With National Walk Your Dog Month kicking off the year in January, many UK pet owners may be enjoying their daily walks with their furry friends as a chance to exercise themselves during lockdown. But with wintry weather and frozen paths, you may be worrying if it’s safe to walk your dogs.
1) Protect their paws
This may seem a simple one, but many owners forget how sensitive dogs’ paws can be. Damp from rain or snow can irritate their skin. The fur around your dog’s paws should be kept short as longer hair can accumulate ice and cold water making it uncomfortable or painful for your dog to walk.
Dry winter air can make paws rough, cracked, and even split, and at this time of year there are lots of irritants on the road like grit or salt. Make sure to wash your dog’s paws down with warm water after every walk to prevent this and check them regularly for sores.
2) Plan ahead
Where possible make the most of the daylight hours. While working from home, use your lunch break for walks rather than waiting for it to go dark. If you do need to go out in the dark, try to stick to well-lit paths.
3) Be aware of your surroundings
One thing dogs love to do when they go out for walks is to explore: sniffing new smells and experiencing new sights. So, when it’s icy or full of snow, it can be difficult to monitor their surroundings and what they are sniffing. Ensure they are on leash if the ground is uneven, or snow may hide a frozen pond.
4) Be visible
With the shorter days and longer nights upon us, if you do have to walk your dog during the dark, it’s important to keep your dog visible, especially black dogs. Try a flashing collar or a high-vis jacket.
Don’t forget to think about your own visibility too – try wearing your own high-vis jacket or brightly coloured hat and gloves.
5) Keeping Warm
Dogs can feel the cold too – especially short hair dogs like greyhounds and staffies. Try using a dog coat for them during the colder and wetter days.
Take special care of older dogs during the colder months. As dogs get older, they are more likely to suffer with conditions like arthritis so where possible, make sure they’re kept warm with a coat on walks, and stick to two short walks to keep them out of the cold for too long.
Most dogs will let you know when they’ve had enough of the cold, but not always. Look out for signs like whining, lifting or licking paws excessively, and shivering.
6) Nervous Dogs
During the pandemic, the number of people purchasing dogs has soared – with the term ‘Pandemic Puppies’ being used quite a lot.
These dog owners need to especially be careful on their walks, as these puppies will have been kept inside a lot more than usual and not actually ventured out much or been around many people or crowds. For them, meeting new people could be quite a terrifying experience – this can also be said for dogs who are quite nervous around other dogs or people.
Introduce them gently to walks, take three small walks a day taking different routes each time. This will help them get used to their surroundings, especially the smells left by other dogs.
If you know your dog to be quite aggressive towards other dogs, avoid walking the same paths, cross the road and keep your dog’s attention off them by facing them in another direction.
7) Always place a collar on them
Even if your dog is incredibly well-trained, it’s important – and a legal requirement under the Control of Dogs Order 1992 – that, when in a public place, they must wear a collar with the name and address (including postcode) of the owner engraved or written on it or on a tag. Your telephone number is optional but recommended.
8) Microchip, done and updated
This is a legal requirement, so make sure your dog is microchipped before going out on walks. Make sure your details are up to date on the microchipping database too.
9) Make the most of your walk
With lockdown in full swing, many of us may only be allowed one exercise trip a day, which may leave some worrying about how we take our dogs for enough walks.
Don’t worry, dog walks aren’t meant to be used to physically tire our dogs out. Instead, it allows them to get out, enjoy the fresh air and interact with other dogs. If you can, take a ball and play fetch with your pooch or lay food trails for them to find but most importantly, have fun!