Banishing the Winter Blues for Your Dog

By Jeff Louderback

Winter months can be discouraging for humans and pets. Days are shorter and the sun rarely shines. Gloomy skies, frigid air, and streets covered with snow and ice lead to fatigue and less interest in activity. Pets and their human companions have a tendency to experience the doldrums when winter arrives. Unlike people, pets cannot stave off the winter blues on their own. They rely on their owners to address cabin fever.

If your dog exhibits symptoms like a lack of energy, no interest in playing, a loss of appetite, diminished social interaction, increased daytime sleeping, restlessness at night and weight loss or weight gain, he or she could be experiencing depression, possibly related to the winter doldrums.

Here are some steps you can implement to make you and your dog happier during the long winter ahead:

Venture Outside

If weather permits, leave the confines of home for a brisk run or healthy play time. Aerobic exercise is the best tonic for the winter blues. It is also beneficial when you take your dog on a walk and you interact with other people. Studies have shown that canines and humans see increases in oxytocin and dopamine levels (which are neurological signs of happiness) following exercise and positive interactions with one another.

Encourage Play Time

Even when you are indoors, and it is too cold to spend time outdoors, you can increase your pet’s physical activity level by playing. Dogs and cats alike love play time. Dogs burn energy through heartier activities like chasing a ball through the house or playing tug of war with a toy.

Teach Your Dog Some Tricks

Winter is an ideal time to teach your canine companion tricks in the comfort of your home. “Tricks and Games to Teach Your Dog: A Dog Fancy Book,” by Sophie Collins with Suellen Dainty (I-5 Press, Irvine, CA, 2014; $19.95) is one of the many titles to provide insight. Fun learning is healthy for dogs, and teaching tricks further strengthens the human-animal bond. In the winter, it breaks up the monotony when the weather outside does not cooperate.

Keep Your Dog Warm

Like humans, dogs don’t sleep well if they are cold. Ensure your dog has a warm bed and/or blanket. When taking your dog for a walk, consider giving him or her a sweater and/or doggie boots.

Brighten the Lights

If your home fills with natural light, let it in. At the least, illuminate your place with brighter light. Dogs favorably respond to illumination and tend to be peppier when the lights are brightened.

Make Your Home Brim With Pet-Pleasing Smells

Scented toys capture the attention of dogs as they love to explore their home to locate the source of the smell.

Share Your Dog and Brighten Someone’s Day

As a pet enthusiast, you understand the joy of the unbreakable human-animal bond, and the value of the unconditional love that a pet provides. These are among the reasons why pets are perfect sources of therapy for patients in hospitals, hospices and other facilities. There are many organizations across Ohio that offer training to get your dog certified as a therapy pet, including the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association ( Winter is an ideal time to embark on this rewarding pursuit since it increases the interaction with other humans for your dog during a time when he or she is typically more restricted to your home.