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German Shepard running in the snow

Keeping big dogs active in the winter

Winter’s frigid temperatures and short days are enough to make all of us consider the merits of hibernation. However, we can’t simply curl up under a blanket for three months while awaiting the return of warm weather. Like us, our canine companions tend to become less active during the long cold winters, but they need their exercise too. Regular exercise has its benefits—it tones muscles, reduces “cabin fever,” improves circulation, and prevents obesity—and it’s a must for larger breeds

If you’re the owner of a large breed dog (German Shepherd, English Mastiff, Great Dane, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundland), you know that exercising your dog in your house or apartment can be challenging (and maybe even hazardous). So what can you do to ensure that your large-breed dog gets a healthy amount of daily activity? 

Here we’ll look at a few ways to keep your large breed dog moving, even in the winter months.

Walks & Hikes

For healthy adult dogs not yet in their senior years, a brisk walk of 20 minutes twice a day—combined with proper diet—is usually sufficient for health and mood. For large breeds with thick coats (Newfoundlands and Great Pyrenees), the cold isn’t really a problem, as they have an undercoat that protects them from even the most frigid temps. Any clothing for your pet should fit to allow full mobility and should not restrict the animal’s breathing or ability to potty.

Some large breeds enjoy a winter hike, so if you have the time and don’t mind the cold, go for it—but try to avoid excessively icy areas or play that involves quick turns or pivots, as large breeds are more susceptible to hip and cruciate ligament injuries than are their smaller counterparts. You’ll want to trim long hairs around their feet where ice pellets can form and keep their pads free of caustic ice-melt chemicals applied to sidewalks and roadways.

Indoor Agility Training

Another way to keep your big dog in shape during the winter months is to check out an indoor agility-training course. These courses let your pet move over, under, around, and through various obstacles while building muscle, enhancing coordination, and providing entertainment. Inquire with facilities in your area as to their ability to accommodate large breed dogs.

 

Indoor Dog Runs

Something that’s becoming increasingly popular, especially in cities, is the indoor exercise space for dogs. These spaces allow dogs time to exercise and socialize off-leash in a temperature-controlled indoor space. Dogs are often segregated by size (littles with littles, bigs with bigs) to prevent accidental injury to smaller animals—giving large breed dogs the space they need to play, run, and tussle with playmates their own size. Check online to see if there’s an indoor run in your area. Rules and fees vary by facility, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

Indoor Dog Pools

Some facilities currently offer heated swimming pools where dogs can swim and play in a safe environment. Many of these aquatic centers are affiliated with boarding facilities or offer rehabilitative services like aquatherapy. (Some even offer swimming lessons for dogs!) Check online to see if there’s a dog pool near you, and ask about their rates for large breeds. 

We hope these tips help you develop a fun winter fitness plan for your dog! 


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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