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Laura Clark, owner of Wylie Wagg, a Northern Virginia-based chain of pet accessory stores, advises her clients to seriously consider sweaters and coats for larger breeds too. “I think most dogs really do best with a coat or at least a sweater in colder climates. The normal house pet that spends a lot of time indoors, they’re not going to develop that thick undercoat of fur, and they’re going to get cold just like we do. If you’re cold outside, your pet is probably cold — for me, that’s a good way to gauge it.” Of course, reaching for the cutest coat on the shelf is a temptation for all pet owners, but Clark advises against simply going for what’s most visually appealing. “[Cuteness is] not really the goal here,” Clark says. “The goal is to keep your pet warm.”
Staying protected in winter is about more than just covering the body — feet and foot pads need attention too. Clark is a big proponent of the Pawz line of booties, which are made of durable, eco-friendly rubber, and protect paws from wet, cold snow and the chemicals we humans use to melt it. “[Pawz booties] look a bit like balloons, but they’re much tougher rubber and reusable … they’re not necessarily for warmth but more for protection against ice crystals, chemicals, things like that,” Clark says.
If you choose a bootie with more insulation, Price advocates for quality over cost. “A lot of my clients will use some of the boots — people who like to hike a lot, do dogsled sort of stuff, or take their dogs on skiing trips — it takes the dogs a bit to get used to them, but most dogs do OK. But you definitely want to stick with your more high-end boots,” if you expect them to stay on and last longer than a few trips, Price says.
Products like Musher’s Secret are great for dogs that have a hard time tolerating booties or other foot coverings of any stripe. Clark recommends her clients use it on dry, rough noses too: “Noses and pads tend to get cracked during the winter, so this balm can help with that. [Musher’s Secret] moisturizes and conditions so you don’t get painful cracks. It’s a really good product that’s been around for years, and it definitely works,” she said.
Clark also suggests taking any outerwear gear for a “test drive” inside the home before you head out on your winter adventure. “Do it slowly. Have some treats nearby that your pet really enjoys, and make sure you correlate putting on that jacket or boots with getting a treat or getting lots of praise,” she says.
The bottom line for these experts: Listen and pay attention to your pet’s reactions. “Dogs do seem to be hardier in general than we are, and they do seem to tolerate [cold weather] pretty well,” Price says.
“But you’ve just got to pay really close attention and use common sense — if it’s 30 degrees outside, you’re probably not going to have any trouble. But if it’s 15 [degrees] with a wind chill, even the hardiest of dogs is probably going to struggle a little,” he says.
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