Oh, the weather outside is frightful…especially within the last few weeks!
If you’re situated anywhere north of Texas, you already know that winter has been showing us its icy and frigid face in spectacular glory. Extremely cold temperatures, high winds, and snowfalls have made the Christmas holidays a bit frustrating for pet owners. In some cases, temperatures have been so low that it simply wasn’t safe for man nor beast (including dog and owner).
If this is your dog’s first winter, you may be feeling especially concerned about how to introduce your dog to the winter snow. Those concerns are well-founded; without the right preparation, cold, snowy weather can do more harm than good. Fortunately, all that’s needed to make your dog’s first snow a happy occasion is a little patience and these fantastic first winter safety tips.
Know Your Breed’s Winter-Hardiness
Dogs come in a wonderful assortment of sizes, colors, fur lengths, personalities – okay, yes, we call this “breeds.” But each is so special that it’s easy to get off-track thinking about how terrifically unique they are!
Each breed’s uniqueness is exactly what makes it special. But your dog’s breed will also predict how winter-hardy and tolerant he or she is of the cold, too. Smaller breeds, like the Daschund or the Pug, have very short hair that remains close to the skin. While it does offer some protection, these smaller short-haired breeds are much more likely to become cold or even experience hypothermia compared to Alaskan Malamutes, St. Bernard’s, or even Golden Retrievers.
As a pet parent, you should assess your dog’s size and breed before heading outdoors into the white and wonderful fluff for the first time. For small dogs, head out when the weather is mild and avoid low temperature extremes. Stay out only for short periods of time.
Have a winter-hardy breed? Don’t assume he or she can stay outdoors for hours. Even breeds used in northern dog sledding, like the Malamute, can experience frostbite or hypothermia if the weather is bad enough. Ice storms, heavy snowfalls, rain, and blizzards are inherently dangerous for any dog (and you, too) and should be avoided.
Don the Doggy Jacket
Regardless of your dog’s breed, donning a doggy jacket is an excellent way to keep warmth close to their body and protect them from the elements. Jackets come in every manner of style, color, and pattern to suit even the most discerning dogs (okay…maybe discerning owners instead). Materials like polar fleece, neoprene, and reflective striping increase the usefulness of these clothing items by repelling water and keeping your dog visible on every walk.
Just playing in the yard? You can still benefit from a jacket. Down-filled jackets with built-in harness clips keep your furry friend warm and close by. If the snow spooks him, you’ll have an easier time retrieving him when he dashes into a snowbank or towards the road.
Enter an Enclosed Area First
Speaking of being spooked by the snow, it’s best to stay within an enclosed area the first time you and your new puppy head outside. Some dogs seem to be naturally afraid of the snow, and high winds can make this even worse. Often, they get over their fears quickly, but in that initial frenzied panic puppies may attempt to run away with disastrous effects. A fenced-in area prevents heartache and a cold, lost or lonely puppy with very frustrated pet parents.
Don’t have an enclosed area? At the very least, microchip your pup and use a halter-style leash that fits snugly without pinching the skin. Don’t travel too far from home until you’re 100 percent sure your dog enjoys the experience.
Treat Those Tootsies
When puppies and dogs display anxiety about their first snow, it is sometimes a result of the fact that snow is cold on the toes. Although your dog’s feet are significantly hardier to the cold and snow than the average human foot, they can still become cold quickly. Ice further complicates the issue by causing microabrasions, cuts, and even bruises. Add road salt from sidewalks and your poor puppy’s paws can become red, chafed, and angry. In some cases, the skin may even begin to peel away from the paw.
You can significantly reduce this risk by using a high-quality dog paw balm before you go out for the first time (and every time after). Look for an organic, scent-free balm that contains beeswax or natural coconut oil for best results.
Feeling frugal? You can make your own paw balm at home using the AKC’s suggested recipe. Start with these ingredients:
- 2 oz. (approx. 2 tbsp.) olive, sunflower, or sweet almond oil.
- 2 oz. (approx. 2 tbsp.) coconut oil.
- 1 oz. (approx. 1 tbsp.) shea butter.
- 4 tsp. beeswax.
Melt all of these materials together over a double-boiler, mix well, and then carefully pour into heat-safe tubes or tubs. Old children’s glue sticks work well as long as they’re thoroughly washed in advance and the mixture isn’t too hot. Once they set, just roll the hardened stick up and rub it over your pup’s paws as if you were applying deodorant!
Be Cautious of Falls and Injuries
If you live in a particularly blustery climate with cold temperatures, you surely have fallen after slipping on ice at least a time or two in the past. Ice can also pose a serious risk for your dog, who can fall only to sprain or even break bones in the process. This risk is especially high for young puppies, whose bones have not yet fully formed and connected, leaving them softer and more prone to dislocations.
For best results, stick to high-traction areas initially and avoid ice altogether. This includes backyard skating rinks, ponds, and driveways covered in ice, but you must also be wary of hardened, crusty snow. While a human may be heavy enough to walk across it, sometimes dogs aren’t; instead, they slide across the surface as if it were ice.
Lastly, don’t assume powder snow or heavy, wet slush is safe, either. Deep powder poses a different kind of risk – small dogs can sink in it so deep that they become buried and risk suffocation. Wet, slushy snow is, well, wet and heavy, and will increase the risk of hypothermia quickly.
Which brings us to the most important tip – know where your dog is and how he feels about the snow at all times. If she shows signs of disliking the experience, don’t push her. It’s okay for her to not develop an appreciation for it! Just like humans, some dogs naturally enjoy winters more than others.