Keeping warm & dry on winter walks with dogs
The winter isn't a great time for exercising dogs.
It's cold, windy and wet outside, and the hours of daylight are short. If you work office-type hours, it can be difficult to fit in the recommended amount of dog walking (which for most dogs should be around half an hour twice daily). This week, I'm sharing a few tips on how to deal with the challenge.
First, the darkness of early mornings and evenings. While this may not affect those who walk their dogs in built up areas with good street lighting, if you take your dog anywhere to run off the leash, it can be very helpful to have some sort of light attached to your pet. You can buy collars that include chains of LEDs, or you can get simple collar tags that light up with a single LED. This can be very reassuring, allowing you to see exactly where your dog is sniffing or running. This type of illumination is also useful when walking your dog on the leash beside a busy road. Dogs are often not traffic-aware, and can be prone to stepping off the pavement into the road. A passing driver in daylight will often move further away from the pavement, giving the dog some extra space, but in darkness, dogs are often invisible, so drivers often drive too close to the pavement for safety. I have encountered cases where dogs have been killed by a passing car even while on the leash. It helps to have brightly lit collar,as well as a reflective jacket for the dog.
Second, the wetness of winter. While many dogs seem immune to the discomfort of being soaking wet, you will know all about it when a wet muddy dog jumps into the back of your car or runs around your kitchen. In theory, you could just towel dry your pet, but that's much more difficult than you might think. There are three products on the market that can help a lot.
The Doggy Bag (www.wetmuddydog.com) is a large bag made from microfibre towelling. At the end of your walk, you open the bag, so that it's like an unzipped sleeping bag spread out in the boot of your car or on your porch floor. You then ask your dog to step onto it and to lie down, and you then zip up the bag so that they are completely enclosed inside it. Your pet will resemble a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, unable to walk around. If you leave them like this for fifteen minutes or so, they'll be thoroughly dried by the contact with the microfibre towelling around them. We use this every day for our own dog, Finzi, at the end of wet walks when she jumps into the back of the car. It sounds awkward, but Finzi loves it: she seems to enjoy being snugly enclosed inside the bag.
If you don't like the idea of your dog being shut into a bag, the Dog Robe (www.dogrobes.co.uk) is an alternative. Again made from a modern, fast-drying towelling fabric: it resembles a dressing gown for a dog. You choose a Dog Robe for the precise size of your pet, and at the end of the walk, you put it on your pet in the same way as you'd put on any dog jacket. The towelling absorbs moisture from your dog, protecting your carpets and furniture from the dreaded dog shakes which otherwise scatter droplets of dirty water all around your home. After half an hour in the Dog Robe, most dogs are dry.
Both Doggy Bags and Dog Robes dry easily, so it's easy to have them fresh and ready for use by the following day.
The Paw Plunger (pawplunger.com) is a useful extra for some dogs, especially those with long hair on their lower legs. It's like a large plastic pint glass with a handle, with bristles on the inside. You fill it with warm water, put a lid on it, then push each of your dog's feet into it, one after the other. This gives each foot a thorough cleaning, keeping the muddy water inside the Paw Plunger. This helps to stop muddy footprints all over your home, and it can also be an effective way of helping the common health problem of itchy feet. So-called "pododermatitis" happens when the underside of dogs' feet come into contact with allergens and irritants, often while out on walks. A wash at the end of each walk removes any irritating material, easing that itch.
The last challenging aspect of foul winter weather is the fact that many dogs - especially small dogs with short, fine coats - just don't like going out in it. Much as it may feel like over-humanising an animal to dress them up, there are times when a cosy, water-resistant, insulating jacket has a very useful function. I know some dogs who know this themselves. My own dog Kiko peeks out through the cat flap before making a decision on whether she wants to go outside. If it's wet and windy, she then refuses to go for a walk unless she's wearing her jacket. She has learned that when she is dressed in her fleece-lined coat, she stays warm and comfortable however cold and damp it is outside.
Finally, if the winter weather defeats you, there is one alternative: exercising your dog indoors. You can now buy dog walking machines, originally designed as training devices for racing greyhounds. I know someone who has set up his dog walker treadmill beside his own indoor running treadmill. So he goes for a jog while is dog trots along beside him. Whatever the weather, my friend and his dog enjoy a warm, dry, companionable session of exercise together.