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The Secret to Surviving Winter Walks with Your Dog

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Winter is finally here and we know that this means one thing: the dreaded winter dog walk. Winter is a difficult time for many of us, but it becomes especially challenging when you have to walk your dog on cold winter days. The snow and ice are unpleasant on human feet, let alone those of us who don’t have two legs. It’s not easy to find traction either!

Winter walks with your dog can be a stressful experience, especially if they don’t want to go out in the cold. However, I’ve found some secret survival tips for making these chilly walks enjoyable for both of us. Read on for my tips for winter walking that will help both you and your best friend enjoy the experience.

How to enjoy winter walks with your dog

Dogs need exercise whatever the weather, but not all dogs love going out in the snow. So how can you help them learn to enjoy their winter walks?

Winter Dog Walking Essentials

For you:

  • Base Layer
  • Jumper
  • Warm Coat
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Tights or thermal trousers
  • Waterproof trousers (I have a pair of epaulettes from skiing that I wear in the snow)
  • Wool socks
  • Insole foot warmers (like these)
  • Sturdy boots
  • Dog walking bag/fanny pack for poop bags, keys, phone, first aid kit, torch etc

For your dog:

  • Fleece jumper
  • Waterproof coat
  • Paw balm
  • Snow boots
  • Fur lined harness
  • Short leash
  • ID tag
  • Microchip

Wrap yourself and your dog up in the right gear to keep warm inside and keep the elements out. Protect paws from frozen ground and chemical deicers with paw balm or boots. Keep your dog on a leash and your walks brisk, short and allow your dog to sniff along the way.

Plan ahead for the weather

It takes planning ahead for any outdoor activity with your dog. Make sure you know what the weather forecast is going to be like before you head out. Be prepared for windy days, rain, sleet, snow, and other potentially dangerous weather conditions.

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Dressing appropriately for the season is an easy way to ensure that your dog stays safe and protected during their walks. A thick coat is essential to keeping your dog warm and dry.

Prepare yourself first

Wrap yourself up warm with several layers and a good winter coat. Layers work better as they trap air and insulate your. Try a merino wool or bamboo base layer. 

Wear comfortable footwear that offers your grip and warmth ( wool socks will help too). I love muckboots. I have two pairs including the Arctic Sport II short boots and they are brilliant for dog walking.

Keep your hands toasty and warm with mittens or gloves so that you don’t lose your grip on the leash. I use puffa gloves that have a grip in the fingers and palm (they’re my horse riding gloves) that means I can hold the leash, deliver treats and of course pick up a stick to flick the poop.

Winter Walks With your dog tips - walk briskly
Wrap yourself up for winter dog walks

Keep your dog warm too

Unless you own a dog such as a Alaskan Malamutes, Huskies, and Saint Bernards who are naturally built to survive the winter elements you’ll need to take care of your pooch.

Most dogs benefit from a jacket when it’s cold, especially puppies, elderly dogs, smaller breeds and hairless or shorter-haired dogs who may have a harder time staying warm. A coat built for the cold and for repelling moisture is best.

If it’s a bright cold and day, but dry, you might opt for a cozy fleece. Or, if it’s raining or snow on the ground then a water resistant coat with a warm lining might be a better choice.

Don’t forget to check before you go out that their coat is dry from the last walk as cold wet clothing will not be appreciated.

Check out this review of 5 of the best dog coats for the colder weather. Dolly, my French Bulldog, has a Dogby Down coat from Trespaws that we use when it gets really cold to keep her body warm whilst we’re out and about.

Winter Walks With your dog tips -dog coat
Dolly in her Dogby Down coat from Trespaws

Protect your dog’s paws

Dog’s paws need protecting so at least use a good paw balm before you go out to keep the nasties on the ground out like de-icer, salt and ice melting chemicals seeping into your dogs paws as they are toxic.

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And, when you return from your walk, give those paws a good soak ( see below for a home made remedy) to remove any ice or snow that may have built up between toes and to rinse away any salts or toxic chemicals that may have been stepped in.

