With its cold temperatures and inclement weather conditions, winter can pose some real risks to your pets while outside. However, most dogs will still need to have daily walks. Use these winter dog tips to keep your pet safe, comfortable, and healthy on his cold-weather walks.
Use these winter dog tips to keep your pet safe, comfortable, and healthy on his cold-weather walks. You may be asking how can I exercise my dog in the winter. Can I walk my dog in the snow? How long can dogs walk in the snow? Do you walk your dog in the winter?
Do You Walk a Dog in Winter? Can Dogs Walk in the Snow?
If your dog doesn't handle the cold well, you might be wondering if you should walk your dog in winter. For many Canadians, the reality is that winter can be nearly more than a third of the year, and your dog won't wait that long for a walk.
Your dog will enjoy playing in the fresh snowfall, and you can enjoy a new and fun way to help your furry friend expend their energy. There are so many memories you can make with your dog in the snow.
Though many dogs will not mind the cold if they are properly dressed, you should be cautious taking your dog in the extreme cold. Harsh wind chill can significantly shorten the amount of time your dog can tolerate being out in the cold, especially without the right winter dog gear.
How Long to Walk Your Dog in Winter
This question has many different answers - and all are dependent on your pup specifically, as well as the weather conditions outside. You can expect that your dog will enjoy being outside as much as possible, as the inclement weather of winter can put a damper on your regular exercise routine.
If the temperature is above freezing, your pup may last longer and enjoy playing in the snow beyond just a short walk to "do their business." Walks up to 30 minutes are likely fine for moderate winter temperatures. With the right winter dog coat and dog winter boots, your dog may want to stay out and play even longer.
If the temperature is below freezing, however, consider limiting their outside time to just a walk when necessary. Caution should be used when taking your dog out in extremely cold weather. Multiple short walks throughout the day will help to maintain physical activity without inducing frostbite on your dog.
If you plan on having your dog be active outdoors in the winter, consider using the following protective measures to keep them dry and warm:
Keeping barriers between your dog and the wet, icy cold can go a long way toward temperature regulation and health and safety. Keeping them warm will help you enjoy all the winter activities with your dog.
Where To Walk Your Dog in Winter
When it comes to winter walking, it's a good idea to plan a safe route. With shorter days, fewer pedestrians, and icy roads and sidewalks, the risk of slipping and injury is higher in winter. Picking the safest routes and terrain can help to minimize the risk.
So, where are the safest places to walk your dog in winter? First, try to stick to more populated areas. If either you or your pooch were to slip and fall, you want to be able to call out for help. Next, consider your terrain. Sidewalks and walking trails are hopefully well-maintained and can provide a safer surface for both you and your dog to walk on.
If your concern is keeping your dog warm, then try to avoid trekking through snow. The cold snow will ball up on your dog's fur, holding the cold against their bodies and making them feel the cold faster. Shovelled pathways will be better, especially for short dogs who are low to the ground.
25 Tips for How to Walk Your Dog in Winter
Walking your dog in winter isn't everyone's favourite activity, but it has to be done. Your dog can't just sit around the house all winter. Otherwise, they'd most assuredly put on some unwanted and unhealthy weight. Cold weather is more than just annoying and unpleasant, it can be dangerous if you are not prepared with the right tips and winter dog gear.
To make sure you and your pooch stay safe on your winter walks, we put together 25 hot tips for walking dog in cold weather:
1. Plan Ahead
In the winter, it's important that you plan your trip ahead of time. Check the weather and windchill before you leave. Often, it can be colder outside than you initially thought.
Rather than taking a long route with only one way back, choose a busy path with a few walk-length options if you are unsure about the weather. Leave exploring for clear, cool days.
2. Look for Cues
While you should know what your dog's breed says about his cold threshold, you should also pay attention to individual cues. Dogs will let you know when they've had enough of the cold.
While you can let your dog play outside in the cold weather, never leave your pet unattended for long periods of time, particularly if they are a small breed or a breed with little cold protection, even if they have a coat and boots.
Watch your dog for signs that she is getting too cold, such as whining, begging at the door, lifting or licking paws excessively, and shivering. Even though some breeds are more cold-tolerant, no dog should be left outside for prolonged periods of time with no warm shelter to retreat to.
3. Keep It Short and Sweet!
How long can a dog walk in the snow? On very cold days, limit your walks to less than 30 minutes at a time. Some dogs may be able to handle more, especially if they are properly dressed for the weather, but on very cold days, multiple short walks are better than one long one.
