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How to walk your dog in winter

How to walk your dog in winter

Walking your dog in winter needs a bit more preparation to help you deal with the dark and cold. From dog coats to safety tips, here's what to think about

Dog walking is a perennial pursuit, but there are some things that owners should do differently in the winter months to ensure their daily outings are enjoyable and safe.

Dress for the occasion

Dog wearing orange coat on winter walk through snowSmall breeds will benefit from wearing a warm coat on their winter walk

Some breeds of dog are designed for inclement weather with thick double coats that hold a layer of insulating air. Huskies and malamutes for example were bred to work in snowy conditions, so are well-equipped to deal with freezing temperatures.

Most breeds of dog—as long as they are fit and healthy—will not need a coat for exercise unless it is exceptionally cold. However, small breeds like chihuahuas or thin-coated breeds like greyhounds will benefit from having something to wear when the temperature drops.

"When choosing a coat for your dog the most important thing to check is the fit"

There are lots of different types of dog coat available, from thin waterproof jackets to fleece jumpers with sleeves.

When choosing a coat for your dog the most important thing to check is the fit. Your dog needs to be able to move freely while wearing it and still be able to do all the things it normally does on a walk—including going to the toilet.

Measure your dog’s length (from collar to base of tail), chest (around the body, just behind the front legs) and neck (the diameter of the collar) before ordering a coat to ensure it is the right size.

Dangers after dark

Walks are likely to be darker in the winter when daylight hours are limited. If you have no choice but to walk your dog in the dark, you will need to take extra care to avoid hazards.

Exposed tree roots or broken glass for example will be more difficult to spot and could cause injury if trodden on by your pet.

Stick to well-lit routes where possible and make sure you take a torch with you. This will also help you as a responsible owner when it comes to picking up after your dog.

If you’re on a solo dog walk, it is sensible to let someone know where you are going and take a mobile phone with you in case of emergency.

Be safe, be seen

The more visible you and your dog are when walking in the dark, the safer you’ll be – especially if on roads or in rural areas with no street lighting.

Avoid wearing dark colours and consider kitting yourself out with some Hi-Vis clothing or accessories.

"There are lots of pet companies now selling Hi-Vis jackets, collars and harnesses for dogs"

There are lots of pet companies now selling Hi-Vis jackets, collars and harnesses for dogs, as well as collars and harnesses that are reflective or include LED lights.

Never let your dog off lead in the dark, no matter how good their recall is. If your dog were to get lost or become stuck in undergrowth it would be very difficult for you to find them.

Paw attention

Woman walking dog in winter on road that has been grittedGrit on the roads can cause kidney damage if your dog ingests it

If you walk along roads that may have been gritted, it is very important to wash your dog’s paws when you get home before they have a chance to lick them.

Grit (otherwise known as rock salt) is extremely dangerous to dogs if ingested and even a small amount can cause excessive thirst, lethargy, vomiting, or in severe cases, kidney damage.

Snow and ice can cling to the fur on a dog’s paws, causing a build-up which can be uncomfortable to walk on and increase the risk of them developing frostbite.

If your dog has long hair on its feet, it is a good idea to trim it back between the foot pads to prevent ice balls from forming.

Hypothermia

If it is exceptionally cold, don’t stay out for too long as dogs can succumb to hypothermia—especially those that are small, thin, shorthaired, very young or very old.

Watch out for signs that your dog has had enough of being out in the cold. If they start shivering or appear to be very tired, get them indoors as soon as possible to warm up.

Never leave your dog in a car after a walk on a cold day, even if you have previously been driving with the heating on. The inside of your car won’t stay warm for long and your dog’s body temperature could drop rapidly.

Take care if you let your dog off lead near a pond, lake or river that could be frozen. They may injure themselves slipping over on ice or fall into freezing water, suffering from hypothermia or even drowning.

Staying in

Dog playing with toy inside instead of winter walkIf your dog is too old or ill to cope with the cold, you can stimulate them indoors with a favourite toy

Older dogs or those that might be in discomfort or pain will not welcome being dragged out for a walk on a very cold or snowy day. Don’t feel that you need to take your dog out if you know they would be happier staying at home.

Daily walks are about more than just exercise as all that sniffing is mentally stimulating too. Fortunately, there are lots of activities that you can do indoors to help give your pet’s brain a good workout.

"Daily walks are about more than just exercise as all that sniffing is mentally stimulating too"

Consider using a puzzle feeder to make your pet work for its dinner, or conceal tasty treats around your home for your dog to sniff out. You could also hide your dog’s favourite toy in different locations around the house for a game of hide and seek.

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