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Five Ways to Keep Your Leader Dog Active in Inclement Weather

Gretchen Preston sits smiling at the camera with her left arm around her Leader Dog, black Labrador Floyd, who is wearing a leather Leader Dog harness

By Gretchen Preston, Leader Dog Handler

Cold, wind, rain or snow may force an occasional “inside” day. Excessive heat, high humidity or just having a busy day may restrict your Leader Dog’s daily exercise routine. Leader Dog client Gretchen Preston talks tips and strategies to keep you and your Leader Dog active both outside and inside on severe weather days. Try one of these exercise tips or invent your own!

BACK TO BASICS: Work your dog in the down, sit and stay commands. When your dog has mastered the “stay” command, you are ready to play “Hide and Seek.” This game is a great way to tune-up your Leader Dog’s “stay” and “come “commands. Reward your dog with high, happy tones or a small treat when he or she finds you. Make the game more challenging by increasing the amount of time your dog is in the “stay” position and increasing the difficulty of your hiding place.

INDOOR OBSTACLE COURSE: Work your Leader Dog in-harness in your house or apartment. Set up an indoor obstacle course by moving furniture and creating obstacles to navigate. Then, the real fun can begin. Take off the leash and use only the harness and your voice and hand commands to assist your Leader Dog in navigating the obstacle course. Once you have mastered harness-only guiding, take off the harness, leaving only the collar on your dog. Place your hand gently between your dog’s shoulder blades. Use your voice and hand commands to assist your dog in navigating your obstacle course with your hand only on him/her. Then, change the obstacles, or do it in reverse. I have trained my Leader Dog to work without his leash, harness and even without his collar. This “naked” guiding could prove to be useful if there was a fire or another emergency where you had to leave in a hurry or your harness or leash were not available.

BONDING ACTIVITIES: Use inside days to do extra grooming, practice your T-Touch massage techniques, or just play with your dog. These activities will help develop intimacy, trust and love between you and your dog.

TAKE THE STAIRS: Both inside and outdoor steps have great exercise potential. Find the nearest staircase. Stairwells in high-rise apartments, commercial or office buildings can add an extra challenge. If you and your dog get bored walking up and down flights of stairs, kick it up a notch and jog or take two steps at a time. Just watch your footing!

RUN YOUR DOG: KONGs are good outdoor exercise toys. They also work well for indoor play in large spaces such as a gym, recreation room or even a long hallway. In this game, your dog will be off leash. Make sure you are in a secure area if your dog is not trustworthy to be off his or her leash. Throw or roll the KONG and ask your dog to “fetch” or “get the KONG!” When your dog finds the KONG, ask him or her to “Bring it to me!” If your dog is resistant to bringing you the KONG, practice this exercise game in shorter spaces inside. If your dog won’t chase and retrieve the KONG on his/her own, play a game I call “Rodeo.” You will need another person to play this game. Again, your dog will be off leash, so make sure you are in a secure area. Stand 40 paces apart. Make sure you and your partner both have treats in your pocket or pouch (I use pieces of Leader Dog Floyd’s dry dog food for treats). Put your dog in a “sit” beside you. When your partner is ready, he or she calls your dog. You release the dog and the dog runs to your partner. Take turns running your dog between you. Use a welcoming, “Come!” Between each sprint, have the dog settle before running again. Increase the distance between you and your partner or change your position left or right to make the game more challenging for your dog. This game is especially good for very cold days. Your dog gets a maximum amount of exercise in a short amount of time. Be aware of when your dog tires.

In frigid temperatures, you are safer to exercise more times per day for shorter periods of time. It can take minutes for a dog to begin getting frostbite. Vulnerable areas are the tips of the ears, the end of the nose and the paws. If you must stand with your Leader Dog on snow, ice or even a frozen sidewalk while you are waiting for a ride, bus or train, try to keep your dog moving his or her feet every minute or two. This helps to promote blood flow and keep the dog’s pads from getting frostbite.

A dog lifts his or her paws off the ground when they are cold. In the heat, your dog will lift his or her paws when their feet are being scorched by hot pavement, a sizzling sidewalk or sun-drenched sand or gravel. Always be cognitive of the ground surface temperature. Remember, your dog is barefoot.

If your Leader Dog is content just hanging out on inclement winter days, or if it’s just too hot, this is a sign that it is time to get up and move. Play, groom or better yet, gear up and go out for a walk or an outside game. If it’s a hot day, head to an air-conditioned space to exercise. Keeping yourself and your dog fit will assure many happy, healthy days to come!