Pay attention to your dog's body language. If he keeps picking up his paws, licking his paws, whining, or shivering, take him home immediately. These are signs your dog is too cold! He may need a coat and boots. Small, skinny, and short-haired dogs may start showing signs of being too cold in as little as 5-10 minutes, so be prepared to head home.
4. Keep Your Dog’s Toe Hair Clipped
For more comfortable winter walking, keep the hair between your dog's toes clipped short. Ice and snow can accumulate on this hair, causing temporary lameness or making it difficult or painful for your dog to walk.
Or, better yet, protect your dog from a variety of winter hazards by covering his paws with boots. For dogs who don't need extra paw insulation, there are thin rubber boots that can be easily slipped on the paw and still allow full movement.
5. Wear Boots
Do dogs need boots? Boots are a practical necessity for many dogs and can be beneficial for all walking dog in winter. Protecting from the harsh weather elements, such as snow and ice, that can dry out paws and make your dog chill faster is the best way to make sure your dog's winter walks are safe.
Winter dog boots also keep your dog's sensitive foot pads from salt and chemicals that are put on the street to remove ice. Dogs won't wear boots? A paw wax, like Musher's Secret, can act as a barrier that is nearly as effective as boots.
6. Apply First Aid
If your dog's paws do happen to split and there is an open sore, taking appropriate dog first aid care is crucial. Clean your dog's wound first with water.
Use an antibacterial first aid spray or lotion for pets to prevent infection, or try a little Neosporin in a pinch. Wrap the area with a clean gauze or pet bandage.
Keep walks to a minimum during the healing process. If you are walking your pet while her paw is still healing, make sure she wears boots to keep irritants out and to protect the wound from reopening.
After you have cleaned your pet's paws, use a pet-safe dog skin conditioner or paw wax to prevent them from drying out. Dry winter air can make paws rough, cracked, and even split.
Make sure the moisturizer you choose is non-toxic and safe for dogs, as your pet will likely lick her paws. Coconut oil is an excellent choice. Not only is it an effective moisturizer, but it is a healthy source of fats and vitamins when ingested, too.
8. Wipe Paws
Always wipe your dog's paws after a winter walk. Use a warm wet washcloth and a towel to dry, or use a pre-moistened pet wipe for convenience. Washing removes salt or ice-melt chemicals from your dog's paws before he licks them.
9. Use Pet-Safe Traction
Speaking of salt, most chemical ice melts are not safe for pets. In fact, road salt and commercial ice melters are probably the biggest winter hazard for dogs living in the city.
The sharp crystals hurt to walk on and have a burning, drying effect on their delicate pads, especially if they stick between doggy toes. Salt can also be damaging to sidewalks and corrode metal wiring, so it's no wonder that it can irritate pet paws.
If ingested, these chemicals are even more dangerous. Unlike table salt, road salt can include contaminants as well as high amounts of minerals and heavy metals that could prove toxic to your pet.
Choose a non-toxic, pet-friendly traction product and encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same. Most chemical ice melts are not good for children or lawns, either, so it's not just your pet who will benefit. Stay away from salt, too.
If ice melts are necessary for your and your pet's safety, opt for pet-safe products like Groundworks Natural Ice Melter and make sure your dog isn't hunting down and eating the ice melt on your property.
10. Lobby for Change
Does your municipality have a bylaw against using toxic ice-melting products? Or against traditional antifreeze (ethylene glycol) that can be deadly for pets who ingest it? There are safer, effective solutions out there, and many cities have already made the switch. The best way to initiate change is to raise awareness.
Not sure how to go about it? Reach out to your local parliament or Ombudsman. Connect with local shelters or pet organizations to find other interested parties and to spread your concern.
11. Wear a Coat or Sweater
Jackets and sweaters may look silly on dogs, but they can be very useful, too. While some dogs have a fur coat that can withstand cold temperatures and wick away moisture, many dogs do not. A dog winter coat, like the Hurtta Extreme Warmer, can be a windbreaker, protecting your dog from windchill, can keep your dog from getting wet and chilled, and can add a layer of insulation to keep him warmer for longer.
12. Have A Few Sweaters On Hand
A wet dog coat or sweater can actually make your dog colder outside than his dry, bare fur. Have multiple coats on hand so that you can alternate them on walks throughout the day or dry your pet's coat in the dryer or over a heat vent after each use.
