But why is snowfall such a momentous occasion for dogs?
If you’ve ever seen a dog at the snow, you’ll have seen first-hand the incredible joy and enthusiasm with which they play and explore. And often more so than any other environment you’ve seen them in.. There’s clearly something about being outdoors in the snow that captivates and enthralls them, especially if it’s fresh snow or, even better, falling snow.
But what is it about snow that they love? From our experience, we’ve seen how much dogs love the thrill of chasing a snowball. For others, it’s digging about in the snow, or picking up a scent and trying to figure it’s origin. Some simply love to roll about in it, and others love to watch or catch falling snowflakes.
Let’s find out from the experts!
Whatever the response, there’s no denying that dogs love the snow. But what do the experts have to say about it?
Snow is New & Different ~ Patricia B. McConnell, PhD
“It’s new & different…. it turns the world into one big play room for animals that have a natural love to play”
A Changed Landscape ~ Alexandra Horowitz, PhD
“There is a pleasure in a changed landscape, a topography re-shaped by fallen snow. Dogs like the ‘new’ and what could be more new than their entire world covered with this icy blanket. Smell is changed, too, and we can for a moment see some of the otherwise invisible markings (like tracks) which are so engaging for dogs.”
The Sensory Experience ~ Gordon M. Burghardt, PhD
“It relates to the sensory qualities of snow. I think when watching dogs in snow we are not too far off in comparing their activity to that which we experienced as children ourselves”
Snow changes everything ~ Stephen Zawistowski, PhD
“Dogs like snow because it is cool and different. When we do enrichment for dogs, we provide individual items to increase variety in their environment. Snow changes everything: what a dog sees, smells, hears and feels as it runs through the snow. When I watch dogs run and play in snow, it reminds me of kids in a ball pit, diving in and burrowing and having a blast”
Snow is a Novelty ~ Paul McGreevy
“The value of novelty is critical. Just as they do for the dog visiting the beach for the first time, the joys of opportunity and exploration abound for the virgin snow dog. Fresh odours to sniff, novel tactile experiences to enjoy, unusual outlines to mask familiar objects and even the prospect of hiding within the very fabric on one’s surroundings. What’s not to love?”
The Sensory Characteristics of Snow ~ John Bradshaw, PhD
“Dogs habituate to objects that they play with. Snow changes the sensory characteristics of everything it touches—visual appearance, obviously, but also, and perhaps more importantly, scent. Snow has the potential to renew a dog’s interest in its surroundings, and switch on exploratory behaviour. Of course there can also be a social dimension, which most dogs find highly motivating—for example, dogs chasing snowballs thrown by people”
My Personal Experiences with Dogs at the Snow
After many years visiting the snow with my own and other dogs, and after many hours of observing and photographing canine behaviour in the fluffy white stuff, I concur with what the experts say: dogs LOVE snow!
This is what I have seen that dogs love best about a trip to the snow:
- We’re there altogether. Dogs love to be included and a trip to the snow where they get to head outdoors with their people, play, hike, build or enjoy everything with them, makes them very much feel part of the adventure and togetherness.
- We’re having fun. Dogs find their humans having a good time highly contagious – they can’t help themselves but to join in the fun. It’s also true that this is reciprocated, we find their fun and joy equally affecting our experience. A self perpetuating circle of enjoyment really!
- The dogs get to be the centre of attention. Dogs thrive on attention from their people and they certainly get it a the snow because we love to watch their experience of it and the joy it creates for them.
- The newness and uniqueness of a snow covered land. Dogs are keen to understand and experience their environment, so when it changes, their curiosity peeks.
- Trying to figure out what that smell is and where that smell is coming from. We know that a dog’s biggest sense is via their sniffer so snow introduces new smells and changes how a smell may reach them. At the snow, a smell simply isn’t there on a leaf or the grass, it often has travelled through the snow or been captured in ice. Plus there’s less smells in colder temperatures, so I imagine for dogs who are very intune with smells for giving them their ‘picture’ of the world, this heightens their senses to find smells and makes those that are found more stimulating.
- It’s connecting with nature. I know for myself heading out where you are amongst nature, (no cars, no housing, and sometimes no other people), is the ultimate in finding a sense of balance, wonder and rejuvenation. I imagine for dogs, whose ancestors were wild wolves they would experience the same. And there’s no place I’ve felt more a part of nature than heading out on a trail from Dinner Plain during the white season.
- They have a natural curiosity as to what exactly snow is! It’s not unusual on their first visit that they experience the snow with all their senses. They’ll gaze at this transformed white world from through the car window, and then once given the chance, they’ll sniff it, they try munching on, they’ll paw at it, dig or roll in it. They’ll hear it crunching under their feet or the soft ‘plumps’ as snow and icicle fall from trees.
- The snow appeals to a dog’s sense of adventure. Dogs want to discover what lies beneath a snow drift or behind a snow covered bush or log. Things that in other environments are in plain sight (or perhaps plain smell with dogs) aren’t at the snow, so there’s new exploration that comes with snow.
- A sense of unbounded playtime. At the snow, dogs can race,chase, run, play, bound, hide, dig, and generally go crazy to their hearts content…. And while the snow can be tiring, they won’t overheat from their exertions.
- Unending supply of things that a motivated dog can chase…. Snowballs!
- And when all is said and done, returning to your chalet accommodation and blissfully snoozing it out. I think there’s no better sleep for humans or dogs than one which follows a wonderful time that leaves us well and truly ready for a snooze.
The expert opinions detailed here were found in this article.