by Julia Levitt of In-Harmony Dog Training

Now I am really scratching my head. January, in addition to being cold, dark and snowy, is also “National Walk Your Dog Month.” I have toy breeds, and sometimes I can’t walk them because the snow is chest deep (for toy breeds that’s only about five inches!) Who said January is the month to be aware of walking your dog? The person who doesn’t have a dog, or the person who lives in a warm climate!

On the flip side of this discussion, January is a great month to get your Nordic breed out and have it pull you through the snow. They love cold weather, but if you don’t have a Nordic breed (Husky, Samoyed, Malamute, Schipperke, Finnish Spitz), exercising in the winter months takes creativity and caution. Though many of us view the winter months as a time to hibernate, our dogs need to get out and exercise.

Let’s prepare for our winter walk. Here’s what we need:

For Humans
david and mordecai walking in snow v 3In addition to the obvious warm jacket and hat, pants should be roomy enough for layering, and gloves should not be too tight. Cleats are important for cold weather walks. Cleats come in different shapes, but their function is the same — to keep us two footed humans vertical. Cleats clip on, or the rubber ones I have slip on to the bottom of my boots. Like so many items, I get mine online and they are under ten dollars a pair. Well worth it considering we cautiously creep along without them.

For Dogs
While I am not an advocate of animals wearing clothing, I find that many dogs need a coat. My greyhound, instead of having the usual 14% body fat of the average dog, had only 7%. So being a devoted owner I knitted her a sweater. Now you can stop laughing — but when I adopted my greyhound not much was available in their size. By size I don’t mean too large or small, but they are long dogs and it was hard to find a coat long enough to go from neck to tail. On very cold days she also wore a sweatshirt under her coat.

How do you gauge if your dog needs a coat? Do not ask the dog “Do you need to wear a coat today?” Try this quick and simple test — take your dog outside in 20-30 degree weather. If your dog immediately starts to shiver — you have your answer. After the walk is very important too. Living in Michigan, our roads and sidewalks are covered in an abundant amount of salt. After each walk I would suggest wiping or washing your dog’s paws. Dog booties have also improved since they were hard inflexible plastic. I have seen them in materials thin like a balloon or fitted to the front and back feet. Not all dogs will wear booties, but they are a good idea if your dog will accept them.

No need for human or canine to let winter keep us inside. With a little preparation, January (or February or March) can be a great dog walking month!

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Ann Arbor Animal Hospital is a locally-owned animal hospital operating for over 90 years in Ann Arbor, MI.