Layering is super easy with the Hurtta Body Warmer. This thermal layer easily fits under any dog coat or sweater to keep your dog warm even in rapidly changing weather.
13. Stick to the Sidewalk
Unless your dog is a cold-loving breed, such as a Siberian Husky or an Alaskan Malamute, you will probably want to keep him out of the deep snow for longer walks. If cold snow touches your dog's soft and unprotected belly, he will chill much faster.
Many dogs do not have fur on their bellies, so wading in deep snow may be fun for a few minutes but could make your dog much colder on extended walks. Stick to cleared sidewalks and trails, and leave the snow jumping for shorter time periods of backyard play.
A note of caution about sidewalks: Roadways, sidewalks, and paved paths are more likely to be salted or have ice melters used to make them safer for people to walk on. The problem is that these chemicals are hazardous for your pet, both to their paws and if ingested.
Plan your route, avoiding areas that have been salted, if possible. Bus routes, schools, and parking lots are the most likely to be heavily salted.
14. Use Reflectors
In the winter, there's a lot less sunlight in the daytime. Make sure you and your dog wear reflective clothing or use an LED collar or leash for your dog to be more visible in the morning and evening.
Alternatively, there are leash accessories such as dog collar lights, like the Nite Ize SpotLit Collar Light, that you can attach to your dog's leash or collar. Vehicles can have a hard time stopping in the winter, so ensure that drivers can see you and your dog long before they have to stop for you.
15. Walk in the Day
If at all possible, schedule your dog's daily walk in the daylight hours. Not only will it likely be warmer for you and your dog, but you will be more visible to vehicles in the sunlight. Winter means shorter days, so this might mean enlisting help so that your dog can get out during the day, even if you are at work.
- Ask a friend or neighbour to walk your dog.
- Hire a professional dog walker.
- Come home on your lunch break to walk your dog.
16. Shovel Snow
While not technically a walking tip, this is a friendly reminder of the golden rule. Be a good neighbour! As a common courtesy, shovel snow on your sidewalks as soon as you can once it falls. This makes your sidewalk much more hospitable to pets and their owners walking.
Avoid toxic ice melters too. Not just for your own pets, but for your neighbours too!
17. Limit Snow Intake
It may seem harmless, but snow is not good for your dog to consume in large amounts, and we aren't just talking about the yellow kind. A little snow is unlikely to do any damage, but eating snow does have its risks.
For one thing, you never know what may be in the snow - antifreeze, chemicals, or some other contaminant. In excessive amounts, snow can cause intestinal upset, including diarrhea and vomiting, in some dogs.
There's even a name for it: Winter Blap Disease. Hydrate your dog before leaving for your walk and if you will be out for a while, bring along some fresh water and a travel bowl. Water will be way more thirst-quenching than snow for your dog, anyhow.
Learn more about dog snow safety in Can Dogs Eat Snow?
18. Stop Grazing
While it may seem logical, take extra precautions to ensure that your dog is not ingesting anything he finds while on his winter walk. Chemical ice and snow melting products, road salt, and antifreeze are all very common finds on winter sidewalks, and each can be quite damaging to your pet.
Even pet-safe versions of these are toxic in certain amounts. Have your pet eat before you leave the house so that she is not hungry during her walk. Bring along some dog treats for distraction if you need them. If you are going to be gone for a half-hour or longer, bring along some fresh water for rehydration.
19. Watch for Frostbite
Frostbite can be a real threat to pets, who, like kids, might be having too much fun in the snow to notice frostbite while it is happening. Watch ears, nose, footpads, and tail, as these are the most common places for frostbite to occur on dogs.
Frostbitten skin is cold, pale, and hard, and it often turns red and puffy after it warms a bit. If you suspect your dog has frostbite, apply a warm, not hot, rag to the affected area once inside, and also cover it with a blanket (though not an electric one).
Don't let your dog lick, scratch, or chew at the affected area, as this can lead to infection or cause permanent damage. If you are concerned, call your vet.
20. Alleviate Arthritis
Cold winter weather can aggravate conditions such as arthritis in your dog. If your pet suffers from arthritis, you may want to keep winter walks shorter and avoid slippery or rugged terrains.