Read next: tips on paw care

You might also like to consider doggie booties. You’ll need to teach your dog to like their boots which can be done very successfully with clicker training:

Keep hold of the leash

In bad conditions it would be easy for your dog to run off and get lost. So I recommend that you use a leash at all times when on winter walks. If you turn your walk into more of a ‘sniffari’ then your dog will get plenty of stimulation and enjoy themselves. You might have to hop from one foot to the other to keep warm, so wrap up!

I always us a running leash that goes around your waist and has a slight elasticity ( like a bungy cord) that attaches to Dolly’s harness . In the event that I trip and fall, this type of leash leaves my hands free and my dog stays attached, regardless of whether I kept a grip on the leash or not.

Winter Walks With your dog tips - not sure
I use a running leash to make sure my hands are free.

First winter walk tips

Once you’re both ready to go, keep the walk short. If your dog just wants to sniff round the block for 5 minutes, then let them. Gradually extend the walks by 5 mins at a time and let your dog tell you when they’ve had enough for today. Always set them up for success and make it a positive experience.

Winter Walks With your dog tips - wrap up warm
We like to take break, have a cuddle and admire the view

Avoid potential dangers on your walk

In the countryside we have may hazards. Ponds and lakes are still very dangerous, even if they look completely frozen, the ice can crack at any point. Rivers, fords and ditches can become swollen and fast moving water can sweep a dog and you, away much quicker than you think.

It’s best to stick to the foot paths and routes you are familiar with. Snow can cover and hide obstacles like fallen branches, rocks and other sharp objects that could injure you or your dog.

Winter Walks With your dog tips - running
We stick the footpaths across the fields and keep an eye out for obstacles

When walking in urban areas try to avoid driveways and parking areas where antifreeze may have dripped. Stay clear of freshly salted or de-iced roads, especially if your dog isn’t wearing protective booties, as salts and chemicals can be irritating to the skin at the very least, or life-threatening at most.

Remember to use pet-safe ice melter on your own driveway and path outside your house and encourage your neighbours to do the same.

Most ice melters on the market, except for those containing calcium or magnesium chlorides, if used according to their label instructions will not harm your pets with normal contact. However you might like to try our easy homemade pet-safe ice melter recipe!

paw safe ice melter home made

Pet Safe Ice Melter – Cheap and Easy Homemade Instructions

Here's how to make an easy home made pet and paw friendly solution to melt the ice and snow around your home
Prep Time 5 mins

Equipment

  • Watering can with rose nozzle

Ingredients
  

  • 2 tsbp Fairy washing up liquid Dawn dish soap for the US
  • 2 tbsp Surgical Spirit Rubbing Alcohol for US
  • 5 litres Hot Water

Instructions
 

  • Put the washing up liquid, surgical spirit into your watering can first then add the hot water to mix
  • Pour the solution onto the ice and snow

Notes

You may wish to use some rock salt on stubborn ice areas to soften it before using the solution. Remember to wash salt away thoroughly as although safe for your dog’s paws, it can still dry them out.
You will need several refills to tackle a large area.
Keyword ice melter, pet-safe

Look for cues that your dog is cold and had enough

You shouldn’t just look at breed when deciding whether your dog has a low tolerance for cold weather; instead, you should take into account any signs they may be showing that suggest otherwise. Your dog will tell you when they’ve had enough and want to go home.

If you want to keep your furry friend safe from freezing temperatures, don’t leave them alone outdoors for too long during winter months.

If your dog begins acting strangely then it’s probably time to come in, watch them closely for any signs that they might be feeling chilly: whimpering, pawing, licking and shivering.  No matter how well behaved they may seem, dogs can get chilled easily if not kept properly protected from extreme weather conditions.

How to prevent snowballs on your dogs legs and paws with this easy method

Keep the hair between your dog’s toes short to avoid the hairs freezing and forming ice balls. If ice accumulates on this hair, it may cause temporary lameness or make walking painful for your dog.

