Karen Bush provides the best tips to get through the coldest months with your dog.
Winter is coming — but it’s not all doom and gloom. Some aspects are hugely enjoyable: watching your dog romp through freshly fallen snow, for example, or taking companionable canines together through a landscape which has been transformed overnight by a hard frost into a glittering wonderland. Of course, the other side of the coin is the mud, the short dark days, the rain, the cold, and lots more mud. But it’s not insurmountable — use our 40-point checklist to help you survive!
Keep your dog warm in the winter
1. Take your dog’s age into account during all your activities together — young puppies and elderly dogs are less able to tolerate cold than those in their prime.
2. Don’t leave your dog in the car in cold weather, as your vehicle can rapidly turn into a fridge.
3. Make sure your dog is warm enough at night; it can become quite chilly once the heating has gone off. Check his bed is out of any draughts, and provide plenty of cosy blankets or a duvet to snuggle into. Thin-coated dogs may enjoy the additional warmth of a fleece.
4. A variety of pet electric blankets, or heat mats or pads are available; check they are pet safe and low voltage, and always carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions.
Taking your dog outside during the winter
5. Work at improving your dog’s lead-walking so he doesn’t pull — it makes life nicer for both of you at any time of year, and during the winter, will ensure he doesn’t pull you over on the slippery ground.
6. Keep an eye on your dog’s figure; if he is getting less exercise than usual, he may burn less calories. On the other hand, if you are still able to fit in long walks, he may burn off more in the cold weather and need a little extra grub.
7. Many dogs love playing in the snow, but don’t overdo things — he’ll be getting more of a workout leaping and bounding around than he normally would.
8. Even a small amount of antifreeze can be fatal if ingested, so clear up any spillages. Keep your dog away from puddles, which may be contaminated with it, and wash his paws thoroughly on returning home. Although propylene glycol-based products are less toxic than the traditional ethylene glycol type, no antifreeze is entirely safe. If your dog does ingest coolant, contact your vet immediately.
Make sure you stay safe
9. Take a charged-up mobile phone out with you so you can call for help in an emergency. In isolated areas, carry a whistle too, to help search parties home in on your location if you need help.
10. Even when it’s not freezing, some surfaces can be very slippery in wet weather, such as wooden decking in the garden or algae-coated slabs.
11. Be weather wise — check the forecast before setting off on a walk. If you do get caught out in adverse weather with poor visibility, it can be very disorientating, even on familiar territory: keep your dog on the lead even if you are close to home, in case he loses his bearings and panics.
12. Keep your dog off frozen ponds, lakes, rivers, and canals, as the ice might not be thick enough to take his weight. If you see a dog who has fallen through the ice, don’t go in after him — many owners have drowned attempting to rescue their dogs in wintery conditions. Encourage him to swim towards you and call emergency services.
13. Discourage water lovers from taking a dip; even during a relatively mild winter, the water will be extremely cold, and can lead to him becoming thoroughly chilled or even hypothermic.
Walking in the dark with your dog
14. Kit yourself and your dog up in hi-vis gear to help motorists and other pedestrians see you.
15. As well as clothing, add accessories such as tabards or Sam Browne-style belts for you, and collars, bandannas, and slip-on lead covers for your dog.
16. Carry a torch so you can see where you are going, and to pick up after your dog. A head torch may feel silly but it’s really useful when you need both hands free.
17. Light up your dog too — add a flashing collar or a clip-on light to his ensemble.
18. For his own safety and that of others, keep your dog on the lead when walking in the dark.
Taking care of your dog’s paws during the winter
19. Trim excess hair around your dog’s paws (but don’t scalp him) to help prevent uncomfortable ice and mud balls from forming between the pads and toes. They will also be quicker and easier to wash and dry off.
20. Wash your dog’s paws after a walk, as salt and grit sprinkled on pavements can really irritate skin and paw pads.
21. Inspect paws carefully, as they can get sliced and irritated by ice.
22. Don’t forget your own feet: invest in thermal socks or boot liners.
Dress appropriately for cold winter walks
23. A brisk winter walk with your dog is so much more fun if you’re dressed for the weather — buy some really good waterproof clothing.
24. Layer up underneath with thermal gear — lots of light layers will trap air between them and keep you warmer.
25. Top it off with a hat which covers your ears, and a neckwarmer which can be pulled up over the lower half of your face.
26. Warm gloves are essential — the sort used by horse-riders are ideal as they keep fingers warm, without being so bulky you struggle to hold and manage the lead.
Winter clothing for your dog
27. Thin-coated or old dogs will need warm, waterproof clothing during the chilly, wet months. Buy several different jackets suitable for a variety of temperatures, and if you go out in the car, take a spare dry one for the return journey home. On really cold days, layer him up just as you do.
28. A lightweight waterproof jacket can be a godsend on rainy days for thick-coated dogs, as wet fur is a poor insulator. It’ll be easier to dry him off after a walk, making him more comfortable, especially if he is older and suffers from rheumatism or arthritis.
29. Make sure all clothing is dry before use — have enough that you can have some in the wash, some drying, and some ready for wear.
Keep on top of the muddy mess!
30. When travelling with your dog, protect your car interiors with fitted seat covers and boot liners.
31. A paw-wash bottle can also be an invaluable car accessory, while micro towels absorb a lot of moisture, so are perfect for giving your dog a quick dry before the return journey.
32. Place a dirt trapper mat by the front and back doors of your house to absorb the worst of the wet and mud from sodden paws.
33. Leave a bowl of warm water by the door ready to rinse off muddy feet — clean wet feet are far easier to deal with than mud-coated ones. Keep a pile of old towels by the door ready to dry wet paws and fur.
Don’t forget to teach your dog a really reliable ‘Wait’ command, so he doesn’t rush off inside to do the job himself against the furniture!
Indoor activities for dogs
34. Lots of indoor mini-training sessions will break up the day and give your dog some mental stimulation on days when you can’t do as much outdoors.
35. Try playing indoor fetch, but use a soft toy rather than a hard bouncy ball.
36. Brainteaser toys will keep boredom at bay. There is plenty of choice, with varying levels of difficulty, or you could make your own.
37. Stuff a Kong or Zogoflex Toppl toy with treats, or even part of your dog’s daily meal ration. Chewing and teasing the food out will keep him occupied and is a great stress-busting activity.
38. Enjoy some quiet time together: your dog may enjoy some gentle massage or Tellington TTouches.
Winter holidays with your dog
39. Winter is the perfect time to take a holiday with your dog. Off-peak prices are cheaper; you’ll be able to explore beauty spots normally packed with tourists; and if visiting coastal areas, beaches are likely to be open rather than off-limits to dogs.
40. Sometimes you and your dog need to literally look on the bright side. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which occurs during the autumn and winter months. It is believed to be due to lack of exposure to sunlight because of shorter, duller daylight hours, and both humans and pets can suffer from it. Using a light therapy box, which mimics natural outdoor light, can help lift the mood and other symptoms of SAD, such as lethargy and comfort eating. If you aren’t sure if it will benefit you and your dog, www.sad-lightbox.co.uk offers a ‘try before you buy’ deal.