Winter fun with your dog |

Winter fun with your dog

Colleen O’Neil
These small dogs are ready for the cold in their sweaters.
Flickr |

It can be really fun to take Fido on a walk, ski or fat bike ride in the winter. It’s not hot, there aren’t any bugs and there are fewer folks out on the trails. But before you get yourself all suited up for the cold, make sure you follow a few simple rules to keep your dog safe and happy in the snow.

Your preparation level depends on the type and personality of your dog. For instance, a small, hairless dog has greater needs than a big husky in the colder weather. Also, make sure you consider your dog’s age and health. If your dogs have had surgeries or have titanium plates in their legs, they’ll probably be more sensitive to the cold than they were when they were puppies. Older dogs often have arthritis, which means they might be OK when they start the walk and get stiffer as time goes on. Puppies aren’t exempt from cold, either. Their bone structures aren’t 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, think about the snow and ice. While walking in the winter, lots of dogs could benefit from a fleece dog coat. In icy conditions, many communities apply de-icers like magnesium chloride to the streets and sidewalks. While these chemicals don’t bother people, they can be very harmful to your pups. Ideally, buy your dog some boots for its paws. If your dog won’t tolerate the boots and tears them off, make sure you wipe their paws thoroughly when they get back inside.

Even though your dog has claws and paws for traction, slipping and sliding on ice could damage their ligaments. Minimize — or eliminate — time they spend on big patches of ice (i.e., don’t try playing fetch while you’re ice fishing with your dog).

For your own protection, you should also have some traction for walking in the snow or ice in case your dog pulls at the leash. I never leave home in the winter without my Yaktrax, traction devices that you can pull on over your shoes.

If you will be walking or hiking in snow, check your dog’s paws before leaving the house, particularly if you have a dog with longer hair. Snow and ice will cling to their paws, which is painful. Make sure their nails and the fur between their paws are trimmed to minimize the accumulation of snow. You can also spray the paws with a light application of olive oil or cooking spray.

Be extra careful when walking or hiking your dog off-leash in the winter. Dogs will lose their keen sense of smell in extreme cold or snow and may get lost. So only visit familiar places. If you’re going further away, make sure you have an excellent recall command instilled in your dog.

Finally, stay away from frozen lakes, ponds and streams. If the water is not completely frozen, they could fall in.

Enjoy your winter hikes, but stay safe!

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