Winter in St. Louis can range from a mild 40-degree day to large amounts of snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. Some dogs love running around in the snow and spending time outside during cold weather, but others would rather be snuggled up on the couch with a warm blanket. Dogs, similar to humans, are each unique in their own way. So looking at your dog and acknowledging their breed, coat length, coat color, size, and age will help you best prepare them for the cold weather.
We have included some management strategies and things to consider below, to help keep your pets warm and safe when venturing outside into St. Louis winter weather.
Breed and coat length
The first thing to consider when taking your dog outside in cold winter weather is your dog’s breed. Larger long-haired dog breeds (i.e. Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Alaskan Malamutes, etc.) all can tolerate colder temperatures more effectively due to their multi-layer coats, while smaller short-haired dog breeds (i.e. chihuahuas, terriers, Dachshund, etc.) need additional protection from the cold to stay warm. Sweaters and coats are recommended for smaller short-haired dog breeds to help keep them warm while outside. Booties can also be used on your dog’s paws if they will be outside for long periods of time to protect their paws.
Did you know that your dog’s coat color can also influence if your dog will tolerate colder temperatures? Darker-haired dog coats generally warm quicker when exposed to the sun, while lighter-haired dog coats do not. This can cause your dog to stay warmer longer if they have a darker coat.
Due to the difference in the overall surface area of smaller and larger dogs, smaller dogs can get colder faster when outside in cold temperatures. They are also closer to the ground and can absorb the cold quicker by being closer to the snow.
We also want to take into consideration a dog’s age when exposing them to cold weather. Younger dogs can move more quickly compared to older dogs, so when outside in the cold they can keep themselves warmer rather than older dogs who may move more slowly. Cold weather can also affect your dog’s joints, muscles, etc, causing them to move slower with discomfort due to cold weather. Always keep an eye on your dog when taking them outside in cold weather. Less time spent outside, especially for older dogs, is extremely important in keeping them warm and healthy.
Coats and sweaters
Some dogs seem to enjoy wearing sweaters and coats, while others do not. An easy way to acclimate your dog to wearing a coat or sweater is by utilizing classical conditioning and creating a positive association with the coat or sweater by using food. This is what we call “pairing”. We use a bridge word associated with food (i.e. good) that is always a one-to-one ratio with food. Every time you say the word “good,” this bridges the gap between the time you say the word and when your dog receives a treat. Pairing can be used to get the coat or sweater on your dog as well as continue to create a positive association while your dog is wearing the item.
We recommend following the steps below when introducing a coat or sweater to your dog.
- Slowly allow your dog to sniff the coat or sweater.
- Slowly reach the item towards your dog. Say “good” and offer your dog a treat every few seconds as you put it on and fit the piece of clothing. If your dog quickly moves away when you reach the item toward them, you may need to move more slowly and stay at this stage of pairing until they are more comfortable.
- Once your dog is comfortable with you putting the item on them, offer a jackpot of treats which is classified as offering three treats one after the other to reward your dog for being successful. As your dog gets more comfortable with the coat or sweater, the number of times you will bridge and treat will slowly decrease.
If your dog doesn’t want to walk outside to use the bathroom in the snow, clear your pup’s path by exposing an area of grass 5ft x 5 ft to encourage your pup to go to the bathroom outside. When your pup successfully eliminates outside, offer them three consecutive treats one after the other immediately after they finish eliminating to reward them for successfully going potty outside. If your dog or puppy doesn’t go to the bathroom right away, remain outside for a minimum of 10 minutes to allow them time to use the bathroom.
After your dog is finished going to the bathroom outside or playing in the yard it is extremely important that you dry them off with a towel when they come back inside. Here’s why:
- Excess water and snow need to be removed from their coats so when they come inside they can warm up quicker.
- Salt and de-icers used to melt snow on sidewalks can irritate or burn your dog’s paws if they are exposed for long periods of time.
Making sure your dog is wiped down from head to paw is essential in keeping them warm and safe during cold weather.
Bundle up and stay warm!