Dogs and Winter

Dogs love winter! Let’s keep them safe.

Oh no, it snowed on Martin Luther King Day! Could it be the beginning of another Monday snowstorm pattern? This time last year, Boston was about to begin the most difficult winter on record. Perhaps all the snow and your aching back is what you remember most about winter 2015. What do I remember? How hard it was on dogs – my dog and my clients’ dogs.

Last winter, there was so much snow that walks were hazardous and running was nearly impossible. Consequently, dogs spent a whole lot more time indoors than usual. Many short-haired and smaller dogs prefer not to go outside much at all in the winter but many double-coated dogs really love a good roll in the snow. My dog Hawk is one of those dogs. I don’t exactly know her breed makeup but I call her an akita x border collie cross. She could compete for best snow angels! She dives into the snow almost the moment she steps out the door. To stay inside is a real psychological bummer for Hawk. What’s the balance? How do we keep them safe outside?

Regarding walks–
The already mentioned cold weather challenged short-haired and small dogs definitely need a coat and of course, they may not want to go out even for the purpose of elimination. Out they must go though so you’ll want to shovel a spot in your yard or near your home to make it a quick and productive trip.

Staying upright on icy sidewalks while walking a dog can be a challenge  thus appropriate footwear is necessary. I recommend Yaktrax but must warn you that when worn inside – such as when you stop in at a bookstore to warm up – they are a slip hazard on tile and other flooring. Yaktrax and similar products can scratch the floor as well so remember to take them off immediately upon returning home.

Foot protection for dogs is essential given the amount of rock salt that cities and towns put down to keep the roads clear and other ice melt products used by home owners and property managers to prevent slip and fall accidents on sidewalks. Using pet safe ice melt products on your property is a must for sure. Many such products are pre-cover and thus must be laid down before it snows to be as effective as the ‘burn’ products. Among the pet safe brands are Safe Paw, Road Runner and Snow Joe’s. You might want to research them yourself if you’re an environmentalist.

What’s the best foot protection product? Like all consumerism, that’s an individual thing.

My beloved Szap (12.24.1994 -12.4.2010) wore the velcro-on gortex boots because he was extremely sensitive (as the years passed) to the burning sensation of the chemical reaction that happens when bare moist dog paw makes contact with snow melting chemicals. The problem with those boots was that they were easily lost in deep(er) snow and a foot or two had to be ‘sacrificed’ until I bought a replacement.

Pawz to the rescue! I recommend that you check out this product. As you can see, there are several ‘booties’ so you have replacements already. Many dogs accept these after just a little bit of training. I think this is so because they can still feel the ground through the balloon.

Mushers Secret! This dog formula (think sled dogs, aka, mushing!) is an ointment that creates a barrier between the foot and the cold snow and buffers the chemical reaction that causes burns. A warning and a story about this excellent product though — I had a client more than a few years ago who used Mushers’ Secret with her wonderful elderly cairn terrier after giving up on the booties. At the end of the winter, she and she alone was presented with a bill from the condo association. What for? Carpet cleaning. All the evidence had been gathered easily. Little doggy footprints led to and from her unit all over the ground floor of the building! What she failed to do that you will now do is to keep your dog off carpeting and remember to wash the wax off your dog’s feet once back inside. Otherwise, Mushers’ Secret works very well!

Regarding time at dog parks or other parks–
If you go to dog parks – or have gone during winter months – you know that dogs quickly pack the snow down. This is a very good thing where deep snow is difficult and even hazardous especially for short legged dogs. This is often what makes dog parks so attractive during winter months. It might be the only place where dogs can run without risk of orthopedic injury due to deep snow because of the packed down snow. But! As with everything in life, it’s the snow pack at the fenced in dog park or the snow drifts in your fenced in yard that makes for an easy escape route to other hazards on the other side of the fence. I’ve known a few client dogs to lose their lives due to this…thus my reason for sharing.

Snow and ice hazards are everywhere. Every year we hear news reports of people and dogs falling through the ice. Sometimes they get rescued and sometimes not. If you take to the trails in the winter, have a map and know where the lakes and ponds are so to avoid tragedy. I know that if Hawk fell through the ice, I’d go in to get her too. I wouldn’t think twice.

On a lesser but also important note, dogs break toe nails, get cuts from sharp edges and definitely get sore muscles and extra stress put on aging joints when allowed to freely roam on crusty, crunchy snow. Advice? Don’t allow it. Safety first and always. It doesn’t matter how young your dog is either.  Realize that as they age, there’s significant potential for injuries from what appear to be minor slips and falls. It’s the same for dogs as it is for people – we don’t recover as fast as the years move on.


Regarding car time–
If you, like me, take your dog with you in the car alot, then you’ll need to be considerate of how hot the car gets when your dog is with you as well as how quickly the car becomes a ‘refrigerator’ should you leave your dog in the car while running an errand. Take an extra set of keys to lock your car with it running or leave your dog at home, period. Make errands brief or take your dog into the bank or store with you. There’s great potential risk to your dog’s health with extreme heat or cold.

Regarding at home time–
Much of this post has been about advocating for dogs who struggle with winter … I’d be less than thorough to not mention that lots of dogs are much too warm in our houses during winter months. This doesn’t mean they should be put outside but they may want to spend time in cooler areas of your home while you’re snuggling in a fleece blanket on the sofa or super toasty by the fireplace. Let them seek cooler flooring and sleep with their backs against the door to the outdoors if that’s where they choose to sleep. Consider your dog’s seasonal preference when choosing a location for the crate. Hot flashes are annoying as all get out…and this is likely a good comparison to the unpleasant ickyness that such dogs likely experience. Always remember that, like us, if dogs are not feeling well or the environmental conditions are poor, they too can be irritable and less than cooperative and more liekly to lash out. This is part of why good dog care is so important.

In closing–
If your dog isn’t going for long walks, be mindful to provide extra mental stimulation to reduce cabin fever. Play games more often and feed meals from different food dispensing toys. Not sure what games to play or what toys to use? Check back in soon for my follow-up post on Winter Training Tips. You can also check out my youtube channel for other dog care and training safety tips!


Vera Wilkinson is an award winning dog trainer and behavior consultant now in her third decade of working with people and dogs throughout eastern Massachusetts. The Cooperative Dog, founded in 1996, is a full-time dog training and behavior consulting business based in Brookline Massachusetts. Vera Wilkinson is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and a longtime member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Association of Professional Dog Trainers and other dog related organizations. She offers group classes, private lessons, behavior consultations, specific skill dog training workshops and dog behavior education seminars. To learn more about her services, visit To contact Vera, email or call 617-803-4086.