Winter Dog Walking Tips

In case you are trying, like me, to avoid canine cabin fever for as long as possible, here are some tips to make sure your pup is happy and healthy during the winter walking season!

winterdogwalking

1. Paw protection

Dog paws are not impervious barriers to winter cold, chemicals and other nuisances. Snowmelt chemicals can cause paw irritation and toxicity if the dog licks their paws, and cold sidewalks can cause chaffing and cracking. Dog paw protection is a must for winter walks!

For my dogs, high quality boots were a necessity. I like the Grip Trex ($70) by Ruffwear (and am currently trying out the Summit Trex model ($60) to see if it keeps snow out of the boot better). I’ve also read many positive reviews for the Muttluk’s All Weather or Fleece-lined ($40-60) dog boots. YES, $40-70 bucks is a lot to spend on dog boots but they are a worthy investment. I’ve put my dog’s Grip Trex boots through 3 winter seasons and besides protecting my pups’ paws flawlessly, they still look brand new. Cheaper alternatives aren’t going to do the job and probably won’t last as long.

Dog boots tip #1: You’ve really got to get the right size so the boots don’t come off easily but are still comfortable. Measure your dog’s feet according to the manufacturer’s instructions several times to ensure accuracy. And definitely check out the seller’s return/exchange policy before purchasing in case you need a different size anyway!

Dog boots tip #2: As with any new pet accessory or device, you have to introduce boots slowly and positively. Not many pups are going to be overly thrilled about having boots on for the first time in their lives, but (in my experience) they forget about their footwear disdain when they discover how much more comfortable they are outdoors.

While you’re introducing your dog to the wonderful world of dog boots (or if your dog just really isn’t going for shoes), there are several things you can do to keep your pup’s paws as comfortable as possible in the meantime! First, trim the fur between your dog’s paw pads. This will keep the fur from matting and clumping around snow, ice and snowmelt chemicals. Next, use a paw salve like Musher’s Secret or petroleum jelly to moisturize and minimally protect your pup’s paws from the element. Finally, thoroughly wipe your dog’s paws with a washcloth after every outside excursions, being sure to get in between the paw pads.

2. Coat protection

Depending on how cold it gets where you live, or if you have a short-haired, elderly, young or ill dog, a dog coat is also a great investment. There are some pretty hardcore coats on the market from brands like Ruffwear or Hurtta that will set you back $40-90 and some less impervious dog sweaters from other retailers like Target or Petco for about $20. A wet coat isn’t going to do your pup much good, so if your area experiences severe weather during the winter, opt for a more expensive, waterproof winter coat. If you’re just combating the cold and can avoid rain/snow/sleet all of the time, a cheaper dog sweater might cut it.

Cold, dry winter air is as rough on your dog’s skin as it is on your skin! Ask your vet if an omega-3 supplement could help keep your dog’s skin moisturized and healthy during the winter months (and beyond!). Lastly, it’s a good idea to wipe off your dog’s legs and underbelly after walks just like paws. You may even want to bring a towel with you during walks to remove snowmelt products or snow/ice from your dog’s coat and feet immediately.

3. Keep your dog on leash with a harness

Although hazards for off-leash dogs exist in abundance year-round, winter poses some particular risks for un- or under-supervised dogs. Toxic substances like snowmelt chemicals and antifreeze abound, and if your dog is zooming around off leash, you may not notice her gulp some rock salt or take a lick of an antifreeze spill. Chucks of ice, asphalt liberated from the street by snow plows and sticks are also items your pup shouldn’t ingest but might if left to her own devices. So play it safe and keep your dog on leash.

Clipping a leash to a neck collar is not an optimal way to walk your dog at any time of year because it puts strain on the dog’s neck, leading to breathing problems and eye issues as the result of increased intracranial pressure. It’s also, like, the least efficient way to control your dog’s position in space, which can really be an issue in winter when ground conditions aren’t ideal. Opt for a front-clip harness like the Easy Walk harness and carry a small bag of dog kibble with your to keep your pup by your side during distracting events.

