Tips and Tricks for Beating Your Pet’s Winter Blues

When the snow flies, the temperature drops and daylight dwindles to 8 out of 24 hours a day, exercising your pet can become challenging. All I want to do when I go to work before sunrise and come home after sunset is snuggle up with my three border collies, a big bowl of popcorn and a night of Netflix. Although I am sure to be fulfilling the daily requirements of affection required by my dogs, limiting their physical and mental stimulation can be detrimental to their overall long-term health. With this in mind, I am admittedly still reluctant to venture outdoors into anything colder than -5 Celsius.


So how do I exercise my pack without stepping outdoors?

  • Ten minutes of training (as in getting your dog to think) tires a dog equal to 30 minutes of on leash walking. Dogs can handle approximately 2 minutes of focused training effort before their brains are saturated and need a break. When I train the collies at home, I train one after the other for 2 minutes at a time. That way when I get back to Jimmy, he has had about 5 minutes rest while I’ve trained Murphy and Mama. We tend to focus on one trick or skill required for a trick for the entire three sessions.
  • Use a timer for your 2 minutes. This helps me as I am guilty of the “just one more time” mistake. When the 2 minutes are up, your dog is mentally cooked, and you need to end the session before you unravel all the work you just did. But don’t worry, they recover quickly and actually will think about what you have just been working on. Don’t be surprised if you think your pup had zero idea what you were trying to teach him in the first session and then is a brilliant mastermind of the skill in the second session. So, 3 dogs x 2 minutes x 3 sessions = 18-20 minutes. One frigid pee break (for the pack, not me) and I am off to work for 8 hours.

Stuck for what to teach your dog?

Pick up a dog trick book from the library or used bookstore, or search the internet for a fabulous trick. YouTube is a treasure chest of How-Tos at your fingertips. The latest behaviour I am attempting to shape is for the dogs to come to a stop and stay on command while descending the stairs. Ultimately, I would like each of them to stop on a different stair at the same time for our annual Holiday photo shoot. The skill is also quite useful for speedsters Jimmy and Murphy at our agility competitions.


Training a cat is a whole different kettle of fish. If you are one of the unicorn-touched few that has a feline with the “trainable” gene, well quite frankly I’m jealous! So far all I’ve managed with my guy Queso is MEOW LOUDLY when he wants food, inside, outside, petting, picking him up, not picking him up. As cats are not legally permitted outdoors in Calgary, providing indoor physical and mental stimulation is a constant concern for the city’s cat owners. For those blessed with a trainable cat, try any and all tricks designed for a dog. The principles remain the same, shape, reward, repeat. For the other 99.9% of you, try hiding your cat’s food around the house. Felines are designed to hunt their food, using their body (stalk, pounce, jump, climb) their senses (brilliant night vision, superior sense of smell, supersonic hearing) and their brains (if I put my paw here, and a mouse comes out of this hole, therefore I will put my paw in every hole) to attain their next meal.

As owners of indoor cats, we can use this to our advantage. Put a little bit of food up high, under the couch, on the top of the dryer, at the bottom of a cardboard box. You can also try some fancier options like the Catit 2.0 Senses Digger or Food Tree that requires your cat to paw the food through tubes or a maze. Encourage your cat to think and to move, and the long winter blues will be kept at bay. Value plus? It is somewhat entertaining to watch a cat trying to figure out a puzzle, get frustrated, MEOW LOUDLY, then try again.

Fresh air is good for everyone. Walking the pack in the great outdoors benefits both the pack and my physical and mental well-being. But let’s face it, when it’s dark, blowing snow and -20 Celsius, that dream of a healthy morning or evening walk is not reality. With a little bit of research, some planning and patience, indoor training might just take the edge off those winter blues. And keep everyone healthy and happy until the days get longer, the ground begins to thaw, and the extended winter freeze comes to a close.

Written by Rachel Joyce