Whether you are a dog-owner or not, at some point in your life you have probably seen those adorable, heart melting “Dogs’ First Snow” type of videos. Diving into white powder piles, chasing after snowballs, trying to eat the cold white stuff that instantly disappears as it lands on their nose - there is no doubt that most dogs are huge fans of the wintery weather. Something about going into the backyard to find it looking completely different than the night before makes some dogs ecstatic. Dogs are curious creatures and don’t understand snow or how it works other than that it falls from above and disappears after you lick it. However, it is something that doesn’t happen too often so that means it is something to be excited about. But is there more to it?
The Root of the Behavior
A change of scenery for animals that were traditionally considered as predators as opposed to prey is usually a good thing. A new environment means different methods of hunting can be applied, prey is easier to catch thus this type of change that gives you a boost is generally always welcome. More importantly, the sensory differences make the world more interesting for dogs during the colder seasons. The everyday things that your dog has gotten used to not only look different but they also smell and feel different.
It is considered general knowledge that due to their constant curiosity dogs love discovering new places, new smells and new things. They always prefer turning onto an alternative or unfamiliar street during their walk and sniffing a new tree or bush. Though the fascination with snow is universal there are certain breeds that live for the snow season - especially the ones that are also build for it. These include Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Corgis, Saint Bernards, and Chow Chows to name a few. As you can tell they have a few things in common - long hair, thick and warm double coats and a generally bigger size. Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies are still used for snow sledding in some places to this day and have definitely evolved to survive the colder environments. Although most dog breeds are snow-obsessed and love nothing more than chasing snowflakes and diving after snowballs or into snow mounds, there are a few who prefer to keep their paws dry and warm. Greyhounds and smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas and Toy Poodles are more likely to detest the winter seasons - they are short haired and have a low body fat percentage which without proper attire makes them very cold very fast. Despite their poor thermoregulation, these breeds might still enjoy the snowy days as at the end of the day it really comes down to personal preference. Regardless of breed, whether your dog enjoys the snow or not will also depend on his previous experience with it as well as his ability to adjust to change. Some dogs are not fans of it - especially when it means the ground is cold and slippery, smells are less intense and everything looks terrifyingly different.
Encouraging the Behavior
While you’re welcome to encourage your furry friends’ playtime in the snow, you have to make sure he can handle the cold - what that means will largely depend on the breed of dog you have. However, unless he is a “cold climate” type of dog with a thick and warm double coat he will most likely need some support from you in the form of winter attire. More importantly, to keep your dog safe you have to make sure to wipe his feet thoroughly after his walks but not just to avoid cleaning the floors and couch later. During the wintertime, the streets your dog walks on are covered in rock salt and antifreeze - both of which are toxic substances. Not only is it incredibly unpleasant for dogs to have on their paws (and can even burn them!), in attempts to lick it off they can ingest it and that could lead to poisoning and internal damage that could be fatal. That is why special attention must be paid to dogs who not only enjoy playing in the snow but also enjoy eating or licking it. Eating of snow should not be encouraged, and allowed only in cases when the owner has made sure that the snow is clean. This means free of mud, rock salt and antifreeze which is deadly for dogs to consume, this will most likely be the snow in your backyard and not the one found on the sidewalk. If you saw or suspect that your dog has ingested any of the above substances take them to the veterinarian immediately, especially if your dog starts acting drunk, pants excessively, displays a lack of coordination, vomits or has diarrhea.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Other than making sure to keep your dog warm and poison-free, you should also make sure to check your dogs’ paws for balls of ice formed on the hairs between their toes. Not only is it uncomfortable, the ice build up pulls on the dogs hairs as well as spreads his toes apart which can be painful and stress your dog out. Use a paw balm or spray your dogs’ paws with a vegetable oil before going for a walk and consult your veterinarian for other recommendations. Whether your dog is a snow fanatic or prefers to enjoy it in moderation, it is very important to pay special attention to our four-legged friends during the winter time for the season specific hazards.
Just like their owners, dogs enjoy an occasional change of scenery and appreciate the white layer of snow on everything as it enables them to see the everyday world in a different light. For some dogs it is their favorite season while others can’t seem to stand more than a few minutes outside - whichever category your dog falls into make sure to always take extra care of him during the colder seasons.