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Dog Trainer's Guide to Surviving Winter: Cleveland Edition

Two dogs cuddled under a gray blanket

It's another sunny day in Cleveland, Ohio, and I'm excited about walking my dogs through the enchanted fairytale (furrytail?) landscape of pristine snow sparkling in the sunshine.

Just kidding. It's gray snow, followed by black ice, with a drop of white salt every where. My landscape isn't the sparkling stuff of cottage-core style daydreams. All under non-existent sunlight.

It's bad tv from the 1950's.

Downtown Cleveland, 2024

So how do I survive the winter in Cleveland with three dogs, two of whom are high energy? It takes some derring-do but follow along as I give you the insider tips I've picked up through many, many years dog training in Northeast Ohio.

No, sorry, a walk ain't gonna cut it. Ask yourself, are you absolutely exhausted after your walk? No? Then what makes you think your dog is? I am a reasonably middle-aged woman, and if I'm not tired after walking my border collie, Arwen, then there's no way in hell she's had enough exercise.

Border Collie looking over snow-covered fence
Please, might I have some more...exercise?

A walk is there (mostly) to Pilot your dog and get some money out of that Piloting Piggy Bank, as well as to help them do a mental reboot. Life is boring indoors, and we all remember how stir-crazy we got during the pandemic. Well, a dog living in a constant state of quarantine is a good way to create destructive behaviors. Take your dog for a walk.

But have a plan to wear them out first.

Prior to walking Arwen, we play with the teaser stick, followed by a massive game of fetch. This usually takes about 20 minutes. Now that I've taken the edge off of her energy, we can go for a nice, relaxing walk.

If she's really struggling with energy, she'll go on the treadmill for about 5-10 minutes first, with her backpack on (I have 1/2 cup of rice on each side of her backpack for a little bit of extra oomph. Be extremely cautious not to overdo it with the weight.

Game changer alert: I recently bought a foldable walking pad to replace my old treadmill. I can store it under my furniture in my office, and easily unfold it for a few minutes of activity for my dogs without giving up floor space for a bulky treadmill.

Dog Training Gear (It's Not What You'd Think!)

Chihuahua wearing winter coat

Surviving the winter in Cleveland while working with all manners of dog behavior and training requires quite a bit of gear. But most of it isn't what you'd think.

When I show up to my clients house, typically my gear consists of a leash. Pretty standard fare for working with a dog's behavior. That's about it as far as dog specific items: I prefer simple training methods without a lot of gimmicks.

But here are some other items that make dog ownership so much easier in the inclement weather.

Hand/paw salve:

Did you know that your hands start to ache more in the winter from desiccation? Your hands are dried out, so there's no water to "plump" and insulate them.

That's why prior to going outside in bad weather, I first rinse my hands in warm water, pat dry, and then apply a thin layer of hand salve. Gloves go over top, and my hands are toasty (and hydrated!). It's been an integral part of my dog training routine for years, and I firmly believe it takes the bite out of winter.

I make my own paw safe variety (to help protect my dog's paw pads from salt and cracking), but this is a really good substitute for human hands.

Ice Cleats

Many years ago, a client bought a pair of ice cleats as a thank you for helping her work through her dog's difficult behaviors. We had been discussing how difficult it is navigating the icy conditions in Cleveland, and she mentioned that she uses Yaktrax.

Absolute game changer.

They go over your boots (tell me you're wearing winter boots and not regular shoes). As someone who has suffered a nasty fall on the ice, these gave me much more confidence walking in the freezing rain and icy conditions. My dogs are grateful that I'm able to go farther (at a better pace) and I'm grateful that I haven't slipped and cracked my noggin.

So thank you, Joan. I still use them every winter, over 10 years after you got them for me.

Mental Work: Keeping Your Dog Mentally Active

Boredom and depression are a real thing in wintertime, for both dogs and humans. Bust that boredom, and make sure you are taking care of your dog's need for mental stimulation as well as their exercise needs.

The single most effective way to do this is through using an enrichment feeder for all meals.

My pit bull, Ellis, prefers this feeder ball. Or more truthfully, it's the only one he hasn't destroyed.

My Aussie, Hazel, loves any kind of enrichment toy, but especially the Kong Wobbler.

Arwen, my Border-line Personality Disorder Collie, absolutely goes nuts over the unfortunately named Tug A Jug. Bear in mind, this one is for the over-achievers. It's very difficult, which is why Arwen loves it so much.

Mental enrichment and stimulation is indeed mandatory, but it unfortunately does not take the place of physical activity. But it can take the edge off a dog who is suffering from cabin fever.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

At Darwin Dogs, we use the Piloting Method to teach owners how to pilot their dogs successfully. By piloting, we mean guiding your dog through the various situations and experiences in its life, making clear decisions and setting boundaries for them to follow. This allows them as dogs to navigate our human world without the anxiety that leads to so many behavioral issues.

Border collie looking at camera

Unlike traditional training methods that use force and punishment, the Piloting Method utilizes clear communication and sensible positive reinforcement to shape desired behavior. By learning to understanding your dog, and why they exhibit the behaviors they do, you help them learn in a loving and effective way.

The Piloting approach to dog training puts you in the 'pilot's seat' where you're guiding your dog towards good behavior instead of constantly battling their natural instincts. Through the use of clear communication you can steer your dog towards a successful understanding of your expectations. With this type of guidance, you give your dog the opportunity to learn and understand the loving boundaries you've set, improving both your dog’s behavior and the bond between you two.

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.


The Piloting Method can also help you deal with behavioral issues in your dog. From housebreaking a new puppy to managing destructive behaviors in an older dog, this method is adaptable to any situation. Working with experienced trainers at Darwin Dogs can assist in addressing these behavioral issues and tailoring a training plan specifically for your dog.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to simplify the dog training process with the Piloting Method. By using this approach, not only will your dog training experience be less stressful, but also the results will be faster and more enduring. Enrich your bond with your canine companion by making the switch to the Piloting Method.

many dogs lying down together

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog staying

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Located in Cleveland, Ohio


Thank you for the great tips for making it through the winter in Cleveland! My lab absolutely loves winter and she loves, loves snow. The cleats sound great - that way we don't have to cut our walk short just because it's a blizzard. Now we can walk till my nose falls off.

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I’d laugh but I can’t feel my face right now.

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