When It’s Too Cold Outside: Keeping Your Pets Occupied and Exercised Indoors

We may not want to admit it, but the cold weather is on its way. It’s time to think about how best to tackle exercise and mental stimulation for our pets over the coming months.

During the cold winter months, my wee Chihuahua, Raxl, prefers to spend as much time as possible inside. This means getting creative with keeping her stimulated and ensuring she gets enough exercise. I’m sure I’m not the only one facing this dilemma. Even if you can take your dog out, it may not be possible every day or as frequently as usual. So, your poor pup may go a little stir-crazy, and they might pass that craziness on to you. Let’s take a minute to talk about things to do with your dog indoors to keep them occupied and exercised!

First things first, though. How cold is too cold? Several factors come into play—body weight (less fat and fur mean your dog gets cold quicker), size (larger dogs handle cold better), and age (senior dogs find the cold more challenging, aggravating issues like arthritis).

For example, a Siberian Husky can handle much colder temperatures than a Greyhound. Generally speaking, if you have a small dog, 7 degrees Celsius (45 Fahrenheit) is pretty safe. -1 to 4.5 Celsius (30-40 Fahrenheit) is potentially unsafe, depending on the breed. -4 Celsius (25 Fahrenheit) is dangerous for little dogs, and -6 and lower Celsius (20 and lower Fahrenheit) is potentially life-threatening.

Medium dogs would have similar consideration as small dogs, but they can often tolerate slightly more cold. Large dogs do best in the cold compared with the other sizes, but at 1.5 to -6 Celsius (20-35 Fahrenheit) you need to keep an eye on them, and once you’ve hit -9/-10 Celsius (15 Fahrenheit), it’s getting dangerous for most breeds.

If you notice weakness, shivering, trouble breathing, whining, slowing down, or your dog looking for warm places to burrow, they may be experiencing hypothermia.

Now, back to keeping those pupsters indoors during this challenging time of year! Whether they’re on a reduced outdoor schedule or trapped indoors full-time, all that pent-up energy needs an outlet. What can you do to keep them occupied? Here are a few ideas:


  • If you have a fair amount of open space inside, you can set up flirt poles to exercise your dog’s prey drive. These things remind me of those feathers-on-a-rope toys for cats.
  • Again, if you have the space for it, there’s indoor fetch. You can kick it up a notch and make it a fetch race by racing your dog to see who gets to the toy first!
  • March up and down the stairs.
  • If you’re in an apartment or condo building (and if it’s permitted—definitely keep your dog on a leash), take your dog for an indoor walk in the hallways.
  • Squat and leap: hold your dog’s toy while you’re squatting—tap your dog’s nose with the toy. Rise and hold the toy up high and encourage your dog to rise or even jump for the toy—after a few reps, let your dog have the toy for a minute, then repeat.
  • And, if it’s not dangerously cold, you can always make your walks with your dog shorter. Perhaps shorter and more frequent, spread out throughout the day. And don’t forget to dress your dog in a warm and cozy coat (waterproof, if possible)!


  • Teach your dog any new basic trick.
  • Create an obstacle/agility course for your dog and take them through it. They can leap, hop, crawl, and trot throughout the house. Use chairs, blankets, brooms, hoops, and any other object you have on hand. Be sure that the objects you use are stable enough so they don’t fall over as your dog works his way through the course.
  • Nose work: you can use scent bags or just bits of kibble and teach them how to sniff out certain objects.
  • Word and name games: this involves a lot of repetition, but you can teach your dog to differentiate between different objects by name, like their toys.

Interactive toys and treats:

  • Kongs: filling up a Kong with treats, peanut butter—whatever your dog loves—can keep them entertained for a good while.
  • Treat dispenser: these usually come in the form of treat balls or treat puzzles and they’re fun for mom and dad to watch their dogs tackle, too!
  • Suction cup tug-of-war (when time for interaction is limited).
  • Tearing up boxes! Make sure you direct them to tear up cardboard stuffed with kibble to steer them away from regular destructive behavior (like tearing up shoes).
  • Lick mats have patterned ridges to make licking up a puree or peanut butter more interesting…snuffle mats have interesting nooks and crannies for dogs to find hidden treats
  • And sometimes all they need is a new toy to keep them occupied.

Games played together:

  • Doggy bubbles: make sure to use non-toxic bubble liquid specifically formulated for dogs.
  • Tug of war…together!
  • Shell game: this takes some time to teach, so this falls under training, too.
  • Doggy yoga: take a treat and lure them to stretch to different parts of their body.
  • Find your time is limited? Maybe you can arrange a play date for your dog.
  • Hide and seek: either with you (throw a treat to distract him, then go hide) or with treats planted throughout the house!

You can also try a spa day with your dog. If your dog is a massage therapy client, your Canine Massage Therapist may have shown you some very basic massage techniques. Or you could try hydrotherapy wraps—check out my how-to video for more info: Hydrotherapy Wraps for Dogs

Some of these suggestions can work with your feline fur babies, too! After all, if it’s too cold for a small dog to be outside, it’s probably too cold for your outdoor cat, too. Best they be indoor cats temporarily.

Article by Regan Macaulay, Owner of Kuri K9 Massage

After extensive training through Treetops Animal Massage Certification Program (Ontario), I started my mobile business, Kuri K9 Massage in 2013 to help Toronto and GTA pets live healthier, happier lives by relieving physical and emotional pain and tension, thereby also relieving stress for fur baby moms and dads—boosting quality of life together for longer. I offer Swedish massage therapy to dogs and cats young and old, as well as reflexology, lymphatic drainage massage, sports massage, acupressure, and hydrotherapy wraps, as well as distance Reiki.

Website: https://www.kurik9massage.com/

Instagram: kurik9massage 

Facebook: Kuri K9 Massage