Natural dog health supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, are helpful for lubricating joints and soothing pain associated with arthritis. If your dog limps or seems stiff in the morning or on walks, try a dog arthritis supplement, particularly if your dog is a senior.
21. Keep a Tight Leash
When walking around ice-covered areas, such as frozen lakes or ponds, keep your dog on a tight leash and don't allow him to roam on the ice. There's no way to easily tell how solid the ice is, and your dog could fall in, pulling you along with him.
Even apart from any body of water, ice can lead to injury if your dog slips. Avoid retractable leashes that give your dog too much freedom to roam. The closer they are to you, the better you can control their environment.
22. Have Up to Date ID
Does your dog have proper identification on his collar or a microchip? Make sure that you keep your information current in case your pet gets out. Winter weather is sometimes harder for pets to navigate in, which could make it harder for your pet to get back home if he gets out.
Up-to-date information on an engraved dog ID tag, microchip, or city licence may be the difference in your pet getting home safely or not. Going away on vacation in the winter? Have an alternate tag with a temporary contact or address that you can use.
23. Adjust Food If You Need To
Pets who are spending more time outside in the winter will require more energy, so you should adjust their food accordingly. However, if your dog is mostly spending his time indoors, you may actually need to cut down his portions slightly.
Your dog should maintain a steady weight year-round. Too much fluctuation seasonally can be hazardous to their health. Monitor your pet's weight regularly and adjust your dog's feeding for proper weight maintenance.
24. Avoid Metal
Everyone knows not to lick metal objects in cold weather. While this can pose the same threat to your dog's tongue as yours, it's not the only metal you should be concerned about. If you are walking your pet in winter, steer clear of metal lampposts, metal plates, manhole covers, electrical boxes, and other metal objects, as these carry with them the risk of electric shock.
Melting temperatures, ice salt on the roads and sidewalks, and faulty wiring can all contribute to electric shock when your pet is near or around metal objects. For the safety of your pet – stay away!
25. Try Alternative Exercise
If it's really cold outside and you’re struggling with how to exercise your dog in the winter, don't panic!
It’s important not to let your pet's exercise suffer. In the coldest months, try signing up for an indoor class with your dog or using an indoor walking area (make sure dogs are allowed first) to boost your pet's winter activity levels. If your dog is getting her required exercise in, she's less likely to turn to destructive behaviour out of boredom.
Check out some simple indoor dog exercise tips to maintain your pooch's physical activity when it's just too cold to head outside.
What to Wear When Walking Dog in Winter
We've spent all this time walking about how to keep your dog safe on your winter walks, but it's important not to neglect your own safety by investing in some good winter walking gear. Staple winter gear like gloves, a hat, and a warm winter jacket is obvious, but there are more ways to keep yourself warm so that you can keep up with your pooch.
Snow grips for your shoes will significantly reduce the risk of you falling and getting injured, especially if you walk in areas where the roads aren't salted or gravelled.
You should also consider getting some waterproof boots and gloves. These will allow you to trek through a snowy field or play a game of fetch with your pooch without getting soggy or frozen.
Winter Dog Activities
Winter dog activities can look different depending on your location, your dog’s breed, and the time that you have after a busy work or school day.
Exercise and mental stimulation are very important concepts to your dog’s health and overall well-being - and shouldn’t be ignored simply because it’s cold outside. There are many winter dog activities you can do with your dog.
Activity #1: Short-Burst frisbee
Short-burst frisbee is a great way to get your dog a taste of the great outdoors, even if it’s frigid out. Get your dog ready with any protective gear that you have, and be sure to bundle up yourself!
Set your timer for 10 or 20 minutes, depending on the weather and your dog’s stamina. Throw the frisbee as fast as you can, running and encouraging your dog to be speedy to stay warm.
After your timer rings, get your furry friend inside for a treat - and lots of cuddles after your winter dog activities.
Activity #2: Get the Zoomies
You’ve probably seen the well-loved images on social channels of pets getting the “zoomies.” Indoor play is a great way to give your dog exercise if the temperature is below freezing or if it’s storming out.
Get your puppy's favourite toy, and waggle it in front of their face. After a quick game of fetch, pat the floor and encourage them to get a little wild. Run through the house with them, and let loose!
Stay healthy and happy with your dog getting your daily exercise in the winter! It's not always easy walking dogs in the snow, but the benefits almost always outweigh the risks.
Do you have any cold-weather walking tips for dogs? Share them with us in the comments below.