Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
Why Do Dogs Refuse to Potty When It's Cold?
Firstly, not all dogs hate to be out in cold, wintry weather. Only some dogs will put on their brakes and categorically refuse to go potty when it's cold outside. In general, dogs who refuse to do their business outdoors in the cold are typically small, pint-sized dogs or dogs that are hairless or have very short hair. Older dogs may be reluctant too, considering they may have painful joints and generally tend to suffer from the cold more. For these dogs, being sent outside to potty may feel almost like a punishment.
This Aversion Is a Protective Mechanism
Who can blame them? You probably hate being cold, too. You probably wear a parka, a knit hat, socks made of wool, and insulated boots to accompany your dog to do his or her business—or maybe you just send your dog out and watch them from inside. Just like you, your dog's nervous system is capable of sensing temperature changes (being cold feels uncomfortable) and, therefore, implements protective mechanisms to avoid extremes that lead to overheating or getting too cold.
Avoiding the cold is an adaptive function. It helps to preserve the body from the damaging effects of temperature extremes (hyperthermia and hypothermia). Therefore, when your dog refuses to potty in the winter, don't get all upset—he or she is just engaging in an adaptive behavior that is telling them to stay safe and stick to areas where it's toasty warm!
Why Do Dogs Refuse to Go Potty in the Snow?
On top of being cold, if the place where your dog has been going to potty has been covered with a blanket of snow, you are facing an additional challenge. When it snows, it's as if the world has transformed overnight. Its surface, its smell, and its cold sensation on a dog's feet or belly may be perceived as challenges, explains American cognitive scientist and author Alexandra Horowitz, in an article for Scientific American.
On top of this, any dog that is frightened by novelties and is already struggling to get used to an ever-changing world sees this additional change as being quite intimidating. Not to mention, breeds with short legs such as Dachshunds and Basset Hounds may get scared or easily tire from walking in the mountains of tall, piled-up snow.
How to Get Your Dog to Pee or Poop When It's Cold
Sometimes, in order to overcome problems commonly encountered in dogs, you need to really put yourself "in their paws" and perceive the world from their perspective. Now that we know how dogs perceive cold and snow, it's time to contrive a plan. For dogs that specifically refuse to potty when it rains, consider reading "7 Tips for Dogs That Refuse to Potty in the Rain."
Otherwise, let's get started on breaking this aversion. These tips aim to make the outdoors feel less intimidating so that your dog feels less compelled to "hold it" for hours, thus avoiding accidents somewhere inside the home.
1. Try Dog Booties
Some dogs dislike going potty when the ground is covered in cold rain, ice, and snow. Often, these dogs will raise a foot off the ground as soon as they are out as if frightened by the cold sensation on their paws. These dogs may stick to patio areas and refuse to walk.
If you suspect that your dog's reluctance to go potty outside may be due to their dislike of the cold sensation on their paws, you can try investing in some doggy booties. These should keep your dog's feet warm and dry.
It is best to acclimate your dog to the booties by letting them wear them in the house for a few days; otherwise, there's the risk that you may aggravate things. Your dog may not want to go out not only because it's cold, but also because of the shock of wearing something strange on their feet.
2. Invest in Winter Attire
Just as you change wardrobes when the weather transitions, you can change Rover's clothing, too. Once the weather gets cold, pet stores start stocking up on winter attire for dogs that could benefit from an extra layer of clothing.
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In addition to dog booties, you will find warm sweaters in a vast array of colors and textures. With a warm coat on, your dog may be less likely to dread going outside since they'll be less distracted by the sudden chill.
3. Create a Potty-Friendly Area
Does your dog have a favorite potty spot outdoors but won't use it because it's covered with snow? Many dogs feel confused when they are used to going potty on grass, for instance, and the grass disappears.
It may help to shovel a path to this area or shovel the area directly if the grass is dead. You can also place a patch of fake grass like AstroTurf down. Another option is to take your dog to a sheltered place such as a covered parking garage or similar space that is free of snow. Some dog owners create a small shelter outside where the dog can go potty without being bothered by snow, ice, and chilly winds.
4. Stay Calm and Be Patient
It may be terribly frustrating dealing with a dog that won't potty in the cold, but it's important to stay calm. If you get angry or stressed, you will only make matters worse. Your dog may get distracted by your emotions and may even become fearful of going potty in your presence.
5. Reward Generously
When you take your dog outside when it's cold and your dog successfully goes potty, make sure to praise them lavishly and provide three to four small, high-value treats. Behaviors that are reinforced tend to repeat and strengthen. On top of giving praise and treats, being able to go back inside is often the biggest reinforcer for these dogs. Snuggle with them on the couch for an extra reward.
6. Encourage Them to Potty Indoors
This option may only work for some dog owners and tends to work best with smaller dogs. Although it's true that things can get confusing when dogs are allowed to potty indoors and outdoors, there are times when offering dogs an indoor space is warranted. Dogs that hate cold weather and already have accidents in the house anyway may very well benefit from a designated indoor potty area.
