Dogs get the Winter Blues Too
Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Without a doubt January is the toughest month for dog owners and February can be a tough second. While the diehard dog owner will undoubtedly bundle up his or herself and brave the cold on more days than not on behalf of their four legged friends and many Manitoba dogs have their own winter gear complete with booties there is without a doubt a reduction in activity for our fur buddies. We don’t take those trips to the countryside or the lake, the countryside is all blown in and the lake is frozen. We shorten our walks and on those blowing -30 days we don’t risk our dogs to frostbite for even with booties the risk is there.
Your dog will undoubtedly experience some negative side effects as a result of our long winters. First your dog will lose some conditioning. Less activity will mean less muscle mass and correspondingly more fat. We’re not the only ones who pack it on during the Christmas season. This can lead to injuries and health conditions.
Secondly cabin fever will set in for your dog. When boredom gets a hold of a dog it can present as a mopey sullen dog, a dog that acts out with new or destructive behaviours, or regresses in obedience. Sometimes you may not see any evidence of it at all as many dogs will suffer stoically in silence.
What can we do?
We need to have a winter plan for our furry friends to keep them engaged and in shape both mentally and physically and we need to be cognizant of building back up again anything they may have lost. It may be tempting to run to the dog park with them on the first sunny bright day to watch them run with joy but it’s probably the worst thing that you can do. If your dog’s activity has been reduced by as little as 20% he/she is at risk of muscle injury when attempting to go back to regular activity. Pent up energy may lead to disruptive social behaviour, sort of like when someone gives kids a pile of sugar before taking them to a restaurant. Dogs that interact while overexcited can incite negative reactions in other dogs. Dogs that have had a reduction in activity should be slowly reintroduced much like people. Start the return to normal activity slowly with shortened measured activity to allow your dog to rebuild lost muscle mass and protect joints from strain and stress.
Even better than a controlled return to regular activities is to find other activities that we can do during the winter months. Enroll in dog classes and training activities for the winter months to keep your dog stimulated and in condition. Many people shy away from dog classes as they feel that their dog is already obedient enough or they don’t feel they belong because they aren’t interested in training the next champion. Some owners feel that they aren’t welcome as they don’t have the “right kind” of dog, purebred or otherwise.
However, dogs are at their happiest when they are involved and challenged and form the strongest bonds with owners who engage in activities directly with them. Your dog does not have to become the next Super dog but he will think he is because he receives 30 minutes of continuous attention from his owner in an activity that is exciting. I take my dog to “Fun” obedience matches in the winter not because he needs to be a more obedient dog but because for two hours he gets to strut around a warm arena and sniff other new dogs. We go home and he sleeps for the rest of the day. I can literally see the energy of frustration drain right out of him to be replaced by a calmer and more relaxed demeanor. When I take him out to train with my fellow retriever trainers (indoor arena again) it doesn’t matter that the retrieving situations aren’t authentic hunting scenarios(tough to create in winter time), what matters is we’re playing a game that’s energizing and focused on him. As far as he is concerned he’s a rock star every time.
Dogs are social creatures and people are too. Training activities can be rewarding for owners as well as their dogs and can also help us with the winter blues. Dog owners have one thing in common that makes it easy for us to interact with each other and it’s that we all share a profound love for our dogs.