DEAR OLD TRAINER: We rented a house at Park City, Utah for the winter. Maddy, our 4-year old Husky/German Shepherd mix has never been in cold weather, but she begs to stay out at night. We put her out just before bedtime at home and she comes in after five minutes, but when we make her come in up here she stands at the door wanting right back out. The other night she howled outside, but when I opened the door she just wagged her tail and pawed at the snow. Can Maddy handle the weather here?
Danya, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
A: Maddy’s Husky side originated in Siberia and her Shepherd side in the Alps so she can handle a Park City winter with ease.
Her thick, double coat of fur makes her impervious to cold no matter how low the temperature drops, so she’s more comfortable outside than in a warm house. She’s thinking, “I’m glad we finally got away from that boring beach and found a place where the weather is perfect.”
And there’s also the psychological part. Canine psychology, not the human stuff. Maddy’s dog ancestors have loved the cold for a century or two, but her wolf ancestors thrived in it for thousands of years. Winter is part of her genetic code and it comforts her to be part of it. Deep in her core she still hears the call of the wild.
Huskies and German Shepherds have chosen to be companion to man, but Maddy remembers when wolves ruled the night. Her ancestors hunted and played and sang all night, so Maddy does not fear darkness, she craves it. She’s a hunter and is relaxed and content when she becomes one with the night.
Part of her soul still resides somewhere out there with packs long vanished, racing the wind and howling at the moon, part of the eternal chase.
Above all, winter breeds love storms. Nothing excites a dog bred for the cold like a blizzard. They talk to storms and the storms talk back. The more intense the storm, the more it tells them. Maddy is in her element in a blizzard. The wind carries smells from miles away and tells her everything a hunter needs to know.
Maddy could survive without a dog house and keep warm by burrowing into a snow bank, but a dog house comes in handy when she feels the urge to retreat into a den and watch the world go by.
Put a foot of straw on the floor of the dog house. Don’t use blankets because they get wet and freeze solid as a rock. Add straw weekly, change the straw monthly, and make sure Maddy’s water dish is not frozen. That’s all she needs.
You can see from Maddy’s body language—wagging her tail and digging in the snow—she was not howling in distress, she was calling you to come out and play, so get out there and join her.
It’s a rare and beautiful thing to see a winter dog in her element. I know. I lived with one in the high country for a lot of good winters. Now and then, sitting by the fire on a stormy night, I dream she’s still out there somewhere, slipping through the darkness, howling and singing and chasing the moon.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.