparingly less he gives up before we even begin!
Another one of his favorite games is when I roll tennis balls on the floor in the living room. Gus was gifted a bunch of new tennis balls from Santa this year (well, from my mother-in-law, Lori). One of the sets of the balls are in a mesh bag, so I open the top of the bag and let him spend a few minutes figuring out how to get all the tennis balls out. Once out, I roll them along the floor and he goes nuts chasing them and kicking them. When he returns to me, I have him “drop it” and then I roll a different ball. He picked up the concept of dropping a ball from his mouth pretty quickly, but that hasn’t transferred well to him wanting to drop the small mammals he murders and carries around, or pieces of trash he attempts to pick up on walks.
For a change of scenery, we sometimes also play tennis ball upstairs. And I make him jump up on the bed every time he retrieves the ball. Sometimes I try to wrestle with him, but he gets excited easily and can crush me or thinks it would be a good idea to lightly bite. I blame Tyler for this behavior, as he has often asked Gus to bite his own hand. Gus never tries to use any force when he bites, but he also doesn’t fully realize his own strength. But he certainly loves running upstairs and launching himself onto the bed and then crashing into me.
Mid-morning, after playing one of the games for 20-minutes, we always go for another little ten-minute walk. But this time, I put him on the 50-foot lead and we walk down the gravel road. Our road isn’t used that frequently, so we can walk down it and he can roam a little more freely for sniffing than he can when we walk on a regular leash through town. Unfortunately, a lead that long gets stuck on rocks and ice chunks and very tall weeds and random bushes. But he is learning to wait patiently as I release him.
I also do occasionally go the route of giving him a Kong with peanut butter that is frozen after our mid-morning walk. He’s a little too smart to need much time to figure out Kongs though and I would need over a cup of frozen peanut butter to keep occupied for more than twenty minutes. (I don’t want him to eat that much peanut butter). So when I have a video lesson, I’ll usually give him one of the two Kongs I have waiting for him. He doesn’t like when I’m on the computer teaching, and will often whine and “fake bark” to try and get my attention. (Even after all of these months of video lessons? 🤷🏽♀️).
After my lessons, we go for another ten minute walk; this time in town. Usually just around the block. When we go out in this weather, I do make him wear his waterproof coat. He has doogie booties, but when I make him wear them he turns into the most depressed dog in the history of the world. He also kicks them off or bites at them to get them off. But his sad face is enough to make anyone cry.
When we arrive back home from this third walk, is when I finally have him rest. I eat lunch and he takes a nap on the bed while I shower. And after I’m ready for work, we go for either another 10-minute long lead walk down the gravel road. Or, we play fetch in the snow of the acreage with his tennis balls.
It can make the mornings really long (or really quick) when you are unable to tire him out as easily and therefore can’t get as much done as normal. But, fortunately, this -20 degree days (and sometimes down to -60 windchill) don’t last a whole month or even a third of the season.
I love spending time with Gus and hanging with him. But I can feel him growing ancy for a nice long walk when we’ve been so cooped up. I long for being outdoors in a more temperate situation as well, because I feel more grounded when I get to spend time outdoors without my eyelashes freezing together (who would have thought!)
But we always make it through these hard weeks. And there is so little time us humans get to spend with our dogs having such short lives, that I will enjoy every frozen peanut butter treat and rope game.
I love you Gus pup!