Winter Dog Walks: Keep Safe and Healthy
Dog walking is great exercise for you and an essential requirement for your dog. You shouldn't let falling temperatures and less than perfect weather put you off getting your daily walk. If anything, it's more important than ever that you get some fresh air and daylight, particularly if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Your dog, of course, needs exercise whatever the weather; without it he will become bored and may get destructive in his quest to relieve his frustration.
So, come rain, snow, or hail, you owe it to yourself and your dog to get outside for a walk. You also need to keep healthy and safe, which like most things is easier if you prepare.
Cold Weather Walks
Ideally, you should be walking in a winter wonderland and you can be, as long as you are aware of some potential hazards to your dog's health and safety. You need to keep safe and healthy too—without you, there will be no dog walk!
Consider cutting down your walking time if the temperature falls dramatically, say below freezing. When it gets this cold, you should stay out no more than 30 minutes. Puppies and older dogs in particular shouldn't be walked for too long in low temperatures.
Basic First Aid Kit for Your Dog
If your dog does get hurt, be prepared with his own first aid kit (don't share with yours):
- Cotton wool and cotton wool buds
- Gauze bandages (can double up as a muzzle)
- Adhesive tape
- Antiseptic spray
Snow and Ice
Snow and ice can cause a number of problems for both you and your dog. Some of these are obvious, others less so.
- Icy roads and footpaths are a slipping hazard for your dog, and for you. If you are walking the dog on a lead, keep it short so that you have more control - you don't want to be on the end of a long lead if he starts running. Think water skiing, but on ice!
- You should always be confident that your recall command is secure if you let your dog off the lead, but be doubly sure if you let him off the lead near ice. Several dogs are lost every year when they stray onto icy rivers and ponds and fall through. Make sure you can call your dog to you if he makes towards frozen water.
- Be cautious walking across snowy ground. Whilst a blanket of snow is beautiful to look at, it can hide hazards like broken glass and rabbit holes that could harm you or your dog.
- Don't let your dog eat snow - not only will it make his temperature drop, but it could be contaminated with chemicals, particularly anti-freeze. Some dogs find anti-freeze particularly appealing, but it is extremely toxic. Don't let you dog wander onto driveways, where spills are particularly likely to be found.
- Grit and salt spread to melt snow and ice can cause problems for your dog's paws. When you get home gently wash away any residue with warm water and dry thoroughly.
Walking in the Dark
The weather isn't the only winter hazard, you are also likely to be making at least one of your walks in the dark. Therefore, you need to take the usual precautions that you would take if walking on your own, particularly if you are a woman and if you are walking in an isolated area.
- Be secure. Try to stay on lit streets where there are plenty of people or houses. Tell someone your route.
- Be heard. Take a phone with you in case of an emergency.
- Be seen. Either you, your dog, or both of you, should wear some high visibility gear if you are walking off-road.
- Carry a torch. If it's really dark you can see where you are going. If your dog has an accident, you will be able to examine him by torchlight. Also handy for locating poop!
Dog Breeds That Benefit From a Coat
- Italian Greyhounds
- Miniature Pinschers
- Hairless Chinese Crested
Extreme Weather Gear for Your Dog
Generally, I am not a fan of putting clothes on dogs, but sometimes clothing your dog can have a place. Small dogs or dogs with little fur can benefit from wearing a coat, and if your dog is difficult to dry a lightweight raincoat goes some way to making life easier. If you are walking a dog on ice for days on end, and if he will put up with it, booties can help keep paws healthy and give some grip.
You might consider a second lead and collar—handy on days when one set doesn't dry out in time for the next walk. A high visibility collar or lead is also a good idea. If you dog does run off in the gloom, he will be more visible to you and to traffic.
And Extreme Weather Gear for You!
Don't overlook preparing yourself—you are an equal partner in the dog walk. You need to keep yourself fit, healthy and comfortable or dog walking will become a trial, not a pleasure. Make sure that you have all the gear you need.
- Wet weather gear: A waterproof jacket and waterproof over trousers. Make sure that they are breathable and have taped seams. A lightweight packable set is a good idea in case you get caught out in the rain.
- Cold weather gear: My family thinks my padded trousers are hilarious, but they are absolutely essential and a complete joy on a snowy, windy day. You should follow good hiking practice and layer yourself—base layer, warm layer and outer waterproof layer.
- Rugged footwear: Non-slip, waterproof and comfortable. I have hiking boots and wellies, which seems to cover all bases.