8 Winter Activities to Strengthen Your Bond With Your Dog

When the weather outside is frightful, it can be challenging to find fresh, enriching activities to do with your dog, but you don’t have to surrender to being cooped up and bored just because it’s cold and gloomy and dark at 3 p.m. (In other words, extra Pittsburghy.) There are plenty of winter activities you can do with your dog to help strengthen your bond with him. From exploring the neighborhood in all its Christmas radiance to allowing your four-legged friend to do his own holiday shopping, here are eight ideas to bring you closer together and make this winter one to remember.

1. Take your dog on a winter walk.

When the winds are howling and the flurries flying, taking your dog on a walk may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but there are quite a few benefits to bundling up and braving the cold alongside your furry friend.

Spending time together out in the cool fresh air gives you a chance to really connect and can even help to reduce stress levels.

Additionally, winter walks provide your dog with much-needed exercise. Even if it’s not particularly long, a good walk to burn off that excess cabin fever energy will help to keep him happy and healthy. Next time the temperature drops, grab your gloves, layer up, and head outdoors for a winter stroll. Take it from this northern breed dog mom: if you’ve got a cold weather-loving companion, he’ll surely appreciate every icy, snow-crunching step of the way at your side!

2. Catch snowballs in the backyard.

Hunter lives for snow days, and one of his favorite winter games involves trading tennis balls for snowballs. I mean, just look at that crazy face!

a Siberian retriever catches snowballs while playing in a fluffy white Pittsburgh snow

While this may seem like just a frivolously frozen way to pass the time, tossing a few snowballs your dog’s way can actually help to strengthen the bond between the two of you. That’s because, in order to catch each snowball, your dog must pay close attention to both the snowball and your hand movements, which requires a level of focus that improves his communication skills and builds trust.

Encouraging your pup to chomp those snowballs mid-air is also a playfully sneaky way to get some exercise, both for you and your dog. Besides, the amazing expressions you’ll see on his face when he realizes he can’t actually catch or fetch any of these balls will have you laughing so much that you’ll almost forget that you’ve now got icicles for fingers.

3. Indulge your dog with a canine massage.

Not only does a gentle massage feel so doggone good, but it also provides a host of health benefits for our four-legged friends.

Canine massage can:

  • Improve circulation and flexibility.
  • Relieve muscle tension.
  • Reduce stress levels.
  • Strengthen the immune system.
  • Help stimulate the digestive system.
  • Promote healing after injury or surgery.

On a deeper level, canine massage serves as another means of strengthening the human-dog relationship. For dogs who are anxious or fearful, massage can be an especially calming experience; for humans, the simple act of massaging their dog can be a relaxing and tender way to enhance their connection and show their affection.

Interested in treating your pup to a canine massage by a trained professional? Consider booking a session with EASE Animal Massage or Love and Pawsitivity, both of which offer in-home services.

4. Teach your dog new tricks.

If you’re looking for an engaging way to spend some quality time with your dog, teaching him some new tricks is a great option. Dogs love to learn, and they really appreciate it when you take the time to teach them something new. Picking up a new skill is fun for them, keeps their minds sharp as they get older, and shows off their personality and unique abilities.

Wait—you think old dogs can’t learn new tricks? Hunter says think again, my friend. After all, he earned his Novice Trick Dog (NTD) title at ten years old during the height of the pandemic via Do More With Your Dog!.

Related: Teach Your Dog to High Five

5. Make homemade dog treats together.

Your pup will agree: there’s no better way to show your affection than by baking him a fresh batch of homemade treats. (I’m starting to think Hunter has taken over this post, but I digress.) This delicious act shows your dog how much you care and allows you to spend some quality time with him. You can even use this as an opportunity to sneak in some extra training. You know, that whole learning-a-little-willpower-while-resisting-the-tantalizing-smell-of-fresh-baked-treats kind of training.

Beyond being a tail-wag-inducing activity, baking homemade treats for your dog also includes some fantastic health benefits. For instance, using healthy ingredients like meats, vegetables, and whole grains improves your dog’s diet and supports his overall well-being, and since you know exactly what’s going into each treat, you can be sure that there are no harmful additives or preservatives.

Did you know you can get my treat-of-the-month recipes delivered right to your inbox? Sign up today and you’ll receive a healthy, easy, Hunter-approved recipe emailed to you on the first of each month.

6. Go for a drive to see neighborhood Christmas lights.

One of my favorite things about the winter season, particularly around Christmas, is all the beautiful lights. What makes viewing those colorful, twinkling lights even better? Taking Hunter along for the ride!

Dogs are incredibly social creatures, so spending quality time together is crucial to their well-being. Plus, given that most dogs love car rides (even if they do get a little excited at first), riding shotgun on your holiday lights drive will light them up on the inside. I saw this joy firsthand several years back when my family and I took Hunter to Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland, a drive-through light display located in Butler. The show features music meticulously timed to its various displays, which at one point played a hip-hop Christmas bop with a squeaker sound woven throughout that instantly caught Hunter’s ears. He spent the entire ride looking at lights…and searching throughout the backseat for that invisible squeaker!

