Essential Winter Tips Every Dog Owner Should Know
Winters in New England are special. There’s so many great winter activities, but there are also many challenges we face every year, especially as dog owners. We need to make sure our four-legged family members are warm and comfortable in the freezing temperatures.
So to help out as many people and dogs as we can, here are some of our favorite tips for surviving and thriving during the winter months.
Table of Contents
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means we may get a commission of any products purchased through these links, at no cost to you.
Keeping warm is the first thing to worry about. Some dogs are specifically bred to live in the worst winter conditions, such as huskies, Samoyeds, malamutes, and similar breeds. In fact, if you were really determined, you could turn a Samoyed's fur into yarn to knit your own cozy socks! If not, cuddling your fluffy dog will also work just as well.
If you don’t own a dog specifically bred for the winter, more attention needs to be given to their warmth and comfort. Short-haired dogs have a higher risk of frostbite and hypothermia, but the risk is still present for most dogs.
Don’t Spend Too Long Outside
Even though dogs have fur, they can still suffer from frostbite. This is especially true around more exposed areas such as their ears and the tip of their tails. Frostbite can occur whenever temperatures are below freezing, but the risk is higher the colder it is. When the cold is extreme, make potty trips outside quickly and only when needed.
For dogs that don’t like the snow, a tried-and-true method is to shovel a path through your yard enough to reveal grass or dirt - whatever your dog is used to using. This will make them feel as comfortable as possible. For dogs that absolutely refuse to relieve themselves outside in the cold, pee pads may be the best solution. This is not recommended for puppies, as it can just reinforce bad habits and delay the potty training process. You should instead focus on desensitizing them to the snow. If not, refusal to go outside may be a lifelong issue.
We highly recommend investing in appropriate winter gear for your pup. That means a winter coat, a sweater, and maybe even a hat. If you’re looking for recommendations, here are a few examples below! Breeds like labs, poodles, greyhounds, and even fluffier ones like corgis, are not bred to survive the intense winter conditions that we experience in New England. Their fur coats are comparable to a light hoodie, perfect for the fall and spring. But more layers are needed for the colder months.
Consider these products:
Essential Paw Protection
Paw protection is especially important when there is ice and salt on the ground, which can damage paw pads. Be sure to clean your dog’s feet after every trip outside. Your dog may become ill if he licks salt off their paws. If your dog has fuzzy feet, consider trimming the fur. Ice balls can form between the pads and toes.
Dog boots and paw ointment are also great solutions for paw protection in the winter. It’s no different than a person wearing gloves and applying lotion. You will likely need to train your dog to wear boots before they become a regular part of your winter routine. This is a process that may take some dogs longer than others, especially if they are not fans of having their paws touched.
To train your dog to wear boots, you may need to first desensitize their paws and then slowly introduce the boots. If they are ok with that, then let your dog sniff the boots and place them next to the food bowl at meal time to create positive associations. Reward your dog with a treat for positive interactions before the boots go on their feet. Then put on one boot and reward them with a treat if they walk around. Then take it off. Repeat this process a few times, slowly adding another boot until all four are on. Remember to be patient and don’t rush the process.
Consider these products:
Spoil Your Dog with a Warm Blanket or Heated Bed
There’s nothing more comfortable than a warm bed on a cold winter night. So give your dog the same experience, especially if they sleep in their own personal space at night (and not in your bed). Piling extra blankets, particularly those with additional insulation, such as Sherpa blankets, is an excellent solution. You could also give your pup a heated dog bed or a heating pad that can go under a bed or blanket. If your dog tends to eat beds and blankets, a potential alternative is a thick crate cover to help keep them toasty. We don’t want them chewing on any wires.
Consider these products:
Winter safety is not just about keeping warm. There are other safety concerns to be mindful of during the season.
Avoid Ice on the Ground
Despite having four legs, dogs are just as susceptible to injuring themselves on slippery surfaces. Dogs can become stressed out and afraid of surfaces where they don’t have any traction. If they do start slipping and sliding, they may suffer from muscle strains and similar injuries as they try to regain their balance. Also, don’t let your dog run off leash across hard surfaces outside, even if they’ve been cleared of snow. There may be patches of thin ice that can also lead to injury. And never, ever let your dog wander into frozen bodies of water. The ice can easily crack and you or your dog can fall into the water.
