“To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold”
With fewer daylight hours, icy paths, and freezing temperatures, walking our dogs during winter can be less appealing – and even difficult sometimes! However, it is still important to ensure that our dogs are getting exercise during the winter months.
Here is my guide on the precautions we should take whilst out on winter walks. I’ve also included some alternative ways to exercise our dogs, in order to keep ourselves and our pups safe and happy.
Outdoor activity: staying safe and warm
Dogs still need plenty of physical exercise during winter. However, we need to take some extra precautions to help stay warm, safe and seen during dark, winter walks.
Into the darkness
Using an LED collar and lead can be a great way to stand out in dark areas when walking during winter. Hi-visibility clothing or accessories for yourself can help to increase visibility, especially if you are walking next to roads. You could also use a reflective, waterproof dog coat if your dog is happy to wear one.
Most importantly if you can, try to plan walks during daylight hours, and avoid busy traffic areas if at all possible.
Watch for hazards
Make sure to avoid gritted paths and roads, as the salt could irritate or burn the pads on dogs’ paws. Also, try to keep away from roadside puddles if possible. Some puddles could be contaminated with antifreeze. Antifreeze is toxic to dogs and can make them extremely unwell if it is ingested. It is therefore important to make sure your dog doesn’t drink from any puddles during walks, especially in the winter.
Additionally, try to plan safe dog walking routes during the day. Avoid walking too close to water such as rivers, especially if the banks are steep as water this time of year can be dangerously cold. For this reason, it is incredibly important to stay off frozen lakes, no matter how thick the ice seems.
To boot or not to boot?
If it is extremely snowy and cold, you might be tempted to invest in some dog boots to try and keep your dog’s paws warm and protected. Personally, I try to avoid using boots unless one of my dogs has an injury to the paw, which needs to be kept clean and dry.
In several instances, dog boots can cause more harm than good. They are often difficult to fit and can be uncomfortable for your dog. Also, dogs rely on their pads to help regulate their body temperature. Boots can disrupt this process and make it difficult for them to judge the temperature around them. Instead, I like to apply petroleum jelly to my dogs’ paws and lower legs before winter walks, especially if it’s snowy. This can help to prevent snowballing on the fur and protects from ice and grit.
Indoor activity: canine enrichment
Did you know that you can exercise your dog without walking them? Training, games and activities can help to stimulate your dog’s brain and keep them occupied. Especially on those cold, wet winter days when a long walk isn’t that appealing.
One enrichment game that I love offering my dogs involves just two things: treats or dry food, and an old towel. Lay the towel flat and sprinkle a few treats (or a handful of your dog’s daily food allowance) in the middle. This game is perfect if your dog is fed James & Ella’s cold-pressed or freeze-dried raw food.
Roll the blanket up from one of the long sides to form a long, sausage shape. Then tie it in a knot, being careful not to spill any treats. How tight to tie it depends on how good your dog is at solving puzzles. Give the tied blanket to your dog and watch them figure out how to untie the knot, and unroll the towel and get to the treats inside. This game is great for stimulating your dog’s brain, and they will be exhausted afterwards!
You could also set aside some time to work on some training techniques at home. Perhaps a new trick or even some known ones in a particular order, to really get them thinking. I love to practice ‘wait’ with my pack.
You could ask for the command ‘wait’, then go and hide some treats around the house or garden, and let them sniff them out. If you hide them well enough, this game can keep dogs occupied for quite some time.
Of course, dogs still need plenty of physical exercise. Did you know that you could combine mental enrichment with physical exercise from the comfort of your home?
A great game that you could play with your dog involves setting up a small obstacle course in your house or garden. You could utilise objects such as small cones or cushions for your dog to weave around and navigate, using treats as a trail. You could even set up a mini jump using a broom/pole and two sturdy objects to balance it on. Watch your dog leap for a tasty treat, but remember not to set it too high in case they knock it.
Health & wellbeing: seasonal changes to note in your dog
You might notice that your dog’s personality or energy levels change throughout the seasons. There are a few reasons why their behaviour will change, and some are dependent on the breed and whether they are well adapted to changing seasons.
Feeling the cold
Some dogs will feel the cold more than others. It all depends on fur thickness and breed. Dogs that are larger and have a thick, insulating coat are able to withstand cold temperatures and wet weather for a lot longer compared to smaller dogs or those with a thin coat.
For instance, huskies and similar breeds possess a thick waterproof topcoat, and a warm, insulating undercoat. This allows them to stay warm and dry whilst out in winter weather. On the other hand, breeds such as whippets are thin-skinned and unable to regulate their body temperature as effectively as a husky. So when they are exposed to cold, wet weather conditions, they’ll feel it a lot more.
If you own a short-coated breed, you might want to help them out during the winter months by adding an extra layer. A waterproof, fleece-lined dog coat would do the trick. This would allow them to enjoy their winter walks and stay warm and dry at the same time. I’d recommend researching the best brand for your dog, however, I recommend Equafleece as a great, small UK brand that makes good quality coats and fleeces for dogs of all shapes and sizes.
You might notice that your dog’s appetite increases during the winter months. This is your dog’s method of building an extra healthy layer of fat to help keep themselves warm.
Dogs are more likely to build the healthy fat they need for winter if they have access to a nutritious diet, rich in protein and fibre. Healthy food also provides dogs with lots of digestible energy to support their metabolism during the cold, winter months.
You might notice that your dog appears to be more lethargic in winter. For some dogs, this is a natural response to seasonal changes. It usually indicates that their bodies are working hard and using more energy in order to keep warm.
However, if your dog’s lethargy is sudden and unusual, it is recommended to get them checked by a vet just in case.
Enjoy winter; it’ll be over before you know it!
I hope this blog has been helpful in providing some tips and tricks to enable you and your dog to enjoy winter exercise and also have fun indoors!
I love seeing photos and videos of you and your dogs enjoying winter walks, so don’t forget to share them on social media and tag me in your posts @ella.co
Have fun and stay safe,
James & Ella x