Too cold to learn

Sofi & Frappy in 40 degree temps
Sofi & Frappy in 40 degree temps

Richmond Virginia is experiencing some cold weather! As Follow Me Dog Training LLC gets ready for the day, the first thing we do is check the weather conditions. I usually have a good idea by how long Frappy and Leinie want to stay outside for their morning walk, but always good to check the forecast. When the temps say 20 degrees but feels like 11 degrees it is time to seriously reconsider the schedule for the day.

So what makes us decide if it is too cold for lessons or class?

Many people say to me, “My dogs love being outside, they love playing in the snow or chasing a ball when it is cold out” Same with my dogs, and they love long walks in the frigid temps. Leinie especially loved when we lived in Wisconsin taking romps in the pastures with the dogs at That’s My Dog! Inc. BUT, Leinie was acclimatized to a WI winter where temps usually lie at freezing or below for a good portion of the winter. So acclimatization is the first thing to look at. Our friends at Canine Coach in WI will regularly send pictures of their dogs out in sub zero temps and say “get out and train your dogs!” Of course they also have a heated building to train in! I also chatted with Summer from On the Ball K9, her location has moved from Anchorage Alaska to Denton Texas…that is a huge temperature shift. She said, when asked what was too cold for a lesson in Alaska versus Texas, “…it is different there. Because it is cold all the time, so too cold was below 20 degrees and Texas, definitely anything below freezing. And it depends on the wind.” Our dogs here in Richmond are not used to below freezing temps and wind chills that push the temperatures into the teens. Most of my clients also have indoor dogs, that means they aren’t used to being outside all day long which allows their coats to adjust and their bodies to acclimate to the colder temperatures. Sure, Richmond dogs love going out and playing in the snow or short walks in the colder temps, but not long periods of time.

Bandit, a Malamute who prefers winter lessons.
Bandit, a Malamute who prefers winter lessons.

Another thing to look at is length of coat. Your average Husky, Malamute or St. Bernard may love the colder weather because of their long thick coats…but have mercy on a Pit bull, or Weimaraner! Even with a coat that covers their back and chest, a short coated breed in Richmond will find temps under 35 degrees mighty cold!

Wind Chill is an important thing to consider as well. Wind chill is a major contributor to frostbite and hypothermia for both humans AND pets!

Wind Chill – The wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by combined effects of wind and cold. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature. Animals are also affected by wind chill.


Frostbite – Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by that tissue being frozen. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately! If you must wait for help, slowly rewarm affected areas. However, if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.

Hypothermia: Low Body Temperature
Warning Signs – uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.

Detection – Take the person’s temperature. If below 95°F (35°C), immediately seek medical care! If medical care is not available, begin warming the person slowly. Warm the body core first. If needed, use your own body heat to help. Get the person into dry clothing, and wrap them in a warm blanket covering the head and neck. Do not give the person alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any hot beverage or food; warm broth is better. Do not warm extremities (arms and legs) first! This drives the cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure.

*Source: Missouri Department of Health, Office of Epidemiology Sources of information: State Emergency Management Agency National Weather Service State Department of Elementary & Secondary Education Missouri State Highway Patrol

Don’t leave your dogs out unattended for long periods of time when the temperatures drop. Shorten your walks to 10-15 minutes. If you do have a dog that lives outside, provide adequate protection from the elements! Chances are good that if you have layers on, and are bundled up and still cold then your dog is pretty darn cold, even with a fur coat on!

We haven’t even touched on the idea of if there is snow or ice on the ground and that could be a whole other blog. For Follow Me Dog Training LLC we will cancel lessons if there is snow falling, accumulated snow on road surfaces or ice on roads. We are the ones driving to you and need to be safe! Also it isn’t safe to be out doing lessons with that kind of dangerous footing!

Although there are some lessons that we can teach inside, for the most part, outside is where we need to be for at least the first two lessons! Those of you that have done lessons with us can attest to the desire for outside distractions and the need to be able to think clearly, move with excitement and have periods of standing still and learning. Can anyone in Richmond honestly say they can do all those things and learn in below freezing temperatures? Probably not and should we expect our dogs to learn in that environment either. I don’t’ think that is in any way fair to the dog. Learning something new can be challenging even for the smartest dog, doing so in an environment that slows you down, makes you shiver and you can’t read the proper body language from your owner because they look like the Michelin Man isn’t fair at all!

Follow Me Dog Training LLC wishes we could control the weather…of course then we might not be training dogs anymore. But we can’t so when the temperatures drop below 35 degrees F., and the wind chill drops the temps to the teens, lessons will be canceled and rescheduled. It is just too cold to learn.

19 degrees, feels like 11 degrees, these two didn't want to be out longer then 10 minutes!
19 degrees, feels like 11 degrees, these two didn’t want to be out longer than 10 minutes!

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