Winter Dog Walks: A Guide to Safe Wintertime Walking
Oh, the weather outside is frightful! Despite falling temperatures and falling snow, dogs still need their exercise. Though winter walks pose several safety hazards, with a little preparation, you and your dogs will be out enjoying the winter wonderland in no time.
Train for Safety
First, reinforce safe behavior from your dog. With freezing temperatures come slick conditions. If your dog is a puller, ice patches can be treacherous. Inside your house or in your backyard, practice a loose-leash walk. Reward your dog with a treat, a toy, or praise whenever he trots nicely at your side. When he gets ahead or starts to tug on the leash, plant you feet and wait until he returns to your side. Reward him by continuing on your walk. Once he starts to understand what you want, put a command to the behavior like "heel" or "with me."
Another safe behavior to train is "stop." If you find yourself losing your footing on an icy path, being able to stop your dog's progress before you fall is critical. Practice at home with your dog on leash. Start to walk, then halt. When your dog stops, reward him with praise or a treat. Eventually work in the cue word. If you can count on your dog not to pull you down the street or to stop if conditions become dangerous, you'll both have a safer, much more enjoyable walk.
Winter pet apparel may help your dog cope with the winter. Even if your dog heels perfectly, you want to have shoes with decent traction since ice can be hard to spot on asphalt, especially in the early morning. Because it's dark in the morning and dark in the evening, wear a reflective jacket or hat, and consider investing in a reflective collar for your dog. This will help drivers spot you in dark or snowy conditions.
Depending on your dog's natural coat, she may or may not need a winter coat. While most dogs dislike wearing boots, if your area salts or pours chemical deicer on the roads, boots might be necessary. Both rock salt and chemical deicers can cause severe damage to your dog's paws, but boots will help keep his feet safe and his toes dry.
Take Extra Care
Be mindful of winter dangers. It's darker for longer portions of the day, so drivers may not easily spot you or your dog. And even though your dog needs to burn off some energy, keep an eye on the thermometer. Always take your cell phone and some form of identification, just in case you do fall. And remember: If it's too cold for you outside -- bundled in your coat, hat, and gloves -- it's probably too cold to take your dog for a walk. Use that time to practice those safe walking behaviors indoors!