Winter weather can make it difficult to get your dog out for walks, particularly if you live where ice, snow and freezing winds are the norm. But skimping on winter walks can have a negative impact on your dog’s behavior. When a dog’s exercise needs aren’t met, he’ll likely find other ways to release energy, such as hyperactive behavior and chewing. And such bad behavior could potentially continue when spring rolls around.
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you should skip your dog’s walk, although shortening your outing can be a wise choice in severe weather. And if your dog is shaking, picking up his feet, cowering or attempting to head back home, listen to what he is telling you and go back indoors.
Here are five of my favorite tips for making winter walks manageable for you and your dog.
Dress Yourself First
For cold winter walks, pile on the layers — long underwear or a long-sleeved T-shirt and leggings can be worn underneath normal clothes to help keep heat in. Top everything off with a heavy-duty winter coat. Keep your head and hands covered. Gloves with some traction will make it easier for you grip the leash. You might consider a thinner pair of gloves — like those designed for horse riding — that can allow you to easily deliver treats, pick up after your pooch and hold the leash. Waterproof shoes are essential. For extreme conditions, ice cleats that attach to shoes can increase safety on slick surfaces.
Bundle Up Your Pup
Most dogs can comfortably be walked out in the cold for short periods of time, but some canines need additional help staying warm. Most dogs benefit from a jacket, but it’s an especially important consideration for puppies, elderly dogs, smaller breeds and hairless or shorter-haired dogs, who may have a harder time staying warm. Choose a jacket or vest built for the cold and for repelling moisture. During and after walks, check the clothing to ensure it remains dry. Wet clothing can make the walk miserable — much like cold, wet socks would for us.
Keep Fido's Feet Warm
Protect paws with dog booties. In the winter, paws can be at risk from deicers used on the ground — many salts and ice melters are toxic to dogs — and from freezing temperatures, which can cause paws to dry and crack. Look for booties with secure traction on the bottom and Velcro straps that snugly hold them in place. Teach your pooch to tolerate booties by associating them with treats. Once your dog has his booties on, distract him by immediately heading out on a walk or moving his attention to an activity, like eating dinner.
Protect Bare Paws, Too
If your pet simply won’t tolerate booties, bare paws can be given additional protection by using pet-safe gels. Musher's Secret is a gel that can be placed on paw pads to help protect your canine from wintertime harshness. You can also use petroleum jelly. As soon as you return from your walk, wipe down your dog's paws with a pet-safe wipe to remove the jelly and any deicers. Don’t allow your dog to lick his paws and ingest the gel. Keep hair between the paw pads trimmed short to help prevent snow accumulation.
Choose an Effective Leash
Canines who pull on their leashes can be difficult to walk, especially on slick winter ground. Thus, a front clip harness is ideal to minimize pulling while you train your dog. Use a solid leash, not a retractable one, for better control. Another option is a jogger leash that goes around your waist and attaches to the dog’s collar. In the event that you trip and fall, this type of leash leaves your hands free and stays hooked, regardless of whether you keep a grip on it.