Winter means different things to different folks. To kids it usually stands for "snow days" and no school. To sports enthusiasts it means skiing and snowboarding. But to many pet parents, it generally represents challenges dealing with less daylight hours for outdoor activities and walks, slipping and sliding along icy sidewalks and impassable trails, chilly paws and indoor boredom (known as the "crazies" in my house).
No need to fall prey to cabin fever, you just need to get creative. Although our winters here in Northern Virginia are fickle to say the least, and can vary greatly, we have plenty opportunities for outdoor and indoor fun. From mild temps all the way up to 70s, like we've experienced recently, to positively frigid single digits, wind chills and piles of snow. Here are some options to deal with whatever Mother Nature dishes out.
If we are fortunate enough to have balmy temps during February and March, be sure to take full advantage of them because there could be a snowstorm just around the corner! Grab the leash, water bottle and frisbee or ball, and head out to the local dog park, football field or your own backyard.
But if we're not ...
If you think "mushing" is only for the Iditarod in Alaska, think again! You and your pooch can learn mushing right here in the metro area. Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC offers sled dog tours, and the Run What You Brung program for your high-energy dog. For beginner mushers, you get to integrate your dog into a trained sled dog team and learn the ropes, from dog sledding gear to safety. They also offer programs for "skijoring," cross-country skiing while your dog pulls you. I've often thought about harnessing the surprising power of my terrible team of two, as they drag me along on their daily walks.
Last winter, a.k.a. Snowmageddon, I built an igloo in my yard for Flip and Tiki, which they promptly peed on. However, they seemed to enjoy having their very own little outdoor home, and used it to hide in during our snowball fights. I also found that throwing a tennis ball into the snow for Tiki resulted in a search-and-rescue type of game as she snuffled her way through the mounds of fluffy snow to find her ball.
Don't underestimate the adventure and intrigue of a snowy walk at Wolftrap National Park. No summer crowds, lots of natural beauty and critters to see. The Winter 2011 issue of NOVADog Magazine recommends an easy 1-mile hike with plenty of fido-friendly features.
When it's just too cold, icy or dark to play outdoors, kick up the indoor entertainment a notch and keep the pets happy while maintaining your sanity. Pet Sitter DVDs can provide hours of fun for cats and dogs. Videos of chirping birds flitting around are kitty-approved, while videos of dogs frolicking and squirrels scrounging keep house-bound pooches entertained and mesmerized.
Laser Tag works for both cats and dogs, and is very entertaining for humans. I use an inexpensive laser pointer from the office supply store, and call it "the BUG." Flip and Tiki love to chase the BUG around the house, over furniture under pillows, up and down stairs. A great workout for felines and canines, all while you sip your hot toddy from the comfort of your easy chair!
Hide n' Seek and Keep Away are also favorites of kitties and pups, works especially well with a Kong treat toy or catnip. Or do what I do, slip off unnoticed and hide in the shower or behind a closet door and make a small noise. Shortly I can hear Flip and Tiki running through the house desperately trying to locate me. When they get close, I jump out and surprise them. They never seem to tire of this game, which I can't say the same for me.
Being stuck indoors also presents prime time for working on basic commands, pet tricks and grooming. Why not teach your pets to pick-up their toys and drop them in a laundry basket!