Winter Training for Your Dog

Good dog behavior in cold weatherWhether you frown or smile when snow falls, you have to remember your beloved dog(s) during winter months. With a few simple tips, you can keep your dog happy, healthy and training momentum strong even when life is thrown off by frigid temperatures.

Health and safety are priority.  Many Chicago residents live without a yard. However, if you are fortunate enough to have a fenced-in area, your dog belongs inside.  Dog have fur coats but can get frostbite and hyperthermia just like we can.  If you love your dog, keep him or her inside where it’s warm.

If your leash walking is still a bit dicey, get a harness.  There is no shame in using a tool to prevent pulling when you could easily lose your balance on icy sidewalks.  Consider some traction enhancing devices so you do not fall, with or without your dog.

Older and small dogs and those with short fur easily become cold.  Shorten your normal walks and play games inside to burn energy.  Change it up, your dog will get bored if you play hide ‘n’ seek EVERY night.

Coats are great to keep pooches warm but booties can often feel weird to dogs. Take a couple minutes each day when you are not going outside to put booties on, reward.  Take booties off, reward stops.  This creates a positive association with dog boots.  I personally like paw protecting spray PawPro but my neighborhood is not peppered with asteroid-sized salt chunks.

Prevent cabin fever destruction.  Many young dogs are lovely at home because they get plenty of exercise.  Cold weather can make that much more difficult and unfortunately, energy does not go away because it is freezing outside. Rather than giving your dog the opportunity to exhaust himself by chewing up your couch or digging holes in your floor, give him an appropriate job:

  • Practice “stay” daily.  It may sound silly but, doing focus work is very relaxing for dogs and can help tremendously with behavioral issues.
  • Work on leash walking.  Yes, inside.  Leash walking is hard work and if you have not mastered it outside (where you are competing with trillions of distractions), use cold weather days to improve your handling and ability to communicate to your dog while moving.  Even in small spaces, practicing a few steps of good leash walking behavior can truly help when you can make it back outside.  You can also place toys and treats a few feet away to add distractions. Be fair, if the distraction is too close you’ll simply be dragging your dog away from items and that is not training.
  • Teach tricks!  Learning a new skill, fun or serious, is an amazing way to bond with your dog and have fun inside!
  • Old favorites like “go to bed” and “drop” are always great to practice and will pay off when you have friends over for a cookout or compete again with trash on the street.

You can still train behavioral issues.  A lot of my clients with dog and people selective dogs want to postpone training in the winter. It can truly be a detriment to lose that momentum. However, when it is too cold to work outside and there are no people or dogs around to practice; you can still teach your dog incompatible behaviors with beings that cause aggression or fear.  Using sounds at a low volume, introducing a life sized model (dog or human) or movie standee at a distance can help keep fretful behaviors at bay. I often hear that folks give up inside because the dog “does not care”. That is precisely why you should keep training, to reinforce not caring. If your dog retreats, tucks his or her tail, trembles, lunges, barks or growls; you are no longer training but forcing your dog endure to what bothers him or her most.  Reduce the volume or move the fake person or dog further away to practice new skills and reinforce calm, sweet and happy behaviors that you would like to see if it were a real dog or human.

Potty training may suffer, plan ahead!  If your dog has only done his or her business on grass, snow is a much different surface so your pup may be confused at first.  Keep going to the same spot and when your dog sniffs, praise him or her.  It may take a little longer than normal so stay in that spot for a few minutes.  If you get no action and it is a time of day your dog does pee or poop; you can not let your dog wander around the house. Sniffing and moving on a full bladder will make your dog relieve himself in the house, then it becomes a habit.  Potty training in the winter is miserable but taking your dog out every couple of hours, praising and treating for all business outside AND limiting freedom to prevent accidents will teach your dog where and when to go.  If you have a small dog, you will need to shovel an area so you pup can easily walk and squat.

It only takes a little planning and a bit of a schedule change to keep your dog well behaved even in winter months.