Related: 8 Tips for Keeping Your Senior Dog Safe on Holiday Road Trips

7. Take your pup to a pet store and let him pick out his own toy.

Have you ever brought your dog with you to the pet store intending to buy a specific toy you’re convinced he’ll go bonkers for only to have him grab something else entirely? It can be mind-boggling, but according to experts, encouraging your dog to pick out his own toys has its benefits.

In a study conducted at the University of Vienna, dogs were given the opportunity to select their own toy from a group of different options. The results showed that the dogs were more likely to play with the toy they had chosen themselves, and they also formed a stronger emotional bond with the toy. This preference may explain why, the next time your dog grabs something unexpected off the shelf, just go with it; it might be exactly what he needs.

By giving your dog the opportunity to make choices, you’re helping to foster his sense of independence and self-confidence. And when it comes to choosing a toy, dogs are usually pretty good at picking something that suits their personality and playing style. He’ll find plenty to choose from at Petagogy with locations in Shadyside and Greensburg, Wagsburgh in Pittsburgh’s Northside, and Healthy Pet Products‘ Cranberry Township, North Hills, and South Hills stores where he can browse the Pittsburgh-themed Toni Unleashed toys.

8. Let your dog sleep in bed with you.

If you’ve ever shared your bed with your dog, you know that it can be both a cozy and comforting night, but did you know that there are scientifically proven benefits to sleeping with your furry friend?

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, sleeping with your dog can help to reduce stress and promote feelings of safety and security. This study found that people who slept with their dogs reported feeling more relaxed than those who slept without their dogs. In fact, the act of physically touching your dog releases oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone” that is also released during human bonding activities like hugging, kissing, and childbirth. Oxytocin has been shown to reduce anxiety and promote feelings of calmness and well-being.

But the benefits don’t stop at you. Your dog develops a deeper bond and higher level of trust with the humans from who they hog the bed thanks to a boost to their own dopamine and oxytocin neurotransmitters. Even more interesting is that when dogs sleep with their owners, their heartbeats actually sync! I found that wildly fascinating.

Bond Over Winter Fun

Whether you’re playing in the snow, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or snuggling up on the couch together, there are plenty of ways to have fun and strengthen your bond with your canine companion. What’s your favorite winter activity to do alongside your furry friend? Share it in the comments below!

Are you hoping to capture the bond with your four-legged friend during a winter photography session? Let’s bundle up and document that cold nose and warm heart! Choose your adventure below to begin.

Did you enjoy this post? Great, there’s more coming your way because it’s part of a photography blog circle featuring pet photographers from all over the world! Our weekly theme, “The Bond,” shares wonderful ways to connect with your dog alongside beautiful stories of the unbreakable connection between pets and their people. For example, Dallas pet photographer Tracy Allard of Penny Whistle Photography shares moving images that capture the bond between pet parents and their cats and she’s up next in this week’s circle. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here. If you get lost along the way, just look for the trail of dog hair. I won’t be far off…

10 thoughts on “8 Winter Activities to Strengthen Your Bond With Your Dog

  1. Tracy Allard says:

    I love the fact that you put a winter twist on this, so many people say “it’s cold, it’s snowy, it’s rainy, I can’t do anything with my dog”. On the contrary, you’ve outlined a whole host of things you can do to enrich your dog’s life in the winter and many don’t even require you to go outside (I LOVE Do More With Your Dog!). Great post Jessica!

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      Thanks, Tracy! Embracing the chill of winter can be fun, especially for those of us with northern-breed dogs. Hunter loves the snow and cooler weather, so there’s no getting around it with him.

  2. Cahlean Klenke says:

    These are great ideas for winter activities! Blue is still a baby at 5 months and Minnesota winters can be rather harsh so outdoor activities can be rather limited which means winter walks & snowball catching (Blue is working at mastering this skill) might not happen frequently. But baking treats, picking out toys (and visiting pet friendly shops), learning new tricks and driving around to see Christmas lights are all totally doable! Haven’t tried sleeping with him in bed yet but perhaps… haha!

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      I would imagine those Minnesota winters hit much harder than Pittsburgh, so I don’t blame you for keeping him inside on those rough winter days. I bet he’ll get as much of a kick out of taste-testing treats and playing with new toys as he would doing the snowball fun!

  3. Terri says:

    I love these ideas for winter activities. I especially like the part where you discuss letting your dog sleep in your bed! That’s one thing I really miss!

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      Thanks, Terri! Hunter has slept in our bed since a puppy and I can’t imagine him elsewhere…even when he’s hogging the majority of the bed…diagonally.

  4. Holly says:

    I’ve had northern breeds practically my entire life and playing in the snow is the best! Mozi, my little mixed breed mutt, is not as crazy about the snow as a northern dog would be, but we do spend a lot of quality time in the snow when we get the chance. We have also taken her on drives and walks to see Christmas lights. I don’t know if she appreciates them as much as I do, but when we got get hot chocolate, she knows she is getting a pup cup! This is a great list. Thank you for sharing

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      We love doing the Christmas light as well! Hunter sits so tall in the backseat with a huge smile and turns his head side to side so he doesn’t miss a single display.

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