Dog peeing in the snow

Forget yellow snow. Dogs are notorious for doing their duty inside the house rather than outside when it’s snowing. This holds true for previously potty-trained pooches as well as puppies in training. And who can blame them? Dogs are smart — they would much rather do their duty inside where it’s warm. In addition, when it’s freezing outdoors, the ground is uncomfortable and unsteady, the air is cold and favorite potty spots in the grass or garden may be covered with snow.

Whether your dog is a puppy or an adult, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to pottying in the snow, but I’ve found some useful strategies that work with most dogs. It may take a combination of two or three of these to solve the problem and get your dog pottying outside in the cold, but the right combination of approaches can put an end to indoor winter accidents.

How to Get Your Dog to Do His Business in the Snow

Create an ideal potty area. If your dog dislikes walking on snow or if his regular potty site is buried in the white stuff, you can help by shoveling a spot to potty. Clear a space in your dog’s regular potty area as close to the ground as possible and large enough for him to sniff and turn around. The smells of previous bathroom breaks serve as a green light for your dog to do his business in this space, and uncovered ground allows him to navigate without his paws slipping or freezing. If you’re unable to shovel, place potty grass outdoors in a covered space near your dog’s regular potty area. Placing the potty grass outdoors rather than using potty pads inside the house can help the transition back to pottying in the normal outdoor area once the weather warms up.

Bundle up. You know that you will need to dress warmly when you go outside, but don’t forget to keep your dog warm for potty breaks, too. Canines who lack the Malamute coat may need extra layers to stay cozy. My Pug, Willy, needs warm sweaters (sometimes worn in layers) to go outside without shivering. He also feels more comfortable with a pair of doggy boots on his paws. Be sure that sweaters or jackets fit well enough that your dog can potty without soiling his clothing.

Make pottying outdoors fun. Take your dog out regularly, such as once every one to two hours during waking hours, to give him an opportunity to eliminate in a proper area. When he potties, have a celebration: Reward him with his favorite treats or a special toy and ample praise. Some dogs prefer to play and walk outside after pottying, but others feel more comfortable heading right back inside after they finish up. Do whatever works with your pooch to generate an enthusiastic response when it’s time to go outside.

Create an indoor doggy area. There are certain circumstances where it’s easier to train a dog to go indoors — for example, in dangerously bad weather, like we’ve seen in some places this winter. For dogs who simply hate the snow or being cold or for pet owners who are at risk for a serious fall, it may be safer and more convenient to train the dog to use a mat, litterbox or grass-covered pet area in the home. Willy was originally litterbox-trained in addition to his outdoor training; this sped up the potty-training process and reduced the number of indoor accidents. Be aware, though, that training a pet to potty in an indoor area can make the transition to pottying outside more challenging.

Keep accidents to a minimum. If your dog is having accidents inside your house, it’s important to keep him in a contained area. Access to areas of the house where your dog has pottied before should also be limited, and areas where previous accidents have happened should be cleaned with an enzymatic cleaner to make sure the dog doesn't pick up the scent and think it's OK to potty there again. I worked with a Yorkie who consistently did his business in the basement, but the solution to this problem was simple: His owners shut the basement door so he no longer had that option. Once your dog is willing to potty outside and is no longer having accidents in the house, you can allow him to roam freely again.

Avoid punishment. A dog who is punished or scolded for pottying indoors will lose trust in his pet parent. Punishing your dog for an accident doesn’t teach him that it’s wrong to potty inside. It teaches him that it’s unsafe to potty around you. For this reason, punishment can make a dog more difficult to housetrain and make it more likely that the dog will hide when he goes potty (by sneaking behind a couch or under a table). If your dog has an accident, gently interrupt him with an “oops” and immediately take him to his normal potty area as a reminder.

No matter what the weather, stay up-to-date with your veterinarian about your dog’s bathroom habits. When good potty habits slip, it can sometimes be a sign of a health problem, like diabetes or Cushing’s disease, and not just a reflection of your dog’s feelings about winter cold.