Tips for Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Living in Nebraska, one learns to adapt to the weather or flee it, as the “snowbird” retirees do. And winter means adapting — safely — to being outdoors.

When you have pets, that means you’d better be prepared to keep both yourself and your favorite canine safe and warm on those necessary trips outside.

When the weather turns chilly, my dogs become extra eager to rush out and play in the snow. In fact, even my oldest dog gets super bouncy and excited at the opportunity. However, due to their age and their “design,” (small in stature) they are not and never will be “outdoor dogs.” That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a winter walk together.

As the pack leader (yes, that’s you!), make sure you are prepared. One of the most important things is ensuring you will have secure footing, particularly on snow and ice. If your dogs get excited during a walk (“Squirrel!!!”) and pull on the leash, they can easily cause you to fall. Make sure you are wearing boots with an aggressive tread or invest in some inexpensive slip-on “ice grippers.” These will help you maintain a safe stride even when it’s icy.

Remember to dress in layers. If the day is moderate with little wind, a regular winter-weight jacket, hat and gloves (and warm footwear) may be all you need. If you’re facing wicked wind chills or precipitation, you may want to add extra layers in the form of long underwear, extra socks and a scarf to protect your face and ears.

As for your canine companions, you need to use some common sense before you set out. If you own a breed that originates from northern climates, such as a Finnish Spitz, Norwegian Elkhound, Malamute or other long-haired breeds, you will be relatively safe in setting out for a jaunt.

My terriers, that are all house dogs, can endure short walks in cold temperatures. Due to their age, I keep an eye on all three; especially my oldest. Just as the cold can cause arthritis to flare up in my neck and shoulders, it affects the joints of our dogs and can make treks uncomfortable. Always keep an eye on their behavior and body language. If they are slowing down, begin to favor a leg, pin their ears back and generally look unhappy, it’s time to get head indoors.

Short-haired dogs (such as Great Danes and Greyhounds) and toy breeds will need some additional help. If you plan to have your companion accompany you over the meadows and through the snow, invest in a coat that will help provide them extra insulation. Make sure it fits them correctly and allows for freedom of movement but also traps that extra layer of air between your dog’s fur and their fabric coat.

Just as you need warm boots, your dog may also need some additional help. Snow can hide any number of dangerous items (broken glass, metal, etc.), and chemicals used to clear snow from sidewalks can be hazardous to your dog’s health. If you decide to invest in booties for your dog, make sure to fit them correctly; try them out at home first so your dog gets accustomed to wearing them; and remove them when you arrive home. (For more information on whether your dog needs a coat and booties, check out Megan’s post.)

Whether your dog goes out into the fenced backyard for a romp or is accompanying you, keep a towel by the door and make sure you clean off your dog’s feet each time he comes into the house Snow can accumulate between the pads on his feet. It will also ensure any snow melt products or salt used on sidewalks are removed.

Winter doesn’t need to keep you or your dogs house bound. Just plan ahead and dress properly and get out and enjoy your local winter wonderland.

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