Properly Store Antifreeze and Other Chemicals
Antifreeze tastes sweet, which makes it dangerous. This sweetness can attract your dog’s curiosity and encourage them to lick it up. But just a small teaspoon is enough to lead to kidney failure. Symptoms of antifreeze ingestion can include:
Drunken behavior (stumbling, loss of balance)
Make sure antifreeze and other chemicals are properly stored away, and watch out for any leaks or spills. In addition, do not let your dog lick up any puddles in the street. There may be chemical residue and runoff due to spills from other people or leaks from a car. Be sure to have an emergency plan in place if the worst were to happen. Always know where your nearest emergency veterinarian is and have their number on hand.
Winter Health, Wellness, and Grooming
Even if your dog does not spend a lot of time outside and gets dirty, it is still important to maintain proper hygiene and health regimens. Cold air can dry out a dog’s skin, eyes, and throat. To help avoid some of this, bathe your pets less often. Dogs have natural protective oils that can reduce their chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If you do need to bathe your dog, you may want to use a dog-friendly moisturizing shampoo to help keep their skin moisturized and itch-free.
If you have a long haired dog, do not shave them down, even if they are developing snowballs on their fur. Instead, ask your groomer for a trim around their legs and torso to minimize this buildup. Dogs rely on their fur to keep warm, even if they have a sweater on. After being shaved, double-coated dogs' fur does not regrow properly, reducing its ability to regulate the dog's body temperature all year. It is also important to maintain a consistent brushing schedule, even for dogs with shorter fur. This will aid in the removal of their summer coat and the growth of a fuller, winter coat.
It is also important to make sure that your dog's ears are clean and dry after playing in the snow or using the bathroom during a storm. Extra moisture can lead to ear infections, especially in hounds and other long eared dogs.
You may also need to adjust your dog’s eating habits during the winter months. Dogs that are exposed to the cold more often will need to eat more, as it takes more calories to regulate body temperature. On the other hand, a dog spending the majority of its time indoors and not being exercised as often may need to eat a bit less food to prevent weight gain. And always make sure your dogs have plenty of water.
Snow Day Fun
Dogs are like children; they both need something to occupy their minds when trapped in the house due to the weather. Otherwise, boredom can lead to a host of unwanted behaviors such as chewing on furniture, excessive barking, attention-seeking, and other signs of restlessness and pent up energy. Unfortunately, dogs can’t read a book or play games on their tablet, so dog owners need to get creative! The only limitation is your imagination, so long as everything is dog-safe.
DIY Puzzles and Scavenger Hunts
One of the best ways to mentally stimulate your dog is by having them solve problems with their noses and brains. Dogs have 40 times the amount of brain space dedicated to processing smells and tens of millions more receptors in their noses. That means that they can use up a lot of mental energy just by smelling stuff. That also means taking advantage of this will go a long way toward keeping your pup occupied when the winter weather is especially bad.
A scavenger hunt is a simple yet effective way to occupy your dog and get them to use their noses. This works well for food motivated dogs, especially scent hounds like beagles, basset hounds, and dachshunds. All you need for this are some high-value treats, or kibble, and hiding places around the house. High-value treats can be pieces of cheese, bacon bits, or whatever else your dog loves.
All you need to do is let them smell it, close them off in another room (or have them stay in one place until you release them), hide the treat, and then let them sniff it out. It may be helpful to make it easy at first to teach them the game, but you can make it progressively more difficult with less obvious hiding places and adding multiple treats to have them distinguish between the scents. If they seem to be getting frustrated, help them out with some hints.
Also, it is important to remember not to place treats where you don’t want them to be, such as on top of countertops or other restricted areas.
You can also use different household items to create your own DIY puzzle toys. The goal of these toys is to have your dog solve a problem and be rewarded with a treat afterwards. For example, using tennis balls to hide treats in a muffin tin. Another easy toy is to fill a clean, empty bottle with treats. You can even adjust difficulty by using bottles with different sized openings - a bigger opening is easier. Check out the video below for more ideas.
If you’re looking to buy your own puzzle toys, there are plenty on the market. The best one for your dog will depend on their temperament. Some dogs get frustrated and will flip or ignore the toys. In that case, a ball shaped toy may work best for you. Breeds that like to dig may like a brick puzzle or a snuffle mat.
Consider these products:
At the end of the day, what some dogs really need is a space to run around, smell stuff, and socialize with their friends. When it is too cold to go to the park or play out in the yard, the best solution is to sign your dog up for doggy daycare! There are some facilities that split their play area between indoors and outdoors, but these may get too cold in the winter to be enjoyable. However, many facilities have a dedicated indoor play area that is perfect for keeping warm and having fun. At Daragan's Dog Care, we have an open play area that is perfect for indoor winter playtime. If you need to get your dog some extra playtime, then sign them up! We would love to have them.