Dog Training and Winter Safety

When it comes to winter, most of us wrap up in extra layers, turn on the heating, and are more mindful when we head outside. However, when it comes to our dogs, we need to take extra responsibility to ensure that they’re not left outdoors or hanging around in cold and drafty places in our house. In addition, it’s normal for our dogs to want to continue exploring outside despite the cold temperatures. While our dogs have a coat to keep them warm, it’s important that you take extra precautions to ensure they’re not feeling uncomfortable or exposing themselves to low temperatures. This is especially the case when it starts to snow or when areas around your house start to freeze.

Training your dog in the winter becomes a little more difficult. We expect them to spend a little more time outside throughout the training process, but we also don’t want to expose our dogs to low temperatures and risk them getting sick or developing some condition. Frostbite and injury are major dangers when it comes to low temperatures, and hypothermia is a real threat when your dog spends a lot of time outside.

So in this post, we’re going to take a look at a couple of tips to help you train your dog when the temperatures outside start to drop.

Why train my dog outside during the winter?

A lot of first-time dog owners might ask the question; “why do I need to train my dog outside during winter? Can’t I just train them indoors?”

This is a great question since many of us are used to keeping our dogs indoors. In fact, the only time we take them out is when they’re feeling a little restless, need to go to the toilet, or if we’re going for a walk and want some company. As such, it might feel like a good thing to keep our dogs indoors, especially if there’s a danger of them hurting themselves when they’re outside.

Unfortunately, our dogs can get restless when they’re kept indoors all the time. This is especially the case during the winter months where your dog might become lethargic or hyperactive if they spend less time outside. Training also needs to continue during the winter months and it reduces the chance that your dog suffers from diarrhea or develops a problem such as obesity. Dogs need to spend a lot of time outside, and even though there are dangers to taking them outside during the winter, you need to find ways to protect your dog and ensure their safety for their long-term health.

Understanding your dog’s breed

The very first thing you should consider is the breed of your dog. Not all dogs are born equal and some breeds tend to excel in colder climates due to their ancestry. If you live in a particularly cold climate, then there are certain dogs that will be a great partner for you. For example, if you love to take hikes when the temperatures are really low outside and there’s snow around, then you’ll want to have a canine companion that enjoys the snow just as much as you.

Cold weather dog breeds are more common than you might think. Not only does their coat help to keep them warm during low temperatures, but they also have paws that are built specifically for traveling across icy surfaces and terrain. This makes them less prone to slip and slide around. Their bodies are practically built for cold climates, and this means they’re much easier to train outdoors when the cold season comes around.

So here are some of the most common cold weather dog breeds. If you find your dog breed in this list, then you can rest assured knowing that they’ll be a lot more resilient when winter comes.

  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Akita
  • German Shepherd
  • American Eskimo Dog
  • Anatolian Shepherd
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
  • Newfoundland
  • Norwegian Elkhound
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Chow Chow
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Karakachan Bear Dog
  • Keeshond
  • Shiba Inu
  • Siberian Husky
  • Kuvasz
  • Saint Bernard
  • Samoyed
  • Tibetan Terrier
  • Tibetan Mastiff

If your dog breed isn’t on this list then don’t worry–that doesn’t mean they’re completely exposed when the cold hits. However, if your dog breed is on this list, then you can generally relax a little. This doesn’t mean that you should just keep your dog outside and let them freeze, but it does mean you can be a little more liberal when taking your dog outside.

Training a dog takes a lot of commitment and means that they’ll need to spend a lot of time outside. However, if you attempt to train a dog outside that isn’t used to the cold or isn’t adapted for it, then it can get a little difficult.

Feeding your dog during the winter months

Many first-time dog owners might not realize that dogs actually need different amounts of calories during different seasons. This changes a lot depending on where you keep your dog or how much time they spend outside during the winter months.

Feeding your dog during the winter is different than during the summer, but do you feed more or less? That actually depends on your dog.

Dogs that are housed indoors and spend less time outside mean that they’re using up fewer calories. Dogs need to exercise a lot to burn their calories, but if they’re not being trained outside or they don’t go on as many walks, then this means they need fewer calories. If you continue to feed them the same amount every day, then they’re going to put on winter weight which can be unhealthy or even lead to obesity if you’re not careful. As such, you should adjust their diet and lower the number of calories. The exact amount will depend on the activity level of your dog and how much you’re currently feeding them. If in doubt or you’re not sure, don’t hesitate to speak to a veterinarian about changing your dog’s diet for the winter season.