4. Keep it short

No amount of gear and preparation will wholly protect your pup from winter hazards, so keep walks short by breaking your usual walking time into two or three shorter components that are spaced out over the day. Monitor your dog for signs of real discomfort, frost bite or hypothermia. Frostbitten skin will most common occur on extremities like the ears, tails and toes and can look pale or red, painful or numb, and swollen. If your dog is exhibiting shallow breathing or disorientation, get your dog inside immediately and check for a slow pulse – these are all signs of hypothermia and your dog should be taken to a vet ASAP.


References

ASPCA’s Cold Weather Tips

ASPCA’s Winter Skin & Paw Health Tips

VetStreet Article on Winter Dog Walking

Dr. Marty Becker on the necessity of dog coats and sweaters

Ruffwear’s Blog on the Dog Boot Dance

To Leash or Not to Leash: Risk vs. Reward

When I see an off-leash dog walking next to her owner, I think, “Wow, I would never do that – that is so risky.” When I an off-leash dog sprinting towards me and my dogs while her owner A) is totally oblivious or B) trailing along yards and yards behind the dog, vainly yelling the dog’s name, I think, “I’m going to kick this dog in the face with an almighty passion if he tries to bite me or my dogs.” I love and respect dogs so I don’t particularly enjoy contemplating physical violence against a dog, especially when this situation is so easy preventable.

If you haven’t guessed already, I’m not a proponent of dogs being allowed off-leash in public areas that aren’t fenced in and purpose-built for off-leash dog play. For me, off-leash play is a question about risk versus reward.


Risks

Risk #1: Your dog causes injury

A loose dog can cause car accidents, fight with other dogs, bite an adult or child, or injure or kill livestock, among other injurious scenarios.

“Not my dog!”, you might say – but you’d be wrong.

Any living dog can and will bite in the right – or wrong – circumstances. The first recommendation from the ASPCA to prevent dog bites is to acknowledge that any dog can bite. Any dog of any size or temperament can be provoked, and as humans, we don’t always notice the provocation or warnings signs until its too late.

“But my dog is so friendly!”, you might say – but that’s not always the case.

Just because you dog tolerates your children, or some children, doesn’t mean she “likes” kids or that your dog will tolerate or like all children. The same goes so other dogs and adults alike!

Risk #2: Your dog is injured

An off-leash dog is relatively or completely unsupervised and unprotected. Your dog could be injured or killed by a fearful or malevolent human, attacked by another dog or cause injury or illness to herself by ingesting something toxic, rotting or inedible.

Risk #3: Your dog gets lost

No dog is 100% predictable and 100% obedient because dogs are not robots. While you dog may respond just fine to a recall command, you just can’t guarantee she’ll come when called regardless any distraction that comes her way. You love your dog, and you’d be devastated if she got lost. You do the math – an $8 leash is way cheaper than spending $35,000 recovering your dog!

Risk #4: Your off-leash dog makes public areas unpleasant for many people 

People have just as much of a right to expect dogs to be on-leash where leashes are required as they do to expect cars to stop at red lights. Some people are afraid of dogs, some people have dogs who are afraid of or aggressive towards other dogs and many people would rather your dog didn’t sprint at their children. These folks deserve to have fear-free access to public spaces where leashes are required! Finally, I know that this bad behavior befalls leashed-dog walkers too, but I frequently see owners of off-leash dogs turn a blind eye to their dog’s bathroom breaks. Dog feces are a public health and environmental hazard, people – CLEAN IT UP!


 

Rewards

The rewards of being off-leash – namely, enrichment and exercise – can be gained in ways that substantially reduce the probability of these risks.

  1. Owners can utilize fenced-in dogs parks, fenced-in yards and secluded open areas.
  2. Owners can teach their dog a distraction-proof recall and other safety measures, such as “Stay” or “Down” at a distance
  3. Owners can socialize their dogs with other dogs, people (adults and children) and other distractions, like loud noises, skateboards, wheelchairs, etc.

 

The Bottom Line

It’s unfair for owners to ignore the risks off-leash activity in public area poses to their own dog as well as other people and pets, and disrespectful to others who use those public spaces.