Winter and snow equals fun and exciting playtime for children outside. Sledding, building snowmen, and more are just some of the activities that families do during the winter. It’s normal to want to bring the family dog along, but it’s important to keep some things in mind before venturing into the winter wonderland..
Firstly, keep in mind the new and strange shapes that winter clothing and equipment give both children and adults. Children’s hats and scarves are often adorned with pom-poms or tassles, which for many dogs look similar to toys they have at home. Ski masks, goggles and snow suits on adults while they are carrying equipment like sleds or skis can be worrying to some dogs too. It’s very important that you watch your dog for signs of fear or anxiety, and if they present any, do not try to force them into a situation they are uncomfortable with. It’s a good idea to observe how your dog does around new appearances and equipment when you are prepared, than to be surprised when it’s too late to bring him home.
The next aspect to keep in mind is the movement and motion of children or adults on fast moving sleds going downhill. Not only are they low to the ground because they are sitting or lying down, but they are also zipping along at quite a fast speed. This can be very stimulating for dogs, especially younger dogs, who want to chase and sometimes grab. Combine the fast movements, the screaming, and the pom poms on childrens clothing, and you may find your dog unable to control his excitement. For this reason, we advise that you always have control of your dog around sledding children or adults. Reinforce desired calm behavior and if you want to join in the fun and can’t supervise, put your dog away inside so that they cannot practice negative behavior or get themselves into trouble.
Lastly, go at your dogs pace. Exposing your dog to winter sights and sounds gradually and at distances you are both comfortable with. In some cases, a dog may be fine with a slow and quiet walk down the road with the kids in the sled, but may get overstimulated when the children are going down a hills. Teach your dog what you want him to do in these situations, such as sit and stay, but don’t force him to be in a situation he is not happy with either. Some dogs would much rather be inside with a stuffed Kong than outside surrounded by strangely dressed people and children. If your dog is comfortable, enjoy and have fun, but as always, supervise every interaction your dog has with children, both familiar and unfamiliar.
-Helen Nicholls, CPDT-KSA, CDBC, OSCT
Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant
Operation Socialization Certified Trainer
Assistant Director to Family Paws Parent Education Programs
Licensed Dogs and Storks Presenter
Licensed Dog and Baby Connections Presenter
No Monkey Business Dog Training, LLC