How to Handle the Bathroom Issue and How to Keep Your Dog Active in Winter
Sparky delicately lifts a rear paw, holding it up close to his body. You glance back to see why he has stopped walking, in time to see him tenderly place that paw down and lift and hold another. Is the cold hurting his paws? Is it the snow melt chemicals or salt chunks? Regardless, he hasn’t done his business yet and looks utterly miserable.
Two thoughts today on what to do, as really the dog has two needs not being met. First, the problematic toileting issue. This is one area in which small dogs truly rule. Pee pads and potty stations are a viable option for them – which is a good thing, since most of these guys do not have the benefit of a double-coat of fur that many larger dogs have. Train to a pee pad or station the same way you trained Sparky to go outside. Encourage your dog to move onto it by placing it right next to Sparky’s usual exit and immediately praising and treating when he steps on it. Getting a little pee on the pad the next time Sparky “goes” outside can give him the idea that peeing on this ONE object in the house is okay (lay that same pee pad down again when you go back in).
Those of us with bigger dogs have no choice but to bundle up and head out (if we don’t have the benefit of a fenced yard – a long tether firmly attached to the back yard rail could spare us humans some discomfort). On walks, a quick brushing and massage helps those poor paws. Help your dog find patches of snow to walk through to help clear off the salt/chemicals. And look for stretches of road or walkway that are relatively clear of treatment. Stay close to home so you can zip inside once business is done – IF your dog is truly feeling the cold! Don’t accidentally train your dog to “hold it” by rushing him back in if, in fact, he loves to be outside. Paw discomfort does not equal a desire to go back in, as my dogs let me know with their hurt looks!
Which brings me to Unmet Need number 2: Sparky probably isn’t getting his usual amount of exercise. This may translate into a mopey dog or a rash of misbehaviors such as chewed shoes, trash breaches, and excessive barking. Break out the training games and puppy puzzles! Seeking and problem solving are mentally exhausting, plus these activities can be physically tiring as well. The ideas below are examples – look through your house and recycling and get creative. And share what works – we could all use more inspiration when Baby it’s cold out there!
Puppy Puzzles: Kongs (packed to your dog’s ability level); treat balls and dispensers; puzzle toys with doors, drawers, and levers that dog must manipulate to get to the treat (Google Nina Ottosson for examples). Home alternatives include hiding treats in muffin tins with tennis ball “lids”, layered boxes with treats at each layer, paper towel tubes twisted at the ends to look like Tootsie Rolls, heavier-duty plastic bottles with treats inside and lid off or lightly twisted on.
Training Games: Most involve asking your dog for a behavior (sit, down, wait) first. Hide and Seek – you hide then call your dog, or someone tells dog to find you and releases dog. Kibble Fetch – toss treats in different directions for dog to run to (incorporate stairs if safe to do so; dog works harder). Treasure Hunt, using treats or named objects – hide treats or objects, then tell dog to Find. Tug – with rules, if dog doesn’t become over-aroused. Obstacle Course – have dog follow you, or a toy on a stick, through a room filled with Over, Under, Around, and Through.