He dropped his ball on my chest but didn’t leave my side.
This is how my dog reacted when I fell down three icy steps this weekend. Despite all of my preparations to keep my dog safe in the winter months, I never considered what I need to do to be safe. I cleared had a winter accident and felt totally helpless.
What would happen to my dog if something were to happen to me while on a walk? This is the thought that ran through my mind as I lay on my back, in pain, no cell phone, and hoping I didn’t break anything (like my bones).
As a writer, I am inspired to share tips to make dog parents more well-informed and better educated in all facets of caring for a pooch. Here are nine key things you can do to keep safe on walks (or treks to the curb) with your dog along with nine things you can do for Fido to keep him or her safe as well. And yes, dogs need walks year-round.
Protect Feet and Paws
Dog Parent: As I learned, taking the dog out to the curb for a pee break does not give me a license to wear slippers and risk falling and/or serious injury. I live in the northeastern area of the country and snow, ice, and sleet are the norm. With the fluctuating temps we’ve had lately, the recent falling rain soon turned to ice, leaving me feeling like Nancy Kerrigan meets Tonya Harding when I hit the pavement. Solution: Stabilicers and paw-safe ice melt. I wrote about paw-safe ice melt last week, and now I am investing in a few pairs of stabilicers. Simply slip them on your shoe or boots or leave a pair on your most commonly used dog walking shoes or boots. The traction you will receive is worth the $20 or so dollar investment.
Dog: Though a dog’s pads contain much fatty tissue that does not freeze as easily as other tissues, protection against scuffing, scraping, cutting, and ice damage is crucial in winter months. Ice cubes and “snowballing” may occur in the delicate areas between toes and pads. Protective booties or a product like Musher’s Secret, which is used on sledding dogs, can help ease extreme conditions on sensitive pads. I’ve been using it on our dog’s pads year-round, as it helps with the hot pavement and sidewalk issue in the summertime on walks.
Chemicals can be absorbed through a dog’s sensitive pads. In turn, those chemicals (such as what’s found in antifreeze) can be licked by dogs and cause severe problems. Wash dog pads off thoroughly after a walk, perhaps using some warm water and a washcloth to melt any ice balls that may have formed on the bottom of their feet. Be wary of ice that can cut or damage sensitive paws and the delicate area between paws. Do a thorough check of pads upon returning home from a walk.
The One Weapon You Must Carry Year-Round
I am always with a can of citronella spray when I walk the dog or plan to spend any extended period of time outside. There have been way too many situations I’ve encountered or know about that involve people and/or pets being attacked by other people and/or pets on a walk. If a loose crazed human or dog is ready to lunge at me or Dexter, I feel better knowing I have a can of deterrent handy. I’m also known to walk with my finger on the trigger, and yes I know it can be used on me. I would at least have a few seconds to react, and that is all a wild dog or person needs to back off, thus enabling you and your to escape. Dog winter accidents and issues can be prevented.
Dog Parent: Do you wear a coat when it is freezing out? Here’s a good rule of thumb: If it’s cold enough for you to wear a coat, it’s cold enough for a dog to wear protective apparel.
Dog: Dogs and cats get cold, particularly short-haired breeds, senior citizens, puppies, and pets with medical conditions. Look for an insulated sweater with a turtleneck, that covers the belly, and that allows for protection from neck to tip of tail.
Never force a dog to wear clothing if they are truly uncomfortable. While many dogs benefit from the additional layering in colder temperatures, try letting your dog wear the coat in the house for minutes at a time. If he or she is not responsive — or does the famous “freeze in place” pose — scratch the idea and move on.
Not all sweaters and/or dog apparel are created equally. I like to get waterproof dog clothes for my Dexter, a Cocker Spaniel, so his thicker hair can stay dry on our winter snow-covered-sidewalk jaunts. In addition, waterproof apparel keeps him dry from dew-coated bushes and grass at the park. Much like my own winter coat does for me, a polar-fleece lining gives dogs comfort while protecting against colder temperatures.
Sizing is an important factor in outerwear. Keep in mind that many stores will not allow coats to be returned, so measure your dog adequately before making any parka purchases. Here’s how: With the dog standing up, run a tape measure from the base of the dog’s neck (where the collar would sit) and to the base of the tail. The majority of dog clothes use this measurement. Knowing your dog’s chest measurement will ensure a good fit, too.
Consider your dog’s mobility. Just as you need to move in a coat, so does your dog. Snug but not tight is a good rule. Make sure there are no additional hanging zippers, snaps, or parts that can rub or irritate a dog. Dexter will wear apparel as long as it doesn’t interfere with his “man parts.” Pay attention to where any Velcro straps or fasteners lay against a dog’s coat. Being able to try clothing on at the store helps a great deal.
More about myths regarding dog sweaters here.