Use an oil spray on your dogs coat and paws to prevent snowballs and ice balls forming whilst they are out enjoying themselves. Coconut oil, olive oil and sunflower oil work best and are safe for your dog. The oil prevents the snow from sticking to the fur and will encourage your dog to enjoy being in the snow without the painful snowball legs.

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Prevent snowball legs on your dog by using coconut oil to make them ‘non-stick’

Paw soak for winter dog paw care

When you’ve been out in the wet and the snow it’s a good idea to wash your dogs paws to remove any harmful grit or chemicals that they may have walked in.

Here’s my home remedy for a lovely paw soak. Remember to prepare it before you go so you can clean them as soon as you return.

Home made Paw Soak for Dogs

This quick and easy recipe for paw soak can be part of your paw hygiene routine after washing.
Prep Time5 mins
Active Time20 mins
Course: Beauty
Cuisine: English
Keyword: dog feet, hygiene, paw soak
Yield: 1 bowl
Author: Sarah at Ruffle Snuffle

Equipment

  • Flat bottomed bowl

Materials

  • 250ml Organic apple cider vinegar
  • 1 juice Lemon Lemon is an anti-fungal, antibacterial and antiviral ingredient
  • 20 drops Peppermint oil

Instructions

  • Mix all the ingredients in a flat bottomed dish ( we use a stainless dog bowl.
  • Pop each clean paw in the bowl for 30 seconds and then let them air dry.

When is it too cold to walk your dog?

Before heading outside always check the temperature first (including the wind chill factor). This handy infographic created by Dr. Kim Smyth from Pet Plan based on research by Tufts University shows whether your dog may be in danger from the cold.

When is it too cold to walk your dog outside
When is it too cold to walk your dog outside – check this chart.

Essential gear and tips for winter walks with your dog

Walking in winter can be exhilarating and just what you need to blow away the cobwebs from being cooped up indoors. So wrap up and get out there and enjoy your walks again.SaveSave

  • Wrap yourself and your dog up with a good coat.
  • Protect their paws from the frozen ground with paw balm.
  • Keep the walk brisk and short allowing them to sniff along the way.
  • Always keep them on a leash to avoid them running off it you trip.
  • Avoid dangers like ponds, rivers and stick to the footpaths
  • Double check how cold it is outside

Dog Winter Walk FAQs

Can You Walk a Dog in Snow?

Yes, it is possible to walk a dog in snow. However, it is recommended to wear some type of boots and clothing to protect both you and your dog from slipping and falling.

How long can my dog walk in the snow before it gets too cold?

On average a dog can walk in the now for 15 minutes. A dog can play in the snow for up to 30 minutes if the temperature is above freezing. When walking or playing outside ensure your dog has adequate protection with a jumper, coat and dog boots.

Can dogs eat snow?

Stop your dog away from eating snow as it could lower your dog’s temperature to dangerous levels. There might also be toxic chemicals or hidden objects under the surface of the snow.

Why is rock salt dangerous for dogs? 

Rock salt is made from sodium chloride and grit. It can irritate a dog’s skin, causing dryness, cracking and even burns to a dog’s paw pads. Even more dangerous for dogs, if they lick it from their paws or fur, they can ingest the chemicals, which can be toxic. 

Why is antifreeze dangerous for dogs? 

The dangerous chemical in antifreeze is ethylene glycol, which has a sweet taste that dogs enjoy. Antifreeze can cause damage to your dog’s kidneys, even after a small amount has been ingested. It can result in death.

What are the signs your dog has hypothermia? 

The first symptom of hypothermia is excessive shivering, which is followed by lethargy. If your dog is displaying signs, call the vet immediately, and move them to a warm area, then warm the body by covering them in hot water bottles, blankets or towels.

Recommended winter dog walking gear

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Winter Walks With your dog tips - play time
Having fun together in the fields in the snow