Dog Walking in Winter: How cold is too cold to walk my dog?

Walking your dog in the winter

Walking Dogs in Cold Weather

 Winter sometimes brings us marvelous things–post-holiday sales, spiced cider, the first delicate snowfall, but what does it consistently provide? Colder weather! When the temperature drops, there is no reason that your pup’s enthusiasm for going outside for their daily walk needs to drop with it, especially if your dog’s daily schedule includes walking in general. With the proper research and preparation, both you and your dog can enjoy the outdoors at any temperature. There is no such thing as “too cold” if your dog needs to go, so it is up to you to set the program so you can safely walk your dog in the winter!

There are many ways to make going outside in the winter enjoyable and safe. A little advanced research, outfitting, and attentiveness can make all the difference. When the news starts talking about the “arctic chill” or “polar vortex” heading your way, it may be time to pull out a coat, even for the huskiest of pups. Read on for tips about how to monitor, protect, and keep your dog warm, happy, and safe on your walks this winter!

Cautionary Tails: How to Keep Dog Warm in Winter

What to Watch: cues your dog is cold

Shivering is an obvious sign of distress due to cold, but there are other signs and dog behaviors that are sometimes less overt. Picking up their feet, shaking their coat, and a little extra wiggle while they sniff are all things that your dog may do regularly. However, if they are doing any of those things with greater frequency or an anxious attitude, they may be getting chilly and you should keep an eye on your dog and monitor them closely for additional cues or signs of hypothermia.

In the same way that a person will hunch their shoulders to huddle against the cold, a dog will also try to tuck their extremities close to keep in the heat. When your dog starts to pull its tail in, hunch their head, or try to bring in their feet, it is time to think about cutting the walk short in order to protect your dog. If your dog starts to rush around searching for cover or trying to burrow, it is time to take your dog indoors immediately keeping your dog warm. Once indoors, use friction and a towel or blanket to dry and warm your dog up right away.


See and Be Seen: street safety

High contrast clothing and equipment can be very helpful during those early morning and late night run-outs. Brightly colored jackets and sweaters increase the chances of being seen by drivers, and are a great idea for humans and canines alike. Having an LED or reflective collar on your pup improves the odds, as well.

For my part, I try to wear an article of clothing that will stand out against any background or weather conditions, especially on night walks. It helps to ensure that even if drivers don’t see my dog due to the elements, they will still hopefully see me. I also like to do a little wave when I cross in front of cars, as an added visibility precaution, rain or shine, all year round. It affirms that we have seen each other, and understand the other’s intentions. Not always an easy feat on city streets!


Is the Sky Falling? Check the Forecast Before You Go Walking Dogs in Cold Weather

It is always important to check the weather report and gauge what the current weather conditions and wind chill mean for your pup. Sunrise and sunset times, as well as wind speed, can be impacting factors that affect the temperature you both feel. Forewarned is fore-armed, and your four-legged friend will appreciate it. Once you have assessed what you will be walking into, it is time to gear up!


Winter Dog Walking Gear

What should be the first step when walking your dog in the cold? Making sure you are BOTH warm enough! A simple dog walking safety tip to keep in mind during winter is that If you are cozy and happy, your dog is more likely to feel the same way. So make sure you layer up appropriately, because if you are cold, your dog will probably try to take YOU home to get warm!


Coats for Comfort: is going natural ever enough?

While you and I are not so lucky as to have built-in defenses, many dog breeds do have coats that keep them exceptionally comfortable. They love nothing more than putting those coats to the test! You’ll see huskies and retrievers run face first into a snow drift, and right out the other side, completely content. Just because they enjoy the cold or snow, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from a water-resistant dog jacket or coat. Being wet and cold is very different than being just cold, so staying as dry as possible extends the potential period of enjoyment. For shorter-furred breeds with similar inclinations, you’d probably want to add some layers for warmth underneath.

Even if your furry friend isn’t inspired to interact with nature’s cooler elements, they sometimes don’t get much of a choice. Puddles, ice patches, and slush accumulate on every sidewalk, and often aren’t noticeable until your feet (or paws) have found them. This is when protective outerwear for your pup can be useful. A coat or sweater with weather-proofing can help minimize splash zones underneath, as well as keeping rain or snow off their backs. Your dog can wear protective booties which are available for any sized dog, in a variety of durability levels. You can even get hiking boots for more adventurous excursions!


Establish a Baseline: How to Keep Your Dog Warm Outside

There are dog-walking temperature charts available online, and they are a good starting place to get a general idea of what your dog will be comfortable with. Depending on the dog’s size and fur, they may not need a coat when it is 50°F, but if the wind kicks up, they might want one. It is hard to formulate an objective standard, as each dog has individual preferences, so try to learn and understand what your dog specifically requires.

Sometimes our dogs don’t agree with the precautions we take on their behalf. It can take a bit of positive reinforcement to get your dog comfortable with protective gear. Let them wear their jackets and boots around the house, especially at meals or accompanied by treats in order to allow your dog to get used to them. This will allow them to develop varied associations with the objects themselves, so the dog does not view them as a daunting element come walk time. Our pets will try almost anything once to make us happy, so we have to show them we want them to wear their kit with praise and rewards. Once they understand that these strange objects are theirs, a tolerance can develop, if not an affinity!


Feet on the Street: how to protect your dog’s paws

Danger of Exposure: it isn’t just the cold…

One of the most potentially harmful parts of winter for dogs is something we put everywhere for our own safety: salt. While salting sidewalks and streets may ease pedestrian and vehicular travel, salt can be very hard on your pup’s foot pads. A vast majority of salt put out by cities is chemically enhanced, making it all the more caustic. It can dry out your pup’s skin, cause irritation, and lead to bleeding or sores with continued exposure. If your pup is not a fan of dog boots or other footwear options and your dog won’t walk in them, an alternative is a protective balm or salve. These paw balms create a buffer layer between the skin and sidewalk in order to protect your dog’s paws and, as an added benefit, keep your pup’s paws moisturized!


Post-Walk Paw Procedure: the walk doesn’t end at the door!

It is important to remember that there can be chemical residue from salt, even when you do not physically see salt on the sidewalk. If your dog is going barefoot, you may want to wipe their paws either with pet wipes or water and a paper towel after walks. Your dog will lick their feet eventually, and likely things their feet touch, so it is best to minimize their exposure to the noxious additives in the salt however possible.

Due to the sealing layer they are designed to provide, you don’t have to worry as much about chemical reactions on the skin when using balms. However, they can be a bit sticky when it is very cold out, and excess often clumps in the toe-fur. It is equally important to wipe your dog’s paws after a walk with balm on, because substances or bits of street debris can get picked up and tracked around, or later licked off. Accidental ingestion of salt is possible, though likely wouldn’t occur in amounts great enough to cause an issue. It is always better safe than sorry, and a quick wipe of the paws takes no time at all!


Walking Dogs in Winter: What have we learned

There is no need to avoid walking your pup outdoors when winter hits, on the contrary! All it requires is a bit of consideration for the safety and comfort of the participants. Your dog follows your cues, so it is important that you learn to interpret theirs in order to keep them safe and warm outside in the cold. Having the appropriate gear and attire, both for warmth and protective purposes, as well as knowing proper dog walking ettiquite helps facilitate a smooth outing at any time, in any condition. Our furry friends never want to disappoint us, and it is up to us to provide them with the tools to succeed! If you are looking for a professional contact our dog walkers in Brooklyn.