The Long Cold Winter and your Dog

Even though the temperature is cold outside, your dogs still need exercise and training.  Many dogs begin to exhibit negative behavior in the winter because their owners do not want to go outside to exercise and play with their dogs.  Many send the dog into the yard to ‘entertain” themselves, but really, they are not doing anything but waiting for their owners to interact with them. 

Behavioral Problems in the Winter Months: 

I have seen many types of unusual and/or negative behavior arise in the winter that were not there the season before and usually go away once the temperatures rise and you and your dog are able to get outside for some fresh air and exercise.  To their owners, this is strange behavior; to me it is a result of boredom, lack of exercise and stress.  Many dogs need exercise and when they are not exercised they become stressed and the stress can take form in minor behavioral problems or severe problems.  Some of the problems I have encountered have been:  aggression, dominance, animal aggression, fear of everything, excessive barking, jumping, chewing, spinning in circles, excessive licking of themselves, diarrhea, destructiveness, digging, chewing their own tails/feet, hair loss or bad coats, dermatitis, excessive weight gain, stealing for attention, chewing for attention and lack of attention or focus on the dog’s part. 

And do not forget the winter puppies.  They are not nearly as socialized with people, children or other dogs as they need to be in the winter because no one is outside.  Puppies need exposure to as much as possible in their early months and it is almost impossible to do if you live on this area.  Many times a puppy that has not had an accident in many weeks will begin to have accidents again in the house either because they do not want to go outside or the snow has masked their ‘marked’ areas to relieve themselves. 

Many of these problems will go away as soon as the temperatures rise but what will you do until that happens?  For many dogs the negative behavior then becomes a habit and once it is a habit, it many not go away completely in the warmer months. 

Ways to alleviate the problem: 

Dogs are working animals but through domestication and modern technology they are no longer worked. Home alone for 8 hours followed by a walk around the neighborhood or a run in the yard is not enough physical or mental stimulation. Dogs need exercise (walks, swimming, retrieving) but your dog would much rather exercise with you than by itself in your yard.  Many owners either take their dog to the dog park or long walks in the park when the weather is nice and then this abruptly ends when the temperature drops.  They still need the activity they were getting in the warmer months and it is up to you to provide them with such activity.  Enroll him in an agility class for exercise.  Agility classes are fun for both dogs and owners with enough physical and mental stimulation to keep the dog happy through the long winter.  There are many “Doggie Daycares” open these days, if you really don’t want to go outside, let your dog go to daycare one or two days a week so he can socialize with other dogs and play to his hearts content.  If neither is available to you, buy yourself a warm ski suit and go outside and take him for a long walk.  Be careful that his feet are not going to get salt on them and if he doesn’t have a long or double coat, be sure that he is warm enough on this walk.  It may not have to be a long walk like you do in the warmer months but at least he will get to spend sometime outdoors.  Or if you don’t want to go outside or are unable to go outdoors do to a medical or physical condition, hire a dog walker to come a couple times a week to take your dog outside for exercise.   

But exercise and no mental stimulation will make your dog crazy.  The working instinct in your dog demands for it to use its brain.  And if you don’t allow your dog to use its brain for good behavior, you can believe it will use it for bad behavior.  I advise would be to enroll your dog in a few obedience classes during the cold season.  Obedience not only teaches your dog self-control but also allows it to think and respond, i.e. using its mind/work.  Teaching your dog anything from tricks to simple obedience commands gives it an outlet and allows thought processes to over-ride negative behavior.  Many schools not only do basic training but do advanced training.  You do not necessarily have to compete with your dog in certain dog sports to participate in these classes.  Some schools do trick training also, which can be fun for both you and your dog.   Your dog may not be receiving the exercise he would chasing a ball in the park or swimming but the mental stimulation will tire him out just as quickly, and with some dogs even more so, than physical exercise.  Dogs are constantly thinking and trying to figure out what their next move should be, and if you don’t teach them good behavior you can believe they will entertain themselves with negative behavior. 


I believe a dog needs a minimum of 40 minutes to 1 hour of exercise (retrieve, running, etc.) a day and a ½ of training a day.  All exercise or all work will not control negative behavior.  A happy medium of both will make your dog happy and well adjusted.  Don’t worry, we will still have some nice or warmer days this summer, so you both will be able to get out and go hiking or walking some of the time, but it is up to you to make sure your dog gets enough exercise and mental stimulation to get him through the stress of winter; your dog’s mental well-being, as well as your own, is in your hands.   

Until next month…….