Just got in from shoveling a trench around my back yard fence… my arms are shaking from the effort, but the last thing I need or want is my excitable shepherd mix going over the fence and scaring the neighborhood, picking a fight with some poor unsuspecting pup on leash, or getting hit by a car. I have a physical fence that is sufficiently high – most of the time – to ensure Maya can’t escape. This was more of an issue before she became a “mature” (I use the term loosely with her) adult, but I have no illusion that she wouldn’t take a walk-about if given the opportunity. And this winter is shaping up to provide plenty of opportunity along my fence line.
What about those with electric fences? With snow this deep, I am not sure I would want to depend on them either. “My dog stays on my property even if the collar has no battery” is something I’ve often heard. Know this: dogs are contextual learners, and, thanks to Mother Nature, the context has changed. Don’t be surprised if your dog tries something they never did before. From their perspective, it really is a whole new world with the snow. Do you really want to test your dog, in these conditions, against such great temptation? Weigh the risks and see how comfortable you feel. At the very least, brush up your dog’s recall skill, just in case…
If you have any doubt about your usual outdoor containment plan, break out the long line. Four years ago we had a winter like this. Maya was barely a year old and at one point could simply step over the top of the fence, the snow was so high. Sad as I was to do it, I had to put her on the long line for a few weeks that winter; not just to keep her in the yard but also to reinforce the concept of When In The Back Yard, Stay In The Back Yard. Dogs do what works, and behaviors that are repeated get stronger. She DID get out a couple of times before I recognized the issue and addressed the low spots. After that you’d better believe she paced that fence every outing for a long time, looking to go on another great adventure (my neighbors might describe her appearances differently).
Of course, that means my dogs are not getting the usual amount of exercise, and that means “cabin fever” for them. Break out the puzzle toys, treat dispensers, and chew items! Play games like Hide and Seek, Treasure Hunt, Fetch, and Tug. Incorporate training – the mental exercise dogs get from training is just as exhausting! Out on that long line, toss snowballs for your pup to attempt to retrieve. The effort of plowing through the snow and seeking the “ball” is good exercise as well as fun.
This blizzard snow was pretty fluffy, but it will pack down fairly quickly into something that can support more weight. As I type we have another 3-6” on the way that is likely to be much heavier since the air temperature will be over freezing tomorrow. Once that refreezes, a crust will start developing that allows smaller animals that distribute their weight over 4 feet instead of two to be able to walk on top of it all quite easily. So by all means practice your recalls, but also get out there and manage for success!