While winter might seem like an unlikely time for lots of hiking activities, if your Spring goals include hitting the trail more regularly with your dog, now is the time to start preparing & training (mentally & physically) with your dog!
With an average of 300 days of sun annually, Fort Collins is a perfect spot to take advantage of hiking with our four-legged friends all year round. Winter is no exception - while there may be some stay-cozy-at-home days, many of the wonderful hiking trails in the area remain accessible year-round - even more so if you have a pair of snowshoes to add to your gear bag.
For those of us who may be naturally inclined to be warm-weather hikers only, considering our dogs’ physical and mental health can be a great motivator to get out even on cold days! Consistent hiking opportunities (including lots of sniff time) not only help our dogs be better snuggle buddies during the Winter downtime but also keep them in good physical and mental condition so that you can be ready to take advantage of the beautiful Spring weather as soon as it returns in April/May/June (it’s Colorado - your guess is as good as mine!).
Here are a few quick tips for maintaining your dog’s conditioning during the winter months:
Practice Good Trail Skills in Your Yard or Local Park
The “off-season” is the best time to start working on teaching good trail skills to your dog, and you can do the first few steps of this without leaving your house! Important trail skills to work on include Stop & Wait (on the side of the trail), Calmly Looking at Distractions, and a Great Recall (Coming When Called). You can start working on these skills in your own backyard or your local park. Here’s a great video to give you some ideas to get started!
Add Some Easy Physical Conditioning Exercises
Keeping our dogs in good physical condition doesn’t have to be too challenging if you are willing to get a bit creative! (Note: It’s always a good idea to get your veterinarian’s input before adding anything out of the ordinary to your dog’s physical routine.) Simple conditioning exercises can include cavalettis, two paws up & four paws up, a front-paw pivot, side and back stretches, and many others. Always keep your dog’s physical and mental comfort in mind when teaching these conditioning exercises, and please consult your veterinarian or a dog training professional if you get stuck.
Watch the Food Bowl
If your dog’s regular exercise does decrease in the Winter months, it may be necessary to adjust your dog’s regular meal portions slightly to make sure that they stay at a healthy weight in preparation for picking back up with their hiking activities as the weather warms up. (Again, before making any big changes, it’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian.) Maintaining a healthy weight will also help support healthy joints and make sure that your dog has the energy and stamina to hit the trails again easily!
Bundle Up & Get Out There!
Many dogs will think hiking in the winter months is so much fun, with the cooler weather giving them more energy and the treasure of snow giving them an extra measure of fun! For those of us with dogs who are eager to get out in the cold, one of the best things we can do is bundle up with our layers of warm weather gear and get out there with them! Maintaining a good hiking routine throughout the Winter can also bring positive mental and physical health benefits to us too, not just our dogs!
Wishing you & your dog many happy Winter hikes this season!