How to Get Your Pet to Use the Bathroom in Cold, Snowy Weather

It can be a challenge to get even the best housetrained pet to do their business outdoors on a bitterly cold, snowy day. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to encourage your pet to use outdoor bathroom areas and avoid indoor accidents all winter long.

Why Pets May Avoid Outdoor Potty Time in Winter

Understanding your pet's reluctance to use an outdoor bathroom area in winter can help you take steps to keep your pet comfortable. Both cats and dogs are sensitive to very cold temperatures, particularly if they do not have a heavier winter coat, and extreme cold can be painful on their delicate paws and noses. Deep snow may brush against their bottoms if they must squat, and that sensation can be disturbing. An icy surface is slippery and unsteady, and can make a pet more tentative about being outdoors. Snow and ice will also cover scent markers that indicate a familiar outdoor bathroom area, making your pet more nervous about where they are. Even large landmarks – visual, auditory and scent clues – can be changed or eliminated in winter, making your pet feel nervous and vulnerable. When all these factors are added up, it's no surprise that your pet may prefer an accident indoors rather than using an outdoor potty area.

Encouraging Outdoor Winter Bathroom Breaks

It is possible to encourage your pet to do their business outdoor even on stormy, chilly winter days, but it takes some dedicated effort on your part to be sure they are safe and comfortable.

  • Walk and Play Outdoors
    Many pets are reluctant to use the bathroom outdoors in winter because they are not used to winter weather conditions. Taking short walks, playing outdoor games and otherwise exposing your pet to snow, ice and cold in safe, fun ways can help them feel more at ease in winter conditions so they are not too nervous to do their business.

  • Train Your Pet to Go on Command
    Using a verbal command – "Do your business!" "Go pee!" "Get busy!" etc. – to train your pet to do bathroom business can help them feel more comfortable in uncertain conditions. They will trust your command, and that training will be reinforced if you offer praise or a treat after they perform appropriately. Once your pet is trained, they will follow that command even in winter weather.

  • Create a Winter Potty Area
    Give your pet a safe, comfortable area to do their business outdoors in winter by clearing snow and ice. This will also make existing scent markers stronger, encouraging your pet to use the same area. Providing a simple windbreak can ease any discomfort on windy days, and if the area is under cover – such as under a large patio table or trampoline – it will be easy to keep the snow accumulation minimal.

  • Bundle Up
    Pets that naturally grow heavy winter coats will be more comfortable outdoors on cold days, but if your pet does not, it may be necessary to use a snug sweater to help them keep warm. Be sure the sweater is the appropriate size so your pet's waste will not create a bigger mess. Boots, booties or socks can also be helpful to give your pet better traction outdoors and to keep their feet comfortable.

  • Accompany Your Pet
    If your pet seems nervous outdoors in winter, it may be necessary for you to accompany them on bathroom breaks. Stay near your pet without crowding them, but do not return indoors until they have gone potty. This is a great opportunity to reinforce verbal bathroom commands so your pet will go more easily even in unusual conditions.

Consider Indoor Potty Areas

Despite the best training and all the appropriate steps to help your pet feel comfortable doing bathroom business outdoors in winter, indoor accidents are to be expected. It may be worthwhile to consider an indoor potty area using puppy training pads or newspapers, not only to provide your pet an indoor alternative to accidents, but in case there are days when the weather is just too bad and dangerous for you or your pet to be outside. Keep the area clean and take your pet outdoors whenever possible, and eventually they will learn to be comfortable outdoors even during the coldest winter days.

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