Winter might be my least favorite thing about owning a dog. It’s too cold, it gets too dark too early, and there’s less time and the same amount of training to be done, when it comes to Topher. With our active pup, there’s no hiding under a blanket and just waiting until the seasons change. Over the last six months, we’ve kept our training routine pretty standard: Topher goes to day camp at our trainer’s house twice a month, and once a week we attend group reactive classes to work on loose leash walking, people approach, and dog approach.
However, in winter, the classes are less effective because of the earlier sunsets, if they’re not cancelled altogether due to holidays or bad weather. As we brace for the coldest months ahead, it’s more important than ever to set some reasonable winter dog training goals, to keep us honest and moving in the right direction.
While Topher has made great strides forward in day camp, in group classes his progress continues to be slow or non-existent. There are great class days and there are terrible class days—it’s hard to tell which type of day it will be until we arrive. The likely reason for this: class is simply still too stressful for Topher—too many dogs and too much happening all at once—and there’s no way for him to get comfortable enough to work or change his usual behaviors in that scenario.
With that in mind, and a new year beginning, I have new “resolutions” for Topher’s training. Here’s what we’ll be working on this winter, come rain, sleet, or snow!
More Manners & Less Fear
Weighing in at ninety pounds now, Topher is a big dog—bigger than we’d expected him to be. It’s important to us that he not excitedly charge people when they enter our house, or bark incessantly until they give him attention—two bad habits he’s developed over time. This is especially important now that some of our close friends have children; Topher’s house manners still leave a lot to be desired and we don’t want that to prevent our friends from being able to visit our house.
To add another wrinkle, Topher’s become more fearful towards new visitors and friends we don’t see often. We’re still working out how to address these two issues, but it will certainly be accomplished by degrees—through working on our dog’s ability to calm himself down, and by working on more socialization in these safe, comfortable environments, so he’s less fearful overall.
Keep Walking & Start Running
If winter is hard on training, it’s even harder on daily walking. Winter in georgia is rainy and cold, but not cold enough for snow. Instead of the adventures in Narnia, we get adventures in frosty mud—not especially appealing when it comes to early morning walks. But spending all day on the couch turns Topher into a pushy, bad-mannered, whiny velcro dog. Daily exercise keeps us all sane and happy, even though I might moan and groan about the weather right until we cross that threshold to the outside world.
What’s working for us is to create multiple opportunities to get a walk into our day. If I don’t get out from under the covers to walk Topher in the mornings, I make a point of going out at lunch.
This year I’m also going to be training for a 5k and then a 10k. I’ll be doing some of that running with Topher—as a big energetic dog, alternating running and walking for our daily outings will help him burn off a little extra energy, since walking every day doesn’t guarantee the same stimulation all on its own. After a few runs here and there with Topher, I’m convinced he can grow into a good running partner over the next few months. However, I definitely need to invest in the right gear if we’re going to run regularly.
As you can see, our goals are a little less concrete this season. Much as I love a good to-do list, over the last few years I’ve come to learn that working with Topher is a give and take process. Instead of items to check off, I’m working on creating a shift in our daily life that will make Topher, and the rest of our family, a little healthier, happier, and hopefully less fearful in the new year.
Are there any training goals you’re working on? Let us know what you’re planning to tackle in the new year.