Trying to deliver treats in cold weather can be a pain. If you’re wearing gloves, it can be hard to grab a treat AND toss it in the intended direction. If you’re not wearing gloves, your hand is freezing, especially if you’re delivering the treat right to your dog’s slobbery mouth. In the winter months, if you train or walk outside, cold will be part of your antecedent arrangement so it’s worth evaluating first and foremost if that is going to be compatible with what you’re trying to do. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable, or if your dog doesn’t feel safe or comfortable, stay inside! However, if everyone is on board for some cold weather training, here’s some suggestions for cold weather treat delivery.
My go-to for cold weather walking and training are travel squeeze tubes. They’re pretty easy to use with gloved hands, just flip the lid and squeeze. You can search for travel squeeze tubes (ex: here) or fillable baby food pouches (ex: here), but I find that the baby food pouches are a little harder to work with when wearing gloves because of the screw cap. If you want to get fancy you could get a squeeze tube like this, and attach it to a retractable key holder or something else that can bear some weight, and clip that to your treat pouch or belt so you don’t have to dig around trying to find it. (Video here) Load that sucker up with meat flavored baby food, pumpkin puree mixed with peanut butter or a little cream cheese, non-fat greek yogurt, applesauce–anything that your dog enjoys that can be squeezed is fair game. You can blend up your own concoctions or there are also a plethora of pre-made treat pouches but these tend to be more expensive. Another option is bringing a can of cheese whiz or whipped cream in an over-the-shoulder water bottle holder, or a water bottle holster you can clip to your belt or treat pouch. If you find the cheese whiz or whipped cream useful but you’d prefer to also have regular treats, you can get a combo waist pouch with a water bottle holster (ex: here.) If you’re working in a backyard-type environment, a long handled spoon or spatula can be a good option. Get one from a thrift store and dunk it in peanut butter or some other spreadable treat. Hold the spoon/spatula behind your back until you’re ready to treat the dog, then simply extend it towards them.
Squeezable treats are fine and dandy when your training involves delivering the treat directly to your dog’s mouth, but what to do when you’re working on a strategy that involves tossing a treat away? I start by designating an old pair of Dog Gloves–meaning, I can use these to deliver treats, wipe slobber, dig through snow for the ball my dog didn’t find, etc. These are gloves that are gonna get gross. They should be gloves you can wash, but not gloves that you have any intention of trying to keep nice. Got your gross gloves? Get some big treats. It’s too hard to feel for small treats when you’re wearing gloves, and digging around trying to get a hold of one small treat is probably going to throw off your timing. (Trying to keep your gloves clean will also throw off your timing.) The kind of big treats you can use with your dog will depend on your dog’s dietary needs. I have a client that uses those big Utz cheese balls which are really easy to pick out and toss with gloved hands. Another option is chunks of hot dogs, chicken cubes, cheese cubes, or you can make your own treats and cut them into large pieces. Does your dog love sweet potato? Microwave, cool, cube, bring, and toss. If your dog loves carrots, simmer chunks of carrot in low-sodium chicken broth and use those.
For a hands-free delivery option, bring something like unwrapped string cheese (you do not want to try to unwrap string cheese in the cold). Bite off a piece of string cheese and spit the treat instead of tossing it. Ok, yes, I know, some people think this is gross. Gentle reader, may I remind you: your dog licks their butt on a daily, if not hourly basis. They will *enthusiastically* eat wildlife poop if given the chance, and probably would love nothing more than to roll in, then possibly eat, a carcass that you can barely identify because it is so far gone. They are adorable, disgusting, scavengers. They do not care if you spit their treats.
If you are working with rewards that don’t require treats (ex: play, toys), then you probably have an easier situation in cold weather. I’d still recommend having Dog Gloves so you can comfortably throw that icy ball or tug that slobbery frosty tug.
Some other equipment that might make cold weather training easier for the handler include hand warmers to stash in your pockets, a headlamp for those early morning/early sunset walks, and a Dog Towel to wipe off slobber so it doesn’t turn to frozen slobber. Side note: I have a whole section of clothes, shoes, and equipment with the modifier “Dog”. I move faster and easier when I’m at peace with my gear being a possible biohazard at the end of the day.
Since this post is focused on treat delivery in cold weather, I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of what will make the dog comfortable in the cold. Of course we want to provide our pups with what will protect them and keep them happy in the cold, and that will very much depend on the individual animal and the environment. I’m not discounting the importance of that! But that is another post for another day.
A last word on those cold weather walks and training sessions: keep it within everyone’s comfort level. Sometimes there’s a mismatch between human and dog–the human loves slushing around but the dog hates it, or vice versa. Remember that no one learns or trains well when they’re stressed. If you hate walking in the cold, or feel unsafe walking on snowy or icy surfaces, you’re not going to be at your best. And if you’re fine walking in the cold but your dog is reluctant, they’re not going to be at their best. There are always alternative options to working or walking outside in the cold.
- Evaluate what is to be gained by training or walking outside with your dog in cold weather. Is this going to be the best setup for you and your dog? Be honest. If it’s not optimal for you or your dog, that’s ok! If cold weather is comfortable for you and your dog, what will make it easier for you to deliver treats in a timely and accurate manner?
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