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How to Manage a Puppy in Winter

The pros and cons of picking up a late-season, wintertime puppy.

How to Manage a Puppy in Winter

While winter might not be the ideal time to get a new puppy depending on where you live, you’ve still got opportunities to train, socialize and help your new recruit develop into a great dog. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

A good friend of mine, who also happens to be a pro dog trainer, mentioned in October that his wife had just picked up a puppy. While she was understandably excited about the new addition, he was nervous about a few things.

The timing, in his words, wasn’t great for a duck dog. If they missed the window to introduce the pup to water, they’d have to wait until late in the spring when the dog was older than he prefers which can come with its own challenges. When I pressed him further, he trailed off and said, “Perfect timing doesn’t exist with puppies, but some parts of the year are just rough.”

He’s right, of course. This will become most evident to folks who buy a hunting dog puppy now (or are gifted one during the holidays) in the middle or at the end of the hunting season and during the winter months.


Winter Challenges 

When you bring home a puppy at roughly eight weeks old, you’ve got a window of time to socialize, start obedience, foster a working relationship, build confidence, and really set the youngster on a desirable path. It’s a lot of responsibility when the conditions are perfect but can be a different story if you live in a region with real winter.

For starters, socialization opportunities with other people and other dogs are tougher to come by when most folks are holed up in their houses. This necessitates paying attention to every possibility of socialization, and the willingness to capitalize on every chance you’ve got.

Then there is the reality that a two-month-old pup isn’t really built to bust through snowdrifts. This means that the early foundation work—from basic commands to simple retrieves—will mostly happen indoors. Now, this isn’t all bad because you can accomplish a lot indoors with really young puppies, but it does become more challenging when your dog hits four or five months of age and really needs to be outside working.

Dogs of this age are also, often, ready for intro work. The previously mentioned water introduction is a big one, and whether your local water is locked up in ice or hovering at 35 degrees, it’s no good for a puppy. Bird and gunfire introduction may need to be pushed back a few months as well. Now, these aren’t deal breakers but there is a difference between putting a pup through these intros at five months versus eight.

All of this is worth being aware of if you’ve got a puppy coming or are considering getting one during the winter.

golden retriever puppy
Winter puppies might not be able to work outside as much due to the conditions, so developing a good indoor training plan is the best way to make sure they don’t fall behind. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Winter Benefits 

Training-wise, I don’t know if there is a single benefit to getting a puppy in the winter versus the spring, summer, or fall. I asked a couple of trainers, and the responses were pretty homogenous, and they didn’t break in the favor of the person getting a winter puppy. But they also said that with the right foundational work in the house or wherever the work can be accomplished, dealing with a well-mannered older dog during later training can actually prove pretty painless.

The same goes for the first hunts of the year, which is where a Christmas puppy might really prove its worth. Three or four months of maturity and development is a lot in a young dog, and that is the difference in age between a spring puppy’s first season, and a winter puppy’s first season.

Pheasant hunter with Lab
While getting a puppy in the winter can prove challenging for the first few months, the first hunting season can be a real winner because the dog will be more mature than pups born in the spring or summer. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Body conditioning and mental maturity can both be major benefits to the first-year dog, which means that while winter pups front load some of the headaches of developing dogs, they can catch up quicker during their first hunting season. That’s not nothing and is probably worth remembering if you’ve got your hands on a young puppy during the winter months.

Winter Pup Considerations

All good dog trainers will tell you that a long-game, baby-step approach to training is the key to developing a really nice house, and hunting, dog. This is ubiquitous across trainers and wholly independent of the timing in which you’ve picked up your puppy. That means that if you have a Christmas puppy, you’ve got to get the right work accomplished.

So, your job is to identify the places where that can happen. If there’s two feet of snow on the ground, find indoor opportunities in as many spots as possible. If there isn’t, and you can get some outdoor work done, identify the parks and open spaces that are most suited to working with your puppy through the various stages of obedience and confidence building.


It’s not impossible, but it does require a plan and often, a willingness to scout locations. The key to all of this is to put yourself—and your new recruit—in a situation to accomplish consistent training goals. A lot of the big problems bird dogs face are simply due to the reality that a lot of owners procrastinate or settle. Both rarely contribute to anything positive with a dog at home or in the field and giving into either is easier when it simply sucks to be outside.

So, make a plan. Scout some locations, and keep your eyes and ears open for every opportunity where you can help your pup develop. After that, bundle up and get after it because the formative window for a puppy is a short, important one, that is totally independent of the weather and seasonal timing.

young girl with black labrador retriever
If you do get a puppy this winter, plan to take advantage of every socialization or training opportunity you can come across. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)
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