There is nothing that your dog likes better than a good walk (except for a cuddle, maybe). That is all hunky-dory on a beautiful summer day when you can go out wearing your breathable shorts and break a good, ol’ sweat while having a blast with your dog. However, that doesn’t seem as appealing a prospect on a chilly winter day with tonnes of snow on your porch (that you are going to have to shovel) and wind that turns your nose into an icicle. This may make you wonder ‘should I be walking my dog less in the winter?’
In such frosty conditions, every pet owner finds himself asking the same question; should you walk your dog less in winter? It is certainly a difficult proposition. We can certainly try to make a winter dog walk as safe and as enjoyable as possible. Let’s run through some measures and alternatives to make sure of it.
Should Dogs Still Go On Walks In the Winter?
Walking dogs in very cold weather comes down to a variety of factors including the dog’s age, health, how cold it is, and the countermeasures that you can afford and provide (e.g. dog coats, covered walk).
Walking a dog in extreme cold weather is definitely a challenge for both, you and your dog. The risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and respiratory tract infections hangs like a sword over your head. This is even truer for dogs with short statures, thin skin, and/or pre-existing medical conditions. Similarly, both young pups and elderly dogs face increased risk.
There is no definitive answer about if you should be walking a dog in winter. However, one thing is for certain. You can’t keep your pooch inside for long periods of time without it getting a little grumpy. Even if you are able to counter these problems, there still remain some hidden dangers. Your dog may walk on anti-snow chemicals such as ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) which, when licked, can prove to be fatal. Even grazing a bit of ice for fun can lead to hypothermia in vulnerable breeds.
Regardless of these dangers, if your dog is a healthy adult of a more cold-tolerant breed (e.g. German Shepherd, Saint Bernard, and Huskies), with enough protection against cold and moisture provided by you while being kept on a tight leash, you should be able to go for a short walk. It is all about how you handle it.
What Are Some Alternatives to Walking Your Dog in Winter?
Even though going for a jog with your dog seems like the most obvious way to give your pooch a badly needed outing, there are plenty of attractive alternatives. Let’s discuss a few of them here.
Obviously, this classic game is the first alternative that comes to everybody’s mind. All dogs love to play fetch. You throw an object, preferably a ball, and your dog runs after and brings it back to you. Rinse and repeat.
Ideally, this should be done in an open space, perhaps a garden or a backyard. However, if you’ve got a large enough room in your house or a wide enough hallway, this game can just as easily be played indoors. However, your dog may need some training before it completely learns how to play fetch. Moreover, you may need to throw an extra few times in a limited indoor space.
Fun on the Stairs
Dogs are chasers by instinct and you could give them just that by running up and down the stairs with them following you. This will give them a great source of exercise and will activate more joints and muscle groups than a simple walk.
Of course, it must be avoided in cases where your beloved canine is arthritic, has hip dysplasia or other restrictive medical conditions. Most dogs would love this frenetic activity. It will also produce a greater and swifter release of energy than your average walk around the neighborhood.
This activity will also get you a little cardio and save you some gym time. After all, losing a few calories doesn’t hurt.
Don’t want to walk your dog in winter? Here’s a surprise entry in this list of alternatives. Dog treadmills are a real thing! Just like some people have a treadmill at home for when they don’t want to or can’t go out for a walk or to the gym, doggies also have such a facility.
However, they don’t work for all kinds of dogs. Those pooches with joint problems, arthritis, or advanced age are better off without using the treadmill. For the average pup in good health, it is a great alternative for a walk on a winter day.
Nevertheless, as these machines can cost around $1000, you must have your research done before you make such an investment.
Indoor Dog Parks
Just like there are indoor courts and arenas for a lot of human sports like tennis, there are indoor dog parks as well. They are a great option for when it is too cold to walk your dog. Indoor dog parks offer a variety of activities designed to engage dogs and their owners with toys, courses, and games. Although they are not commonplace, yet they are gaining popularity.
You may have to drive quite a distance to get to one, but the experience has been described as worth the effort. If anything, it gives you a great excuse to get out and about in a winter that’s hell-bent on confining you to your couch.
Scent Games and Puzzles
Smell is the most recognized of a dog’s senses. Dogs love to sniff things out and you can use that to your advantage by setting up games that use that very capacity. Rather than giving them their dinner straight up, you can hide treats all around the house and make your doggy work for it. This is a great form of both mental and physical exercise and will keep your pooch engaged for quite a while.
You could also throw in brain teasers like puzzles that you can get from the pet store or design by yourself. For example, you could put some old bowls or cups together and place a treat under one of them. After that, you can keep rotating them and laugh your head off while your dog frantically searches for the cookie.
Along with these, you can also improvise and play other games. Even a simple tug of war can be quite enjoyable with these feisty little beings. Regardless, if you still want to go out for a walk, here’s what you have to do.
How to Keep My Dog Safe During a Walk in Winter?
Walking a dog in winter is a daunting prospect but with adequate protection, you can get the job done. The most important thing is to keep up its core body temperature. Always put on a moisture-resistant dog sweater or jacket on your pup especially if it is a smaller and less furry breed. You can also use dog boots or snow boots for dogs to protect their paws from exposure to cold, moisture, and potentially toxic chemicals. A dog foot wax can also be used to the same end.
Use a tight leash with a front harness to minimize the pull. Don’t allow your dog to eat any snow or stray into any bushes. An LED dog collar or a flashlight should be used to make yourself and your surroundings visible.
Try to go out during the day, if you can, to avoid the coldest hours. Check for signs of frostbite on your dog’s paws, nose, and tail when you get back home. If anything seems cold or pale, get your dog to a vet immediately. Finally, wash your dog’s paws right after you get back. Using a dog-safe moisturizer to avoid any cracking is also advised.
Walking Dogs in Winter – FAQ
People love their dogs like family members and the daily walk takes on the colors of a religious ritual. Hence, it is only natural for dog owners to have concerns about walking their dogs in winter. Some of the most pressing ones are addressed as follows:
As a rule of thumb, if you feel that it is too cold for you to go outside, it is probably the same for your dog. If it is below 0°F, no dog should be taken outside for a walk. Dogs with medical conditions or advanced age should also be preferably kept indoors.
However, healthy pooches can head out for a short walk. Any medium or bigger breeds with more tolerance for cold, such as the Alaskan Malamute or the German Shepherd, can get a 30-minute walk if the temperature is above 20°F. Smaller breeds with sweaters or jackets on can also go out for 15-20 minute excursions.
You need to protect your dog from cold and moisture. For that, you can use moisture-proof jackets and dog boots. Try to choose the least chilly hours of the day and keep your dog from straying too far away. Try to prevent them from eating any snow as that can bring about hypothermia in a hurry.
Always keep an eye out for lethargy, whining, shivering, or slowed breathing as they are the symptoms of hypothermia. You must also check for signs of frostbite when you get home. It presents as cold and pale areas usually on the paws, nose, or tail. Preferably, avoid walking your dog outside in the winter especially with the temperature falling below 0°F.
Dogs need exercise all year round but in winter, they do especially seem lazy and lethargic. This is due to shorter winter days causing increased melatonin production.
Even though going for a walk is difficult and potentially dangerous, it does not mean that you leave your dog to hang around the house all day. This can lead to misbehavior and general grumpiness. A happy dog is an active dog. Find out other activities for daily exercise such as playing fetch, tug of war, or hide and seek. You can even take your pal to an indoor dog park.
So, there you have it! The bottom line is that if you take the right safety measures, you should be able to take your dog on a short walk in the Winter. However, smaller breeds that are not suited to cold weather should be kept indoors if they don’t feel like going out for a walk.