Tips for Safe Fun with Your Dogs in the Cold Weather
After a beautiful autumn, it seems winter is imminent, if not entirely upon us, here in New York City. For some (like my 10-pound dog Mercury) winter is a dreaded time of darkness and cold. For others (the larger Charlotte and myself definitely fall into this category), winter is an exciting season filled with fun outdoor activities for you and your pup to share!
Before moving to NYC nearly seven years ago from Portland, Oregon, snow was a rare occurrence that usually didn't last much longer than a day or so. Which is to say, it wasn't something I gave a lot of thought to. However, since becoming a New Yorker and experiencing snow/slush/ice all winter, and adopting an active bigger dog who enjoys lots of time in the outdoors, I've become much more aware of the fun you can have in the snow. I've also become very aware of the safety concerns we need to keep in mind while we're having fun.
Mercury is bundled up on the couch for a long winter's nap, but Charlotte and I are watching the forecast and waiting for the first mention of flurries so we can get the winter fun started. Here are a few of my favorite fun and must-have winter items, as well as some safety tips for enjoying the cold weather with your dogs:
Fun and must-have winter items
1. Petsafe Ice Melt: If you live in an urban environment that gets cold, you are familiar with salt and chemical de-icers. They make it so we don't fall on ice-covered sidewalks every two steps, but they are also awful for our dogs. They are painful for dogs' feet, and some are toxic if your dog consumes them. Petsafe Ice Melt is a dog-friendly alternative; unfortunately I've not been able to convince our co-op apartment building to drop the salt and go to something dog-friendly.
2. FrostBite: Got a Frisbee-crazy dog? Time to invest in the FrostBite disk! It's specifically designed not to shatter if you and your pup are playing in below-freezing temperatures.
3. Jackets/sweaters: Mercury has an expansive wardrobe because he's the sort of dog who will actually bring you clothes to dress him in. But in the winter months, clothes aren't a fashion choice; they are mandatory. Because of his small size he gets very cold, very quickly, but cold sensitivity isn't just for tiny dogs. Hairless, short-coated dogs, older dogs, and puppies are all very susceptible to the cold.
4. Boots: Throwing booties right onto your dog is a good way to make your dog hate them, and to end up with boots that your dog immediately removes. Start slow and get your dog comfortable by touching, massaging, and maneuvering their feet.
5. Puzzles: I'm a fan of using harsh weather as a time to brush up on some new tricks and exercise my dog's brain muscles. It's also a fun opportunity to try out some of the great K9 puzzles on the market and keep your pup mentally active when it's too cold outside. Last year, Charlotte got the Kyjen Treat Wheel from SantaPaws.
Winter safety tips
1. Bring pup in for regular warming: Even if you're having lots of fun out in the snow playing, it's important to make sure you bring your dog inside for regular breaks to warm up, snack, and stay hydrated.
2. Don't leave your dog in a car: We all know not to leave our dogs in hot cars, but did you know you shouldn't leave your dog in a cold one, either? Just like cars can quickly turn into an oven on a hot day, they also loose heat very quickly and on a cold day can turn into a freezer. If you can't bring your dog into where you're going, then it's a far better choice to leave Fido at home.
3. Wash feet: Salt and chemical de-icers are not only painful for your dog to walk on, but can also be dangerous if consumed. When you come in from outdoor winter play, wash your dog's feet off to prevent them from licking and accidentally ingesting the de-icers.
4. Don't eat the snow: All jokes about yellow snow aside, it's important to try to keep your dog from eating snow, especially in the city, because that snow can contain chemicals from de-icers.
5. Dangers of ice: Be extra careful with your dog around ice that has formed over bodies of water. Be sure to keep your dog off the ice, and avoid off-leash play near frozen bodies of water. A playing dog can very easily run from solid ground to ice without realizing it. Ice is often fragile and can crack, plunging you dog into dangerously cold water and even putting both of your lives at risk if you try to rescue them.
About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.
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