7. Offer an Indoor Option
Sometimes, it's just easier to offer an indoor potty option rather than conditioning a dog to go potty outside. The good news is that you have many options to choose from. Regardless of what you choose, your dog may be more inclined to use these indoor potty options rather than going outside in the cold:
- Pee pads: Try placing some pee pads in an area where your dog has had accidents in the past.
- Litter box: You can try using a litter box for training as an alternative to pee pads.
- Artificial grass: Artificial grass that mimics real grass can be used if that's your dog's favorite outdoor potty substrate.
- Newspaper: If you are looking for a cheap option, you can even paper-train your dog using newspaper.
For dogs that seem confused by this option, place a urine-soaked sponge or a piece of poop in the indoor area where you want them to do their business. This may help them understand where to go. It also helps to keep your dog in a small area in the beginning. Be sure to offer them easy access to the new potty area. You can use a baby gate or an exercise pen to divide off a section of a room. Praise and reward your dog for using the new indoor potty area.
8. Choose a Good Location
Where should you place the litter box, newspaper, or pee pads? Your dog may be more inclined to potty indoors if you place the pee pads or litter box near the door that is used to go outside since your dog associates that area with the outdoors. If you notice that your dog has indoor accidents in the same areas, you may wish to place the litter box or pads in these locations.
Regardless of which area you pick, make sure it's a quiet place that is free of distractions. Distractions and noise will only confuse your dog, and he or she may pick a quieter place that might not be of your liking.
What if My Dog Has an Accident Indoors?
If your dog has an accident in the house, do not punish them. This means no scolding, no pushing your dog's nose into the mess, and no drama. If you do punish your dog when they have an accident, it will only backfire and teach them not to pee or poop in your presence. It may also teach them to hide and potty elsewhere, such as under the table or behind a couch. Some dogs may even be compelled to eat their poop as a way to hide "the evidence." If there is an accident in the house, here's what to do:
Use an Enzyme-Based Cleaner
Rather than punishing them, nonchalantly clean the area with an enzyme-based cleaner such as Nature's Miracle. This will remove traces of odor so that your dog will feel less inclined to potty in this area again since it smells less like the "bathroom."
Use a Black Light
A black light may also be a handy tool since it can reveal previous pee accidents that you may have missed. Since urine glows under a black light, this tool will allow you to clean the area properly with your enzyme-based cleaner.
Tips for Using Commands and Desensitization
There are several other helpful things you can do to help your dog get used to pottying in the cold.
Train Your Dog to Potty on Command
This may take some time to master, but it's a worthy training method in the long run. All it takes is capturing the pottying behavior as it occurs spontaneously by giving it a name and reinforcing it. After some time, your dog will start to associate the act of going potty with a cue word and will start going on command.
It's best to begin training before cold weather approaches (in late summer or early fall) so that once winter is behind the corner, your dog has already mastered the command fluently. This command can then be applied to different places/circumstances.
Desensitize Them to Rain and Snow
Desensitization should start during early puppyhood when the dog is still being cared for by the breeder or new owner before the critical time of socialization ends. This phase is a crucial time when dogs learn about their environment and acceptable behaviors.
Make playing in the snow and rain fun—play games, toss treats, and feed your dog on wet grass. Although this won't necessarily make your dog love being out in the cold, it can help make rain or snow appear less intimidating once wet, wintry weather is on its way.
As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." If you train your dog early and desensitize them to the cold in a positive, healthy manner, you can avoid pottying mishaps once the cold weather and snow roll in. I hope you found these suggestions helpful.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2019 Adrienne Farricelli
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 30, 2019:
When we lived in Wisconsin and it was cold outside and the ground was covered with snow, our dogs loved it! We never had a problem with them not wanting to use the outdoors to do their duty. Of course, they were younger then and had lots of hair for insulation. For others who have problems, your suggestions seem like excellent ones.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 30, 2019:
Jack Russells are small dogs and they have short coats as well, so they might get chilled easily when it gets super cold. I am sure your friend must be very frustrated especially considering he refuses to also potty inside!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 30, 2019:
With those short coats, I can vision beagles struggling with chilly weather, but so do us humans, so it's a difficult and frustrating situation!
So sorry for your loss, it's so difficult losing them!
I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving although I am sure it must have felt different now being dog-less. Best wishes.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 27, 2019:
My friend has a Jack Russell and on a cold rainy day he won't go out to potty outdoors and doesn't do anything indoors. Interesting and useful for dog owners. You are knowledgeable about dogs.
Claudia Mitchell on November 26, 2019:
Our beagle always had this problem when we had him. Drove us crazy. This is a very helpful article. Hope you are doing well. We had to put our last dog down a couple of weeks ago so we are dogless right now. Looking at your articles is making me want another one. Enjoy the holidays!