Tricks and activities to help your dog enjoy winter

In the post “How cold is too cold for dogs?” published mid-December, I wrote about the dangers dogs face in the wintertime, including hypothermia and frostbite. Now it’s time to talk about solutions — some easy ways for you to help your pup enjoy the snow and withstand the cold.

oreosnow010213-1Well, when it’s as cold as it is today — a high temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit — don’t even bother. Unless you happen to have an extremely winter-friendly dog (such as a Siberian husky, keeshond or great Pyrenees), I suggest you keep your dog indoors, aside from short bathroom breaks.

This morning, I let my dog Oreo outside to do his business. But instead of going about my morning routine and letting him romp in the yard for a while, I stood watch. Sure enough, he piddled in the snowbank and beelined it back to the door to be let in. Dogs know when it’s too cold for play.

But when the temperature becomes reasonable again (20 degrees F would be nice), there are a few things I’ve discovered that have helped my dog Oreo enjoy the snow-covered yard.

The first thing I can’t take credit for. After our first heavy snowfall this year, my boyfriend, Derek, took out the snowblower (which Oreo believes is some sort of monster) and cleared the driveway. But then he kept going, snowblowing paths throughout our backyard. We now have a circuit around the lilac bush, a side trails to the rosebush and shed, and of course, a path leading to the backdoor. And Oreo actually uses the paths. They allow him to run without getting bogged down, chest deep in snow.

Now, I know Derek wasn’t the first person to think of creating special dog paths with the snowblower, but I’d never seen it before, and I found it exceptionally clever — and thoughtful (brownie points for Derek).

In fact, here is a Youtube video of someone creating a snow maze with a snowblower for their small dog:

This second bit of advice I can’t take credit for either. A reader actually suggested this product to me. Musher’s Secret, a dense wax made to protect your dogs feet from abrasions and cold. It also helps moisturize the footpads. (And Oreo’s feet were getting a bit scratchy.) Developed in Canada for sledding dogs, Musher’s Secret is made from natural, food-grade waxes, which is important because your dogs might lick it off eventually. Anyway, if you’re interested, check it out at musherssecret.net. And if you’re not keen on buying an extra product, a little petroleum jelly will at least soften your dog’s footpads and prevent further cracking during the dry winter months.

Here’s a video about Musher’s Secret made by Steve Snell from Gun Dog Supply:

The third thing I’ve talked about before — doggy clothing and booties. Oreo would not be able to hike with me in the winter without his warm doggy fleeces made by Dogn’i, a Bangor-based business that creates custom dog clothing and accessories. Not only does it help keep him warm for long periods of time, the jacket also protects his chest from being scratched on snow crust and icy underbrush.

oreosnow010213-2If your dog has thick fur, doggy coats don’t make any sense. However, you might be interested to know that a dog needs a well-groomed coat to keep properly insulated, according to the American Kennel Club. Also, long-haired dogs should have the excess hair around their toes and foot pads trimmed to reduced snow and ice buildup.

The fourth thing you may want to consider is feeding your dog more. It takes more energy in the winter to keep body temperature regulated, so additional calories will be important for keeping your dog warm. If you’re outside for a couple hours, bring a snack for your dog and yourself. And it’s also important that you both stay hydrated. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, you need water to keep maintain good circulation.

OK, I’ll end this with a few silly suggestions: 1) Sliding. I’ve seen some dogs that like to slide down hills. Don’t believe me? Look it up on Youtube. There are dogs that have figured out that if they lay on their side, they can slide down hills. 2) Hide and seek. You can hide behind snow, or you can hide dog treats in snow, kinda like an easter egg hunt, but with milk bones. 3) Snow hurdles. Instead of building a fort or snowman, build some hurdles for your dog to jump over.

Here’s one of those dog sliding videos. This one is of two Labrador retrievers
River and Trout at Sugarbush in Warren, Vermont:

If you have any advice about keeping your dog safe, warm and entertained this winter, feel free to post in the comment section below.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.