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  • Writer's pictureOllu Dog Wash

Winter Survival Guide for Dog Owners

Minnesota winters can get difficult, especially for dog owners. From the frustrations of dogs refusing to pee in the cold, or numb fingers gripping your leash, to the very real dangers of navigating icy surfaces and protecting your pup from frostbite and hypothermia. Read on to learn everything you need to know to have a safe and active winter with your pup.

Protect those paws!

Dog's feet can take quite the beating in the winter. For longer haired dogs, snow balls can build up on the bottom of their feet and in between their toes, causing discomfort and difficulty walking. Ice can be sharp and cut dogs' paw pads, and the salt used to melt it - well, that is painful to their paws too. Not only that, but the dry air of winter can cause paw pads to become dry and crack more easily. Luckily, there's lots of ways to protect your dogs feet in the winter.

  • Invest in some booties. These protect your dog's feet from ice and salt. If you get the padded kind, it will keep their feet nice and warm too. One of our favorite bootie brands is PAWZ. They're one of the few that our clients tell us will actually stay on their dogs' feet. If you're looking for something warmer though, check out Muttlucks fleece lined boots.

  • Have your dog’s pads shaved regularly. This helps prevent build up of snow that causes those annoying little snow balls. We offer pad shaves with our full service grooming packages, and as a walk in service as long as your dog's feet are clean and dry.

  • Use Musher’s Secret. This stuff is legitimately amazing. It's a wax that you spread on your dog's paw pads, which provides a protective layer and helps keep their paws from drying out. This is the stuff used for sled dogs, so it's perfect for active dogs in cold conditions.

  • Use pet friendly salt. These types of salts contain gentler ingredients that won't irritate your dog's feet as much. They are also less dangerous for your dog if he were to decide he wanted to try some for a snack.

Be safe.

Cold weather isn't just uncomfortable, it can be dangerous. The risks of frostbite and hypothermia are very real, especially if you have a small, elderly, or short coated dog.

  • Bundle up. Coats and booties can be great ways to keep your dog warm, and are essential for short coated dogs in the winter. From fluffy and warm, to thin and waterproof, just about every level of protection you could want is available.

  • Consider all factors. It's not just the temperature that affects how cold your dog feels. If it's cloudy and wet, and if your dog is not being active, he will feel colder even if the temperature hasn't dropped. Size, coat thickness, and age of your dog will also affect how well cold is tolerated.

  • Be vigilant. Know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite, and don't leave your dog unattended so that you can spot any red flags before it's too late. Frostbite is most common on the paws, tail, and ears and signs include bluing or blackening skin, swelling, and pain. If your dog is sluggish, has dilated pupils, or an increase heart rate followed by slow heart rate, he probably has hypothermia and should be taken indoors immediately. If your dog is showing signs of either frostbite or hypothermia it is important to contact your vet.

Wear proper gear.

If you're going to be out with your dog, it's important to protect yourself from the elements too. Frostbite and hypothermia can just as easily get us humans, plus not being properly dressed for the temperature is just plain miserable.

  • Layer it up. You'll be surprised how much a pair of long underwear or a thermal shirt under your normal winter gear can keep you so much warmer. If you're able to invest in wool, the stuff is amazing! It's moisture wicking, odor resistant, and keeps you insanely warm with only a thin layer. There's a reason that Scandanavians are in love with it!

  • Cover your face. Especially when it's windy, covering your face is a must. If you've never heard of a balaclava, now's the time to google it. If you can get a wool one, all the better! If a balaclava is not your style, wrap your face with a nice big scarf and pull your hat down so that only your eyes are showing. Not the most stylish, perhaps, but it'll protect you from frostbite.

  • Ice grips for feet. Once you're bundled up, it's important to protect yourself from falling in icy conditions. Winter ice and a pulling dog is scary combination. On the super slick days, try using ice grips for your boots. There's lots of different styles, but these are some of our favorites because they stay on well and provide really good grip.

Pee Problems.

We all know the frustration when your dog, who usually pees outside on command, now stands shivering by the door, refusing to do her business in the cold. Here's a few ideas to help get back to business in the winter months.

  • Try using high value treats. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It's time to pull out something that your dog loves but hardly ever gets. Perhaps cheese, meat or a specialty wet dog food.

  • Shovel a path and make a clear area for them to do their business. Sometimes if they don't have to walk or squat in the snow, they're more willing to be outside.

  • Bundle up your dog with a coat and booties if you haven’t tried it already.

  • Go for a walk. Sometimes a little movement will warm them up and get their bowels moving. Or if you have a male dog they may feel the need to mark on fire hydrants or trees during their walk. Whatever works to get that pee out, right?

  • Try creating a warmer microclimate in your yard or on a balcony. Blocking wind and having heat absorbing material, like cement or rock, can help create a slightly warmer area in your yard. The ideal set up is having southfacing wall or other surface to absorb heat from the sunlight, combined with something to block the wind on the north side. This can be enough to take the edge of the cold, and extend your dog's outdoor pee season a bit.

  • If all else fails, use a pee pad in your garage or in your house and count the days until spring!

Don’t let the darkness stop you.

One of the challenges of Minnesota winters is that it gets dark so early. By the time you’re home from work and have your dog leashed up, it’s pitch black outside. If you’re in a safe enough area, don’t let this stop you and your pup from getting some exercise.

  • Invest in reflective gear. Reflective leashes, harnesses, collars, and a vest for yourself will help you stay safe on the road. You can even use a bike light and attach it to you or your dog for extra visibility. Stunt Puppy, a local collar and leash company, has a great line of reflective gear.

  • Practice safety. If you live in an area that's unsafe to walk in after dark, try walking with a group of friends or driving to safer areas. Carry pepper spray and brush up on self-defense if needed. Never walk your dog at the expense of safety!

  • Stay close to home. If you're still worried about safety, stay in your yard, but get some glow in the dark toys for a game of fetch. This is a good way to give your dog exercise and get some fresh air yourself.

Indoor energy burning.

On those million-below-zero-wind-chill days, where being outside for more than five minutes at a time is unsafe, don’t just throw in the towel. There are still fun ways to use some of your dog’s energy and engage his brain indoors so he doesn’t go completely insane.

  • Treasure hunt. Hide treats or toys around the house and have your dog search for it. It may take a little training before they get the idea, but that's just another way to engage their brain!

  • Obstacle course. Put chairs in a row to crawl under, a pile of pillows to jump over, or a "maze" of objects to weave through. Have fun, and if you have kids get them involved too!

  • New tricks. Even if your dog is old, you can still teach her new tricks! If you're running out of trick ideas, check out this list.

  • Play chase. Again, this could get energy out of cooped up kiddos too!

  • Brain toys. There are some pretty fun puzzle toys for dogs out there. Nina Ottosson and Trixie have some awesome options!

  • Doggy day care. If your dog really needs to let loose some energy, try taking him to a doggie day care. They have large indoor rooms where they can run and romp with other pups. If you don't regularly take your dog to daycare, many day cares have options where you pay for one day or even by the hour. We're right next door to Ruff Love Dogs and have heard great things about them!

Since Minnesota winters last about half the year, finding ways to get outdoors and stay active with your dog is essential to staying (mostly) sane. We hope these tips help you and your dog to not only survive, but thrive, through what can be a tough season.

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