How to Get Your Dog to "Go" in the Snow

When it comes to being a pet owner, one of the most frustrating parts of the winter season is standing outside in the wee hours of the morning, shuffling your feet to keep warm, and waiting for what feels like HOURS while your pup snuffles around in the snow. Finally, we give up and bring the dog back into the warm apartment -- only for her to immediately go to the bathroom on the carpet!! 

Unfortunately, we can't control the winter weather, but there are a few tricks we can try when it comes to a dog who won't "go" in the snow. 

Why won't my dog go to the bathroom in the snow?

There are a few things that may stand in your dog's way from maintaining his healthy potty habits when it's cold out. The obvious one is that if it's too cold to be comfortable for you, it's too cold for your dog, too. Sometimes, your pup is just too chilly to get into the same routine he has in warmer months.

In other cases, your dog may not know it's "okay" to go in the snow. When our dogs are puppies, they learn from an early age where it's acceptable to "go" and where they'll get in trouble -- for example, they get used to the sensations of dirt, grass, concrete, and training pads as an "all clear" signal for doing their business. Especially if this is your dog's first experience with snow, he may just not know that he's allowed to go potty on this new cold thing. 

Is it bad for my dog to "hold it" too long?

Typically, the winter months lead to one of three potty behaviors in dogs: If our dogs are used to the winter routine (or if we're very, very lucky), their bathroom habits aren't affected at all. Some dogs, on the other hand, stop "going" outside and seem to take a major step backward in potty training, resulting in those messes we thought we left behind in puppyhood. Still other dogs seem to "hold it" for far too long: They know they'll get in trouble if they "go" inside, but they still refuse to do their business in the snow. 

A major concern for pet parents, particularly among new dog owners, is whether or not "holding it" is bad for your dog. Generally, adult dogs who have finished potty training can "hold it" for up to 10-12 hours. We're familiar with this when our family dog patiently waits for Mom and Dad to get home from their 9-5 jobs. New puppies, on the other hand, follow a general rule of thumb of "one hour to one month" (i.e. a six-month-old puppy can "hold it" for about six hours max, but that's just a ballpark, not a hard and fast rule).

Generally, if your dog is within these benchmarks for "holding" time, she's perfectly healthy. However, if you notice your dog is refusing to "go" for many hours at a time, or having a higher frequency of accidents indoors, there is an increased risk of bladder infections or kidney issues. Always check in with your vet if you notice concerning behavior in your pup or think she's acting uncomfortable. But don't panic if your dog has issues for a couple of days -- she might just need a little extra guidance when it comes to "going" in the snow. 

How do I teach my dog to "go" in the snow? 

Before you get too caught up in fears of endless accidents and exorbitant carpet cleaning bills, try these tips on for size. When you're figuring out how to teach a dog to poop or pee in the snow, you're going to follow a lot of the basic potty-training techniques you used when your dog was a puppy.

Here are a few methods to follow to help your dog relax and learn it's okay to do his business in the winter months:

  1. Designate a "snow-free" area for your pup's business. If you live in your own home or an apartment complex with covered areas (like balconies, porches, or an enclosed backyard), designate a spot where you can take your dog to do his business. The familiar sights, smells, and sensations of grass or dirt will help ensure his usual routine. To make life easier on yourself, you don't have to shovel out your entire backyard just to take your dog out -- pick a spot about 3 square feet wide and take your dog there every time he needs to "go." This will help reinforce the area as a preferred potty spot. 
  2. Stick around for moral support. Cold is a weird feeling, especially for smaller dogs who can't handle it or young puppies who have never experienced snow before. Sometimes, a shy bladder is a sign of nervousness -- and the best way for your pup to relax is if their favorite human stays by their side. For example, if you usually let your dog out into a private backyard to do her business where she pleases, you might have better luck if you keep her company the first few times she needs to "go" in the snow. This teaches her that she's just as safe as she was before this weird chilly white stuff got all over the ground -- and she'll get down to business with less anxiety. 
  3. Go for a longer walk. Sometimes, your dog's senses are too overwhelmed to remember the point of coming outside in the first place. If your neighborhood isn't too icy and your dog's paws can handle it, take him for a longer walk in an area he remembers. The longer he's outside, the more comfortable he'll get with the snow, and eventually, he'll remember what he came outside to do. 
  4. Reinforce good behaviors with high-value treats. Just like regular potty training, encourage good habits by offering high-value treats (the good stuff, like cheese or pieces of hot dog) whenever your dog does what you want her to do. After each successful potty in the snow, offer a treat and plenty of affection. 
  5. Use a hand signal or voice command (but don't overdo it). This is another tried and true method from puppy potty training: Incorporate a hand signal or voice command that your dog associates with going to the bathroom (such as pointing at the ground or saying "go potty" or "get busy"). Don't overdo it, however -- giving the command too many times can make your dog frustrated or confused, and make him more likely to backpedal in his snow potty training. 

Like regular potty-training, adapting to winter weather takes time and patience. But with practice, your pup will get back to doing his business in no time! 

Remember, one of the best ways to keep your pup relaxed and comfortable is to keep him warm. Shop Frenchie's full line of winter hoodies for a snuggly, cozy cold-weather season! 

January 29, 2021 — Maggie May

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