Winter is a great time for walking and hiking with your dogs; no bugs, no humidity, fewer people. But there are also some real challenges when hiking or walking with our dogs in the Winter. Besides the extreme cold, there is also the possibility of ice and snow. So before hitting the streets or the trails, be prepared. Following are some cold weather tips for walking and hiking.
The level of preparation you will need to take will depend on the type and personality of your dog. A small hairless dog will have greater needs that my big labs that thrive in the colder weather. But you also need to take into consideration, the age and health of the dog. Both my dogs had surgery to repair the ACLs and have titanium plates in their legs. So it is likely they will be more sensitive to the cold then they have in the past. Older dogs often have arthritis and while they may start out ok, as the walk continues they may become increasingly stiff and experience some pain. Puppies bone structures are not fully formed so a long hike in the snow may just be too much for them and make cause them distress later in life.
First and foremost, winter brings cold temperatures and ice. A nice fleece dog coat or sweater is a welcome addition for many dogs winter walking. In icy conditions, many communities apply deicers, salt and lots of other harmful chemicals to streets and roadways. These chemicals can be very harmful to your pups. So ideally, your pup can wear some dog boots. Unfortunately, many dogs will just not tolerate the boots, therefore you need to wipe their paws thoroughly when they get back indoors.
While your dog has claws and paws that provide them with some traction, slipping and sliding on ice could damage their ligaments so minimize, or better yet eliminate time spent around large areas of ice. For your own protection, you should also have some traction for walking in the snow or ice. There are several great products available that slip on over your shoes that will provide you with some light traction. I never leave home in the winter without my Yaktraks.
If you will be walking or hiking in snow, check your dogs paws before leaving the house, particularly if you have a dog with longer hair. Snow and ice-balls with cling to their paws. To minimize this, first make sure their nails and the fur between the paws are trimmed to minimize the accumulation of snow. You can also spray the paws with a special deicing solution or just spray their paws with a light application of olive oil or cooking spray.
Be extra careful when walking or hiking your dog off-leash in the winder. Dogs will lose their keen sense of smell in extreme cold or snow and may get lost. So make sure you only visit areas your pup knows well or make sure you have an excellent recall command instilled in your dog. Finally, stay away from lakes, ponds and other bodies of water that freeze up. Besides the slipperiness of the ice, if the water is not completely frozen they could fall in requiring a dangerous recovery.
Enjoy your winter hikes and walks and be safe.