I have just come home from another dog walk in cold miserable weather and felt compelled to share a few thoughts on how to keep doggies and ourselves safe on dog walks as well as some aftercare tips when we get home from walking the dogs.
First of all, its important that your dog knows how to walk to heel at all times but especially, in snowy and icy weather conditions. If your dog can’t walk to heel, please don’t try and walk it in bad weather. A slip or fall can be very dangerous and may result in your dog getting loose, being hit by a car or getting lost.
Second of all, make sure YOU are wrapped up nice and warm, you are responsible for your dog’s welfare out on a walk and if you aren’t safely dressed and equipped, your dog could end up in trouble.
Get some good FLAT boots that are waterproof. You don’t have to spend lots of money. Just make sure they have a good grip.
Thermals are a BLESSING to dog walkers. I wear thermal ski pants and a ski jacket over thermal leggings and a thermal top, with a nice thick pair of socks to keep my feet warm so I don’t suffer from muscle cramps. A nice bobble hat or hood also helps to keep your head nice and warm; after all, this is where we lose most or our heat from. I also wear a thermal face shield and today, I wore a waterproof peaked cap to keep the sleet off of my face.
Because daylight is sadly lacking in the winter, a head lamp is a great way to keep an eye on your dog, and ensure you walk on safe ground. This is also a great tool to help you see the poop you need to scoop!
Gloves are the pièce de resistance of your dog walking kit. If you have trained with me, you know that I focus on the connection between you and your dog. This not only means the positive re-enforcement connection, but the collar and lead connection. Do not endanger this with cold wet hands that might struggle to hold a lead. Get a nice pair of warm, waterproof and windproof gloves.
Now that WE are all set, lets move on to the doggies!
In most instances, dogs are blessed with wonderful coats that help them regulate heat and cold. They generally shed or “blow” their coat twice a year to help them stay at an ideal temperature for the upcoming seasons. However, this year we have had a very cold winter and it makes sense to ensure we keep our dog’s welfare at the top of mind on their walks. The biggest dangers to dogs on walks in the winter are as follows:
- Iced Ponds and lakes
- Salt on the roads
Iced Ponds and lakes
This goes ESPECIALLY to owners of dogs who LOVE water. A lot of the time we will let our dogs of lead to run and investigate on their walk. If your dog loves to jump in the water, it is very likely it will rush to jump in that body of water irrespective of temperature. I witnessed a very experienced dog trainer lose two of his beautiful dogs to a tragedy such as this. His dogs bounded over the hill out of his sight to the lake which was frozen, they went under the ice and could not get out as the ice kept breaking under them. The breaking ice also meant rescuers could not reach them and the dogs drowned in ice cold water. PLEASE keep your dog’s ON LEAD around bodies of water in the cold.
Unless you have VERY good recall with your dog, (including dogs that may be a bit hard of hearing) do not let them off the lead in the dark!
It goes without saying in the dark, dogs may not see holes and ditches as easily as they do in the daylight. So, if you can’t see well, don’t let your dog off the lead. The last thing you want to be doing is looking for your dog in the dark. If you know the terrain well, such as the local park. Still consider purchasing a flashing light for your dog’s collar so you can keep an eye on them and recall them if they look like they may be tempted to wander off. Dogs rarely rely on sight, their hearing and sense of smell will be intensified in the dark which may lead them to investigate further in the cold weather, scent also stays around longer making things further away a bit more tempting.
Ice is off course, “slippy.” But did you realise your dog can slip on ice and tear a muscle or ligament? Where possible keep your dogs walking to heel when on pavements. I do let my dogs off the lead to run in the snow and grass but on smooth surfaces I keep them on leads. A torn ligament can be very painful, costly and scary. Severe ice can also cut paws.
My eldest dog is a street dog that had adapted to her native Caribbean environment beautifully. She is very thin and has a very light coat, so she feels the cold much more than her Caymanian sibling who carries a nice little bit of weight on his bones and has a nice thick German Shepherd coat. However, when she gets out on a walk, her Malinois and Spaniel genes kick in and off she trots and would happily be gone for hours. However, as her dog mom, I have to realise she is older and will not regulate heat as well. Puppies and older dogs do not regulate heat well, so we have to take control over their walks and if we feel cold, we have to realise they are colder as they are not wrapped up in fur lined snow boots. Some people will say dogs do not need coats. But I ask you to consider your dog in its own right. Consider age, body weight and coat type. A German Shepherd or Border terrier has a coat that is designed to protect it in this kind of weather. A Whippet or Doberman will not. All this being said, when taking a dog out in below zero temperatures a coat should be considered for most breeds. In this Daily Mail article, When Is It Too Cold To Walk My Dog? academics from Tufts University, in Massachusetts, suggest temperatures between -1C and 4C are ‘potentially unsafe’ for small and medium sized dogs. The ‘potentially unsafe’ temperatures for large dogs, meanwhile, are between -6C and 1C.
Salt on Pavements
Salt on the pavements mean no ice, but it can also mean paw injuries for your doggies on a dog walk. There is one area where we live where the pavement is RED with salt, so I have to walk my dogs in the road, much to the annoyance of road users, I am sure. You can coat your doggies’ paws with balm to help protect them whilst out on walks. When you get your dogs home, you can wipe their paws down with a nice soothing aloe vera wipe, ensuring you check between toes and pads.
When your dogs are home, please make sure you wipe don the extremities that may not have been covered by a coat and make sure they have a nice warm place to sleep. Pets at Home have a lovely affordable self-warming beds and blankets that I have found very useful for my doggies.
What are your top tips for walking dogs in the winter? Do you have a preferred make of boot or paw balm for doggies?
Let me know in the comments section below: