Yes. Weather—including rain and snow, temperature fluctuations, and changes in barometric pressure—can affect dog behavior, similar to the effect weather can have on humans’ mood and energy. You’re likely peppier on sunny spring days, while on a cold, grey, rainy day you may feel more interested in a movie marathon on the couch. Read on to learn how changing weather conditions change your best friend.
How Does Hot Weather Affect Dog Behavior?
Dogs often slow down in hot weather, especially when they’re used to cooler conditions. On the first warm days after a long winter, even normally peppy dogs might be poky, trailing behind on their walks instead of forging ahead.
As the warm weather wears on, you may notice that your dog gets hot under the collar more easily when days are sultry. Research in both New York City and Beijing has found that the frequency of dog bites rises along with the heat. If your dog gets moody in the heat, keep a special eye on encounters with strangers, children, and other dogs—you’ll need to head off a bad situation before it happens.
Surprisingly, dogs’ reaction to the heat has nothing to do with the idiom “dog days of summer”—that expression comes from the “dog star,” Sirius.
Keeping Your Dog Safe in Hot Weather
Extremely hot days put all dogs at risk of heat-related illnesses. Know the signs of heat stroke in dogs, and ensure your dog has constant access to shade or air conditioning, as well as a fresh supply of cool water in his dog bowl. And temperatures rise shockingly fast inside a car on a hot day, so never leave your dog confined inside one, even for a short time.
Now for the outdoors. Sure, he’s sluggish in the searing sun, but how hot is too hot to walk your dog? You’ll want to consider your dog’s
- Coat type
- Muzzle length
- Walking surface
Dogs with thick, double coats, such as Siberian Huskies and Newfoundlands, are more sensitive to the heat and humidity than dogs with short, single coats. Brush your double-coated breed regularly in the heat to remove excess undercoat and allow air circulation through the coat. Cutting or shaving his coat is not advised.
Dogs with short muzzles (brachycephalic breeds, such as Bulldogs and Pugs) have a harder time cooling themselves down than long-snouted dogs. Go easier on their exercise in the heat. For these dogs especially, you may want to use a harness instead of a collar.
Humans are often shielded by our shoes, so we might not realize that sidewalks, streets, and tracks can get very hot in the summer. To find out what your dog is feeling through his feet, place your bare hand or foot on the surface for ten seconds. If it’s uncomfortably hot for you, it’s probably uncomfortably hot for him. Choose grass where possible, or, if you walk your dog on searing city pavement, you might need to help protect his feet. Look for shady places to wait for the light to change, and use dog booties to protect his feet.
How Does Cold Weather Affect Dog Behavior?
Dog behavior in cold weather depends in some measure on breed. Double-coated breeds such as Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, Samoyeds, and Siberian Huskies may become zippier in winter because they are well adapted to the cold. Alternatively, dogs with short coats and lean bodies may curl up on their dog beds through most of the winter, and mightily resist going for walks. Warm dog jackets and coats make winter weather more pleasant for these cold-averse dogs (and also make it easier for you to get them outdoors).
Older dogs might slow down in the cold, instead of in the heat: Cold weather affects arthritis in dogs just as it does in humans. There are plenty of ways to ensure your old friend is as comfortable as possible in the cold, though—keep him warm, keep him moving (within reason), and give him an orthopedic dog bed to support his joints.
Do Dogs Want to Hibernate When It Gets Cold?
No. Dogs are not hibernating animals, but your dog’s energy level may drop because of the shorter days. He also probably enjoys winter snuggles under a blanket after returning from invigorating walks as much as you do.
Do Dogs Get Seasonal Depression?
According to a 2012 survey by The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a veterinary charity in the United Kingdom, about 40 percent of dog owners noticed a marked downturn in their dog’s mood in the wintertime. There is little research about Seasonal Affective Disorder in dogs, however, and it’s unknown whether the lower light levels and shorter days of winter negatively affect dog moods the same way they can human moods.
Dog behavior in cold weather is definitely influenced by your response to wintry conditions, however. If you tend to hunker down in winter, your dog will get less exercise and mental stimulation, which can lead to boredom and destructive behaviors.
Staying active in winter is good for you and your dog. It ensures you both get enough exercise and healthy fresh air. It also exposes you and your dog to daylight, which helps keep your circadian rhythm on track—your own built-in, 24-hour natural waking and sleeping cycle—and improves sleep. To foster outdoor winter adventures, take guidance from the Norwegian phrase ‘there’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.’ With cozy, head-to-toe outerwear on hand for yourself, and a warm dog jacket and boots for your dog, frosty weather won’t interfere with walks and games of catch outside.
Dog Safety in Cold Weather
When temperatures are freezing, or the ground is snow- and ice-covered, a pair of dog boots will prevent painful cracking of paw pads, cuts from ice, and burns from the chemicals commonly found in ice melt salt. Some dogs always require extra protection in the snow, while others need winter gear only when they’ll be outside for a long winter hike or to chase snowballs in the yard.
What’s Too Cold For Dogs?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much cold dogs can tolerate. When you’re deciding “weather” it’s ok for your dog to be outside, consider
- Your dog’s coat: A thick double coat provides more insulation than a thin single coat.
- Your dog’s body fat percentage: Lean dogs have less fat to insulate them. (Don’t intentionally fatten up your dog for insulation! Just get him a jacket.)
- Your dog’s size: Smaller dogs get cold faster—they have a greater ratio of surface area of skin through which to lose heat to volume of “insides” in which to keep heat.
- Your dog’s age: Puppies and older dogs can have a harder time regulating their temperature.
- Whether your dog is acclimated to the cold
- Whether your dog is staying warm through activity
- Whether your dog is at all damp, which can quickly sap body heat
- Your dog’s overall health
By virtue of their size, coats, and activity levels, some breeds are especially good for cold weather. But all dogs need you to keep a sensible eye on their activity level and their insulation, and to take special action if they get wet.
Can Dogs Sense Bad Weather?
Yes—your dog can sense bad weather. You may have seen it on the TV weather report, but your dog can ‘feel’ bad weather through changes in barometric pressure and static electricity. These shifts precede summer thunderstorms and heavy downpours. As the weather system approaches, you may notice your dog sniffing at the air or getting slightly agitated. Your dog’s powerful sense of hearing can also pick up the sound of thunder long before you hear it in the distance. If your dog has a fear of thunder, he’ll seek out his usual hiding spot in the house the moment he feels a storm brewing.
Does Weather Affect Dog Shedding?
You bet—but the specific details depend on your dog’s coat type. Wisdom has it that double-coated breeds like Labradors shed three times a year: in the spring, when they’re losing their winter undercoat; in the fall when they’re growing in their winter coat; and the entire rest of the year.
The weather uniquely affects your dog’s behavior, mood, energy, and comfort. Learn your dog’s particular sensitivities to various weather conditions, and you’ll be prepared to embrace the changing days with your best friend 24/7/365.