However, there’s also a case to be made for increasing the number of calories your dog consumes as well. If you continue to spend more time outside training your dog, then there’s a good chance they’re going to need even more calories. For dogs that don’t have a thick coat or fat deposits, they shiver to maintain constant core temperature. In addition to actually exercising and moving around their body, this means dogs that spend more time outside during the winter are likely to burn more calories. If your dog is exposed to lower temperatures, then they’re going to need around two to three times the number of calories each day. This increased calorie count means they can maintain their weight. If you don’t increase their calorie count, it could lead to your dog losing a significant amount of weight over the winter period if you continue their training regime.

Lastly, pets can also have an altered metabolism depending on the temperature around them. If they’re subject to the cold, their bodies may use more fat for metabolism. As such, they’re going to need more fat from their diet to compensate for this. If you’re unsure how to change your dog’s diet according to the season, then make sure you speak with a trained veterinarian for advice. Since the recommended steps to take can change drastically depending on the breed of your dog, it’s important to seek professional advice based on your personal circumstances.

Keeping your dog warm when they go outdoors

When the temperatures start to drop, your dog’s basic defense against the cold is their coat. If possible, allow your dog’s coat to grow throughout the autumn season to help them stay warm when the weather really starts to get chilly.

However, if you have a dog with short hair or a small puppy, you’ll need to purchase them a coat or harness to keep them warm. It’s important to remember that not all dogs will be happy wearing a coat, so it’s something that you need to introduce to them slowly over a few days. Ideally, you’ll want to let them try the coat on a couple of months before they need to use it regularly.

To help you out, here are a couple of steps to follow before you try to put the coat on your dog.

  • Train your dog to get used to the coat. You can do this by encouraging them with treats.
  • Place the coat near your dog, laying it on the ground and tempting them to sniff it and get used to it.
  • Using treats can be an effective way to convince your dog to investigate the coat.
  • Once your dog grows a little more familiarly and comfortable with the coat, you can feed them a treat and slowly encourage them to fit through the opening of the coat.
  • As you gradually put the coat on your dog, you can further encourage them by placing a treat at the other end of the opening of the coat. You’ll essentially be teasing them with a treat and coaxing them into fitting into the coat.
  • Once your dog has comfortably fit into the coat, you can wrap it around their body and secure it. If your dog feels uncomfortable or anxious when you put the coat on, stop immediately or continue to soothe them.
  • If your dog is very unhappy, you can try again another time.
  • It’s ideal to train your dog to put on a coat months before it’s actually needed so you don’t struggle with it when the day comes.

Encouraging your dog to put on a coat can be difficult, but it’s one of the most important training tasks for you to complete before winter comes.

Assisting your dog when they have to spend time outside

Winter is a completely different season in terms of what you need to do to protect and assist your dog. So here are a couple of tips to follow whenever you bring your dog outside into the cold.

  • Ensure your dog is wearing a collar and has an ID tag. In the event that your dog gets anxious or upset during winter training, the last thing you want is to lose sight of them. It’s difficult to keep an eye on your dog when it gets dark so soon, so make sure you’re taking extra precautions to keep them in your field of vision at all times.
  • If it’s snowing heavily, make absolutely sure that your dog is always within reach. Make liberal use of your lead to guarantee that your dog doesn’t somehow escape. Snow can be exciting for dogs and they might have a tendency to run away or play in the snow. However, you should always keep an eye on them and secure their lead so they don’t go missing.
  • Keep your dog dry after a walk. If your dog has spent a lot of time outside, make sure you pat them dry whenever they’re back indoors. If you’re going to spend a lot of time outside, bring a towel and keep their paws and stomach dry. This will help to keep them warm and also removes any dampness from the rain or snow that can be irritating to their skin.
  • Be careful with frozen ponds. If you live in an area that has frozen ponds during the winter, make sure you don’t let your dog walk over them. Always keep them on a lead because there’s a small chance their activity and movements could crack the ice, especially if it hasn’t been frozen for very long. In a worst-case scenario, they might fall into the frozen pond and you may need to call emergency services to help them back out.

When it comes to training a dog in the winter, you need to take extra precautions to keep them safe and away from harm.

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