For some, the mere thought of going outside during the frigid winter for their furry buddy to answer the call of nature makes them shudder in icy anticipation. Fortunately, my big, goofy Lab, Charlie, and I love it. Exercise helps keep your dog’s mind sharp and body in shape throughout the winter, so he/she stays healthy and fit. The winter wonderland IS NOT meant for simply hibernating snuggled up in a blanket with a snoozing pup, baking cookies to share with a drooling companion, waiting for the arrival of Door-Dash with treats for the two of you, or binge-watching animal shows until spring. Winter IS meant for the two of you to wander woodland trails, explore areas accessible now that the undergrowth is gone, mastering the art of skijoring, and do not forget about all those rabbit tracks!
Unfortunately, it is very easy to fall into the trap of becoming fat and lazy for a while for both of you. Even though it is cold outside, it is still important for dogs (and their two-legged pals) to get daily exercise and a little bit of snow should not stop that from happening. The more exercise they get and the energy they burn, the better off the two of you will be. There are some seasonal precautions to be aware of before venturing out into the cold:
Dress for the cold
Layering can be just as important for puppies as it is for us humans. Dogs with short hair can chill easily which can result in them catching a cold, or even worse. Doggie jackets and sweaters serve a purpose (other than making your pet hate you!). A quick rule of thumb: if you are chilled going outside with only a light jacket on, your dog may be feeling the same way. Obviously, there are breeds that thrive in the arctic conditions. But if you cannot visualize your puppy running alongside Buck (the trained sled dog from the movie Call of the Wild) pulling a dogsled through the Yukon, you may want to invest in that quilted dog jacket.
When we go out into the snow, we often make sure we are wearing boots or are prepared to suffer the consequences. Protective paw-wear for puppies is also recommended. Some breeds, like Labradors, have webbed toes (I am not making this up!) and suffer from snow getting packed up between their toes. Talk about some frozen toe-jam. Another consideration is how quickly your dog can cut its feet on frozen shards of snow. If going off-trail presents this type of danger, booties are a good call.
Breathing Cold Air
Running in extreme cold presents dangers for both of you. Humans can easily cover their faces with a mask (and by now, we all have more experience with this than we may want). Dogs do not adapt well to wearing a mask – ask anyone who has ever tried to take their furry buddy scuba diving! Dogs with longer snouts have more time to warm the air when they inhale. This is not the case with their short-snouted brethren. There are few sights more disconcerting than seeing an American Bully dutifully jogging beside their clueless human while laboring to breathe through the icicles frozen to its muzzle.
Really bright days can cause as much damage to your pup’s eyes as it does to yours. Limit outside times when the sun is very bright and causes glare from ice and snow.
Rabbit Poo Snacks
I don’t know why, but many dogs love eating rabbit droppings as if they were chocolate candies left by the Easter Bunny. Keep your dog away from dining on these gross treats. Not only will it give your buddy really, really bad breath, poo may also harbor many different types of parasites and other microscopic nasties. The easiest way to prevent Fido from scat snacking is to keep him or her on a leash and inspect what has caught your puppy’s attention.
Icy Paths. Steps, and Sidewalks
Icy walkways present a hazard to both of you while out on the evening stroll. Winter can literally change a walkable path overnight to an ice-encrusted gauntlet the next morning. Take your time while walking and both of you should wear appropriate footwear (boots and booties!).
Winter food requirements for dogs are different than the calories required for summer activity. Summertime is the season we play fetch, tug-of-war, and chase frisbees and are overall much more active than during the colder months. Pay attention to how much your fur baby is eating. Just like humans, dogs have difficulty losing that winter weight as they get older.
Now, get out there in the snow and start frolicking!
Doug Scherer is Wimmer Communities’ Property Manager at College Square Apartments. He’s been providing our residents great customer service since 2019. Doug enjoys exploring, foraging, and bushcraft in the great outdoors with his lab, Charlie.
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