Centuries ago, surviving freezing temperatures required calling in the big dogs. With their thick coats and extra fat layers, cold weather dogs like the Siberian Husky, St. Bernard and Alaskan Malamute were especially welcome at night, keeping their humans warm in the subzero temperatures of Siberia, Alaska and the Australian outback. The colder it was, the more dogs you needed, hence the term, “three-dog night.”
While we may not need to sleep under a pile of furry canines to stay warm these days, snow dog breeds are still a popular choice to snuggle up with no matter what climate you’re in.
“They are good learners and good listeners, and they’re very social,” says Beth Harrison, ABCDT-L2, AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator and dog obedience classroom instructor at the Animal Behavior College in Valencia, CA.
Cold weather dogs have unique needs when it comes to care and training, so you’ll want to do your research before welcoming one into your home. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Snow Dog Breeds Have Many Layers
While other short-haired breeds would need a coat, cold weather dogs have dense layers of fur to keep them warm in harsh climates. Some like the Keeshond, which were bred to patrol barges and riverboats along the cold waterfronts in Holland, have combination coats with a long, course outer coat and soft, downy undercoat. While these coats protect against icy water, snow and cold winds, they are also prone to matting, so a regular grooming routine is essential for keeping their skin and coat healthy. Regular grooming will also help alert you to any lumps, lesions or injuries that could otherwise be missed.
Winter dogs also have thick paw pads for traveling through ice and snow. The Newfoundland dogs, bred to for icy water rescues, have large, webbed feet to help propel them through the water. While their paws are made to withstand the cold, injuries like cuts and burns can still occur. Be sure to check their pads and between their toes for ice chunks, salt and other objects after a romp in the snow. Have dog nail clippers around to keep nails short to avoid painful chips or cracks. To protect their paws from snow and salt damage, rub a little Four Paws Paw Guard with Lanolin on them, or Tomlyn Deep Moisturizing Pad Cream. For extra protection that’s also fashionable, try Ethical Pet Fashion Lookin’ Good Extreme All Weather Boots.
Give Them a Job or They’ll Find One
Most winter dogs are bred to work. The St. Bernard, with its large size and muscular shoulders, was used to rescue humans lost in the snow. The Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute are used as sled dogs that can haul freight or pull people in sleds. The Tibetan Mastiff was kept as a watchdog and was in charge of keeping flocks safe.
“These dogs are used to working and taking commands,” Harrrison says. “They need to work. If we don’t give them a job to do, they will find their own.”
That job could be anything from guarding the perimeter of your backyard from invading squirrels, to herding the cat or the children. Since these winter dogs are intelligent and have a will to work, make sure to exercise them regularly, engage them in activities that match their high energy and stamina, and keep them entertained with challenging puzzle toys.
How Cold Is Too Cold for Dogs?
While snow dog breeds were made for cold weather, they aren’t impervious to it. Even when they were used primarily as sled dogs, they were kept in barns or pens insulated with hay or straw. To be sure your pet is safe from deadly temperatures, it’s a good idea to keep your winter breed dog inside with you.
The same goes for hot weather. Despite their thick coats, these winter dogs will acclimate to warmer climates. But on especially hot days, be sure not to overexert them, give them plenty of fresh water, protect their paws from hot concrete and watch for any signs of heatstroke, like excessive panting, vomiting and lethargy.
Interesting Facts About Popular Snow Dog Breeds
- St. Bernard: Named after the dangerous Saint Bernard Pass located between Italy and Switzerland where the dogs rescued victims of avalanches, St. Bernards are typically smart, obedient and loyal dogs. They make great family pets, but because of their large size, training is recommended.
- Siberian Husky: Bred as a sled dog about 3,000 years ago, the Siberian Husky is a celebrated hero in Nome, Alaska. In 1925, a black Husky named Balto led the team there that delivered lifesaving medicine to the village. They are affectionate and good-natured, but do have a lot of energy, so daily exercise is essential.
- Norwegian Elkhound: This Nordic breed was once used in Scandinavia to hunt moose and bear. They are extremely intelligent, making them ideal for people with disabilities. They are friendly and devoted companions.