The nights are drawing in now, and I’m quite enjoying the sunset being a little earlier- it means I’m more likely to see it whilst I go about my evening chores. My little dog, Pixie, is certainly enjoying the cooler weather as it means more (and longer!) walks without worrying about heatstroke. The winter weather, when it arrives, will come as a shock to her, though, and I’m not sure how she’ll feel about the early darkness- she’s a bit of a wuss!
For those dogs of a stronger constitution, going out for winter walks in the dark and cold can be great fun. But it’s important to remember to tog up warm and keep safe.
Whether you’re walking around the block or climbing a mountain, high-visibility gear is essential for both you and your dog. Whilst it’s not the most fashionable look, it’s potentially lifesaving. I recommend a simple high-visibility belt or sash for you- they can be easily adjusted over whatever gear the weather is necessitating. Various colours and styles are available, and they’re inexpensive so it’s worth getting a couple. Of course, reflective coats and hats are available but they’re prone to getting left behind on warmer days (or by fashion-conscious teenagers).
For pooch, a high-visibility harness is a great addition to winter safety gear. They come in all shapes and sizes, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one to fit your dog. If your dog can’t wear a harness, consider a high-vis coat – although these are less suitable for very active dogs as they can get too warm. You can also get collars, harnesses and leads with LEDs for extra visibility – perfect for dogs who like to explore off-road and sometimes need to be found and hauled out of gorse bushes, like Pixie. Most LED collars are not suitable for those likely to swim though, so if you’ve got a water-loving spaniel it might be better to stick to a more traditional yellow reflective strip. Whatever you choose, make sure it fits your dog properly, and that you follow any safety instructions that come with the item.
For elderly dogs, underweight dogs, or less active dogs, a coat to keep the rain off can be a great help. These dogs struggle to warm themselves back up, and a cold, wet coat can quickly make arthritis more painful. Coats can also be handy for keeping surgical wounds on the back and sides dry whilst toileting in inclement weather, but they are not suitable for very active dogs as they can overheat – if you have a fit, healthy collie who chases back and forth, trust their natural weather-proofing ability. If you have a dog who likes to swim, leave the coat off – it could become dangerous in the water.
Velcro-on booties can be a useful addition to walks for some, but they shouldn’t be used as a matter of course. They’re great for keeping surgical wounds and bandages clean and dry in the rain. They are also good for dogs with itchy feet due to allergies, as it can reduce irritation and remove the need to clean the feet down. Some people also use them to reduce the chance of their dogs coming into contact with road salt, which can irritate the skin. They don’t allow completely natural movement of the feet, however, and many don’t have sufficient grip for anything more than road walking.
For some, muddy walks are the only way to go. What better than getting completely and utterly soaked, covered in mud and filthy? Not for you? In that case, washing the dog down after a walk is probably a top priority. If you can, use warm water- especially if you have an elderly dog. Pump-pressurised showers are available for the car, and some have insulation so the water stays warm. Remember during a washdown to check your dog over, paying particular attention to their paws as muddy walks is the only currently known risk factor for Alabama Rot.
Towels and car blankets
Once they’re clean, it’s time to get dry. Towelling coats are often the easiest way to do this – simply put the coat on your dog and leave it to wick away water and warm them up. Large, old towels work just as well if you have a willing dog (teaching them to roll onto their back for drying down is a great trick!) and you can simply layer them into the boot to continue drying on the way home. Boot protectors might still be a good idea though!
Much as I’m enjoying the slightly cooler weather and looking forward to warm nights by the fire, the constant mud (or, in my case, sand) and never-really-drying-out are somewhat less appealing. Hopefully with a few of these tips winter walks will be safe, fun, and not-too-muddy… unless that’s what