Teach Your Dog to Love Bad Weather!
Does Your Dog Hate or Love the Rain and Snow?
Go Home? I Love This Stuff!
A common complaint I hear from dog owners is that their dogs refuse to walk in the rain or snow. Some dogs can be perfectly well-behaved and well-trained, but any inclement weather changes things dramatically. A lot of people just accept this as part of their dog’s “personality,” figuring there’s nothing they can do about it.
Is that really true?
I don’t think so. Do wolves refuse to go hunting when the weather’s bad? Do all dogs automatically hate the cold and snow and sleet and rain? No!
So what can you do if your dog hates the rain and snow?
Simple. Change the context!
One of the primary rules of dog training is that you can’t just train a dog in one environment with one particular set of circumstances and except to obey under any and all conditions. It’s true that initially you want to do your training where there are as few distractions as possible. But once a behavior is learned, you need to begin slowly adding distractions so that the dog can cross-contextualize his lessons.
Adding distractions doesn’t just mean that the dog sits, no matter what. It also means that you want your dog to be able to “weather” all kinds of stimuli. (See what I did there?) And the best, most positive way to do that is to make play a fundamental part of the process.
Freddie Tackles a Green Bay Packer
When my dog Freddie (1992-2007) was a pup, and we went out for a walk in his first snowstorm, he hated it! And since New York is an urban setting so there was also a lot of salt and other snow-melting chemicals on the sidewalks. He not only refused to walk because he was cold and wet, he actually cried (whined) about it, partly because of the salt, but also because he just didn’t like being out in the cold.
So what did I do?
First of all I did my best to keep the area between his pads free of any icy build up. Every time he lifted one of his paws up and limped along on the others I bent down and cleaned off all the excess snow and ice. But I also saw the snowstorm as an opportunity to change Freddie’s outlook on all inclement weather; I took him to the park and played with him in the snow. And I mean I really played with him, I didn’t just stand around and wait for other dogs to show up. I ran around, teasing him with a favorite toy, a stick.
Once he was crazy to bite the stick, I ran away. Then I zig-zagged, stopped and started, changed directions, faked left and went right, faked right and went left, threw in a stutter step, etc. I even fell down in the snow and let him jump on top of me. Then I jumped up and ran off again. I was like a running back for the Green Bay Packers (except for the falling down part; that made me more like a running back for the Jets). I did this for about 20 secs. or so, until he was absolutely crazy to catch me and sink his teeth into that stick.
Then I encouraged him to jump up on me and we played tug-of-war, then I threw the stick. He chased it, killed it, then lay down in the snow and chewed it. No resistance to the cold and snow at this point. He was covered in it. In fact, he was lying down on it, with the snow right up against him, chilling his belly. But he loved it.
The next time it snowed a funny thing happened. He not only didn’t mind the snow coming down on him and getting his coat wet, he was also less affected by the salt and ice on his paws. And he wanted me to play with him some more!
So as I tell my clients, it’s important to always set the emotional tone for your dog. No more thinking: “It’s raining, or snowing? Ah, crap!” Instead, you have to think, “Yay! It’s raining! Let’s go play!” You have to think like a happy little puppy not a grumpy grown up. And the same holds true for the rain, which is usually a much less pleasant experience for us than walking through the park in the newly-falling snow. So playing with your dog in the rain may be even more important.
Insane in the Rain
It was an October evening, an hour or so before sundown. I was out with Freddie and Mack, a Jack Russell terrier, on the Great Lawn in Central Park. Mack and I were playing fetch and Fred was sniffing around. The leaves had changed colors and the sky was turning dark and ominous. A light drizzle started to fall.
I knew Mack didn’t like the rain, but I didn’t realize how badly until I threw the ball ofr him to chase—his favorite activity—and he just watched it roll off into the grass. I shrugged and went after it myself. But when I got to it and turned around, I saw that Mack was on his way home. He’d apparently decided that he didn’t want to play in the wet weather and had just started trotting back toward West 85th Street, which is where he lived, intending, I suppose, to somehow magically cross those four lanes of rush hour traffic on Central Park West without getting run over.
I gave him his recall signal and he turned and came halfway back before he turned back around again and started for home. I called him again, this time he didn’t even turn around; he just threw a look over his shoulder as if to say, “It’s too damp; I’ll catch ya later,” and he continued to trot home.
I realized that I’d been a little lazy with Mack’s recall. In the beginning I’d always used a tennis ball or a stick as the focal point for motivating him to come. But out of laziness I’d switched to using food rewards and now—in a crunch situation—Mack knew I didn’t have any treats with me and so he wasn’t interested in obeying.
I quickly remembered that I had never used food for training his down-at-a-distance. I had always drilled him on it with his bite reflex fully aroused and subsequently satisfied.
By now he was about fifty yards away, with his back to me. I shouted out the down command: “Mack! Go down!” He instantly dropped into the down position. Then I told him to stay, walked over to where he lay in the grass waiting for me like a good boy, and hooked him up to his leash. Then I whistled Freddie over, and the two of us, the sensible ones, walked Mack safely home across those four lanes of rush hour traffic.
The next week, during a Nor’easter, I took Mack out with a 50' long line and a tennis ball and we played and rolled around madly in the pouring rain and mud and he chased the ball and re-taught him to come in the most insanely intense manner possible. Please understand that I actually got down on the ground and rolled around in the mud, in the pouring rain, encouraging Mack to jump on top of me.
Why on earth would I put myself (and my wardrobe) through that? Because I knew that in order for this particular dog to come when called under all conditions I knew I had to teach him to not only tolerate the rain but to actually love it, I had to use every technique in my bag of training tricks to make the experience as vivid and exciting for him as possible.
And it worked. After that insane day in the rain, Mack never showed the least resistance to his recall, in any kind of weather. In fact, a few weeks later we were on the Great Lawn again, and for the first time in his life Mack started chasing a squirrel. I had never seen him do this before so I just stood there for a moment, a bit befuddled. Finally, when the squirrel was about halfway to the nearest tree—which was a thirty yards or so away—I shouted his recall signal. He turned on a dime and ran back to me even harder and faster than when he’d been chasing the squirrel!
I had a pocket full of treats but wisely threw a tennis ball instead.
“Life Is an Adventure—Where Will Your Dog Take You?”