I was watching the weather forecast earlier today when the presenter highlighted the fact that we have lost around an hour of daylight over the last month. With days becoming shorter, and the evenings becoming darker much earlier, my thoughts have turned to thinking about how to prepare our dogs for the onset of those dark winter days and nights.
The change in daylight hours can affect a dog’s behaviour and physiology. Our dogs are creatures of habit and have specific behaviour patterns relating to the time of day, so, when the days become shorter and the clocks change, dogs can find that their normal daily routine is disrupted – making them feel anxious or frustrated. Dogs normally wake up when the sun rises and sleep after sunset, but in the winter months we often start our days in the dark and stay awake long after the sun has gone down. This means our dogs must adjust to a change in the timing of walks, meals and our different working routines.
So how can you help? Try to keep the timing of all your dog’s important activities the same. Remember, your dog has no idea that the clocks have gone back and will still expect things to happen at the same time. He will not understand that the clock says 7am when his time clock says it is 8am and he should be having his breakfast! By changing feed and walk times by 10 minutes a day, over a week, your dog will adapt to the new time zone without any difficulties.
It is important that both you and your dog stay safe when out in the cold and the dark. Make sure your dog is visible – no matter how well trained you may think he is. Although dogs can see better than humans in the dark, objects may seem unfamiliar and your dog may be unpredictable in his responses and could run away. People dress differently in the cold – big jackets, scarves, hats, earmuffs – and this can make a person look completely unusual and unfamiliar to your dog. Never let your dog run free if you cannot see where he is or what he is doing. To help keep your dog safe there are lots of good high viz items for dogs: flashing collars, reflective jackets and leads. Make sure your dog is accustomed to wearing these before the dark nights set in.
Don’t forget that your dog can also feel the cold. Small breeds and short- coated dogs may need to wear a water-resistant jacket to keep them warm. Don’t let your dog eat snow as it will rapidly reduce body temperature and it could also be hiding a broken bottle or other hazard. Remember the dangers of frozen water: a dog will not be able to differentiate between this and frozen, solid ground and may fall through the ice. Please also be aware that grit used on the roads contains antifreeze, which is poisonous and can irritate your dog’s paws, so make sure you wash it off after every walk.
Finally, if the weather is so awful that you can’t take your dog out for a walk, devise some games to play in the house to keep your dog active and mentally stimulated. Do some trick training, hide toys and food around the house for your dog to search for, get some activity toys for your dog to use, play retrieve games. The list is endless and both you and your dog will enjoy these new activities during those cold winter days.