Armed with stabilicers or some sort of traction-type cleats on your shoes, tread lightly. Dogs, however, don’t have that same luxury. Here are a few things you can do to prevent dogs from slipping on ice, as their delicate paws are at the mercy of Mother Nature, too:
- Make sure excess hair on the bottoms of a dog’s feet is groomed short – see a professional qualified groomer for this. Snowballing is a painful condition where snow and ice can actually stick to hair in between a dog’s toes.
- Keep nails trimmed – the last thing anyone needs is a dog who is sliding all over a slipper y surface (and potentially bringing you down) because his or her nails are too long. Again, a professional groomer or your veterinarian can do this or show you how. A dog’s nails are sensitive and can easily bleed if the “quick” is clipped, so use caution if you plan to cut them yourself.
- Musher’s Secret, as indicated at the start of this piece, is a year-round staple in my household.
- Toe grips: Though we have not tried them, I’ve heard from many pet parents who use these successfully. These natural rubber cylinders grip the floor when your dog walks and prevents slippage. They are applied to a dog’s nails with a special lubricant and eventually wear down with time, wherein you replace them.
Have you watched the weather reports lately? Record sub-below temperatures are being reported across the nation, and frostbite can affect both people and pets.
Dog Parent: Protect yourself by limiting the amount of time you spend outdoors and protect all exposed skin with proper outerwear. Lips should be protected with a balm, and cover up all exposed parts of the head and face as much as you can.
Dog: Watch your dog ear tips and tail tips — if they look and feel cold, appear white, red or gray, and/or are dry and hard, frostbite may have happened. If you suspect frostbite, wrap your dog’s extremities in blankets or towels to warm them gradually and seek veterinary help urgently.
Dog Parent: With fewer daylight hours upon us, it is inevitable that taking the dog(s) for a walk means doing so in the dark. Stay away from retractable leashes and keep your dog closer to you when walking in the dark. Wear clothing that is easily seen, and if you are bundled up in dark apparel, ensure you have something reflective on your body.
Dogs: Use a reflective leash or collar or invest in a dog collar light to lead the way and ensure visibility to other people and cars. Dogs become easily disoriented with snow-covered areas and streets, and the chance of a dog getting lost who gets loose or breaks free from a leash is quite high. Use caution.
Side note: Ensure your dog knows basic commands like sit, stay/wait, and “come” when called. In an emergency situation, such as falling on ice, or if a dog sees a squirrel or other animal on walk, the last thing you want is a dog who pulls or bolts.
If you have several dogs (or at least more than one), safety becomes an even greater concern, as there is more of a risk for falling or accidents when a few dogs are involved.
Take the dogs for walks separately if you can, as this lessens any hazards or risks. Know your dogs’ walking patterns. Some dogs prefer the outer area and some dogs like to walk on the inside. Keep them on the side they like most and follow the same tips thus far when walking in the cold and freezing months.
Without control of multiple dogs, there will be loss of leash control on your end. In a sticky situation, like on ice or snow-covered sidewalks/in the dark, this can be a nightmare. Body harnesses take pressure of the back so that there is no trachea damage on pulling.
Experienced dog walkers can attest to having a pattern, a system, the right equipment, and applying all of the above tips when walking more than one dog. Most importantly, try to avoid areas where there are greater risks: Like busy streets, unplowed areas, and poorly lit places.
Pack it On
Last but not least, trying to find something to carry your keys, cell phone, clean up bags, perhaps a small washcloth, or anything else you take along can be a chore. One of the items my dog uses year-round is the Doodie Pack.
Doodie Pack is a lightweight, durable, saddle bag-like back pack for dogs to carry organized essentials while out on a walk. In 3 sizes and 8 available colors, Doodie Pack fits dogs 8-180 pounds. Each pack features a perimeter of reflective safety tape and can be customized with a monogram or logo. Dexter wears his over his winter outerwear.
Sometimes, the winter months can be a lot of fun, depending on your perspective. My dog is a fan of snow and loves traipsing through it to play ball.
Have you ever seen those hunks of snow that stick to a dog’s fur when the temperature drops, snow is on the ground, and your dog needs a walk? Or maybe your dog wants to play in the snow. What about a dog snowsuit?
Thanks to the Hurtta Outdoor Dog Overall, all my dog outdoor element needs are met. It went on easily and the Velcro straps on the legs made it easy to adjust. We had to slightly roll up the back legs because my Cocker Spaniel has stubs for legs and the back legs were a tiny bit long. The roll-up stayed in place, and Dexter had a grand time without sticky snowballs all over his coat.
Don’t forget to take warm gloves and waterproof protection for yourself.
Did I miss anything? Got a winter care tip for people or pets you want to share? Let us know in the comments below. Don’t forget to check out the “13 Myths About Dogs in Winter” article.