So, right as you were about to start walking seriously to offset the gravy and upcoming cookies, we got a bunch of snow. I know how disappointed you are! Dr. Anna is here to rescue you though, I have lots of winter walking tips to keep you out and about in the dark, cold, deep snow.
Tips, but not a way to make that sound better?! I have both! Here are some important things to think about as you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the pristine beauty of nature under a blanket of stars with your most loyal friend. (Seriously, my talents are wasted outside of advertising, I know.)
Many dogs do not need anything on their feet, and paw protection is an admittedly new concept. However, dogs that get cold or do serious winter hiking can benefit from booties. Dogs get snow trapped between their toes, which then turns into ice balls with the added body heat. These can make dogs feel more cold and uncomfortable.
Some dogs are bothered by the salt that is used to melt ice off roads and sidewalks. If you have ever gotten salt in a wound, you know how it feels (that saying comes from somewhere!) Little microcracks from dry weather added to sidewalk salt or brine can be painful. To help clean their paws off, many dogs will lick their feet when they get back inside. Licking road salt off can cause stomach and digestive upset. This licking also further irritates paws which makes them more painful next time they go out. This vicious cycle can make it difficult to enjoy walks.
For dogs that tolerate boots and can have them fit properly, boots can be a good option. I will admit that these dogs are in the minority, but win the cute winter award. If your dog is in the majority (like mine, who act like all boots are made out of barbed wire), there are also different types of oil/wax you can use. These create a less-resistant layer between your dog’s paws and the outdoors, but can still be helpful.
Paw waxes and oils coat the hair to prevent snow build-up between their toes and provide a barrier to salt. This is also helpful for dogs that get dry or cracked paw pads in the winter. If your dog has a lot of hair to collect snow, clipping the hair between the toes can be helpful. There are plenty of dogs out there (huskies, goldens, we’re looking at you) who have fluffy toes and could care less about the snow and ice balls in them. For the less-hardy (both of my dogs), having a light barrier to the snow can make all the difference and actually keeps them warmer overall.
While this is important for dark all year round, there are certainly more hours of dark in the winter. Either you or your dog should be wearing something that is light-colored and reflective. This will help approaching cars to see you. It is also a good idea to wear a headlamp so that you stand out in areas that are unlit. There are several types of collars and leashes that light up. These not only help cars realize there is a pet that may be in front of or behind you, but in the event that they get away it makes them easily identifiable to traffic. Remember that roads are more likely icy, so cars need more space to stop.
Extra coat warmth
Depending on your dog and their cold tolerance, they may or may not need an extra jacket. Dogs that enjoy cold weather typically do not need coats. Older dogs, dogs with a short-hair coat, or dogs that aren’t well adapted to the cold may be more comfortable wearing a jacket. Both of my dogs insist on walks most days, but get freezing cold from November through May. There are many different weights and waterproofing levels, so you can determine what is best for your dog. There are some days where you may need to take short walks even with a jacket, especially if they appear uncomfortable. Use your judgment; some dogs do not tolerate the cold well, just as others don’t tolerate the heat well.
Just because your dog isn’t panting doesn’t mean they don’t need water. Unlike in the summer, many water sources are frozen in the winter. If you are planning a long hike, it is important to bring your dog fresh water. Even unfrozen water can be very cold and uncomfortable to drink. Make sure your dog has another water source for long outings.
Watch your feet
Remember that walkways can be very slippery, and there is often a layer of ice underneath the snow. Exuberant dogs can take off quickly and make you lose your footing. Slips and falls are far more common in winter months, especially when there is an animal attached to your arm. Take care walking or jogging, especially when you can’t see the footing as well.
I truly love walking in the winter, even in the dark. The snow creates a quiet and the stars are never so bright. I find that a nice warm house is always better after a crisp winter walk. You don’t have to give up exercise just because the weather changes, but you do need to exercise some caution.