You take your dog on summer runs and winter walks, so winter runs are basically a combination, right? Well, there are a few extra things to consider for winter dog runs (and they’re good to consider for winter walks, too).
Just to be clear, I’m not a vet or any other kind of animal professional. Actually, this post was partly inspired by a local veterinarian’s talk on winter backcountry first aid for dogs. Quite a bit of the talk applies to front country running, too. I’ve marked information gleaned from his talk with an * (and linked to other sources, per usual).
They have to acclimate too
You know the lung-burning, throat-irritating feeling you have the first few weeks of cold running every year? Your dog feels the same.* Like us, dogs acclimate to cold weather, so within a few weeks you should both feel normal. But of course, take your dog home if she’s coughing or wheezing on a run, and consult with your vet if it seems to be an ongoing issue.
Consider your dog’s insulation
With long fur and a moderately stocky build, my dog thrives in cold weather. She sometimes goes straight out the back door after we come in from a cold run so she can roll around in the snow. Short-haired dogs with low body fat represent the other end of the cold tolerance spectrum. I’ve met dogs like this who have to be coaxed outside just to use the bathroom in the cold – you know your dog best, but my guess is those pups are fair-weather-only runners. But if your dog just needs some extra insulation to be a happy winter runner, look for athletic doggie jackets that are made to keep them warm without overheating.* (We don’t have personal experience with these – so if you have a recommendation, please drop it in the comments!)
Protect the paws
Cleared sidewalks can get much colder than the surrounding snow, so if it’s possible for your dog to run on the snow next to the sidewalk, let them. Another issue is paw snowballs; if you have a longer-haired dog, you probably know what I’m talking about. The snow gets slightly melted and compressed and balls of it cling to the fur between the dog’s pads. If your dog consents to wearing booties, that will take care of the snowballs (as well as providing some insulation from the sidewalks). Kara refuses to wear booties, so I try to remember to use paw wax, which doesn’t always completely prevent the balls, but at least reduces the size. Several brands make paw wax, but it’s actually easy to make yourself too – I used this recipe. If you forget preventative measures, try to stop and check for snowballs every 10 minutes or so, or if you notice a change in your dog’s gait.
Be cautious using a hands-free leash
I always use a hands-free leash for running. I also weigh more than my dog – which means I tend to use my bodyweight as an anchor if I need her to stop quickly. On slick surfaces, though, her claws provide better traction than anything I can put on my feet. So I may think we’re stopping, but suddenly find myself sliding along, pulled on a sort of makeshift dogsled. Yes, that’s the voice of experience…don’t be like me and forget about physics and friction. So keep using your hands-free leash; just be prepared to use your hands in situations that require more control.
Dogs can get hypothermia*
Ideally, you’ll never run long enough in extreme conditions for this to become a concern (for the dog or you). But unforeseen events do happen. Shivering and shallow breathing are some of the first signs of hypothermia in dogs. If you notice these, get your dog to a warm building or vehicle as soon as possible. Use blankets and heating pads if you have them. And of course, get to the vet if the warmth doesn’t have your dog back to normal quickly.
Do you run with your dog year round? Or are one or both of you fair weather runners?
What’s the largest snowball you’ve found attached to your dog? My parents’ dog can acquire baseball-sized ones along his chest….