A Chicago winter can be daunting, but cold snowy weather doesn’t have to stop you and your pup from enjoying your daily walks. You might need to take shorter walks more frequently during the day (or let Chicago Pet Sitters do it for you!). And on days with truly extreme weather, a quick potty break and indoor exercise will be warranted. Otherwise, if you take the right precautions, winter walks can be safe and enjoyable for you and your dog.
Check the weather first. This one might sound like a no-brainer, but you might not be aware of just how cold it feels with the wind chill or that the temperature is forecast to drop sharply. Likewise, you don’t want to be caught unprepared by sleet or snow when you set out on your walk.
Make sure you’re dressed appropriately. You can’t safely walk your dog if your hands go numb with cold and you can’t feel or grasp your dog’s leash, or if you are slipping and sliding in inadequate footwear, especially if your dog tends to pull. (On that note, consider using a front-clip, no-pull harness.) The best way to keep warm and dry is to dress in layers under a water-resistant coat.
Consider a coat for your dog too. Your dog might also benefit from a water-resistant coat. While some breeds, such as Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, are protected by their thick dense coats, dogs with short or very little hair are much more likely to feel the cold. Dogs whose bellies sit low enough to the ground to brush against snow and ice, like Pembroke Welsh corgis, also should be protected from the cold, even if they have thick coats. Long-haired breeds that are clipped, such as poodles, and lean, short-haired breeds such as greyhounds, might need a coat as well.
Additionally, puppies and seniors and those with certain medical conditions may be more susceptible to the cold, regardless of breed or hair thickness. Bottom line: It’s important to know your own dog’s ability to tolerate cold.
Protect your dog’s feet. Dog boots will prevent snow and ice balls from cracking your dog’s paws. They also provide protection from de-icers and spilled antifreeze, which can be fatal if ingested. If your dog won’t wear booties, use a paw protectant like those used for sled dogs. When you return from your walk, wipe their paws to remove any snow or ice balls between their toes and to clean off any salts or toxic chemicals they may have stepped in.
Let him have fun in the snow. It’s OK for your dog to play and romp in the snow. Just don’t let him eat it. Dogs need hydration in the winter just as much as in the summer, but ingesting snow isn’t a safe way to get it. You don’t know what’s lurking under that snow that shouldn’t be in your dog’s mouth, like garbage, dog waste, or salt and chemicals. Plus eating snow can dangerously lower your dog’s body temperature. Having said that, go ahead and take advantage of the white stuff to spice up your dog’s walk.
Or go for a bigger adventure at someplace like the Lake County Forest Preserves, which has acres of fenced dog-friendly exercise areas with open fields. That’s a great place for a game of fetch with a brightly colored Frisbee or ball that can be spotted easily in the snow. Maybe even bring a snow shovel with you and create a snow maze of connected pathways for your dog to navigate. Or simply give your dog a change of winter scenery by walking her in the preserves’ woods or on the trails.
Recognize when your dog is cold. Shivering is an obvious sign. Others include whining or barking, slowing down or stopping, trying to find a place to burrow or wanting to be carried. If you observe any of these behaviors, your dog is uncomfortably cold and it’s time to go home. Keep a towel by the door to dry off any snow or ice.
Have a safe and active winter!