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How to cope with the winter "walk balk"

Posted by The Lazy Dog Cookie Co on

How cold is too cold for my dog?

Does my dog need a coat? 

Should I feed my dog more when it's cold?

How can we get exercise when it's ugly outside?


It happens with even the hardiest and furriest of our four-footed friends. Sometimes it’s just too darned cold to want to go outside.

Even though they have built-in coats, dogs can suffer in cold weather. It’s pretty easy to see when your dog is starting to be uncomfortable. He’ll shiver, look anxious, whimper, whine or bark at you, lift his paws awkwardly or refuse to walk. He might try to climb up your leg. He might even try to hide under cars or bushes seeking shelter. If he’s been out too long, he might show signs of hypothermia ranging from weakness and shivering to inaudible heartbeat and trouble breathing.

Who feels it most?

There are certain breeds that really need an extra layer of warmth when the temperature dips. Small, light-bodied, lean, short-coated breeds - such as whippets, French bulldogs, greyhounds, chihuahuas, terriers, miniature pinschers - will not cope well with frigid temperatures. Short-legged or toy breeds who have to wade or jump through snow will get chilled and tired quickly.

Northern breeds with thick, layered coats like Huskies, Pomeranians, Chow Chows and Newfoundlands can tolerate cold better. On cold, bright days, darker dogs have an advantage over pale-colored dogs because they absorb the warmth of the sun better. Regardless of breed or coat length, dogs that are not used to cold will feel it more painfully. A Malamute raised in Florida will become uncomfortable sooner than one from Alaska.

Aside from breed, age and health play a factor in how well a dog can stand the cold. Puppies, elderly and chronically ill dogs - especially those with heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes - dogs recovering from injuries, dogs with diseases that slow down hair growth (Cushing’s, hypothyroidism) and dogs that have been clipped close or shaved will most especially need a sweater or jacket in very cold weather.

How cold is too cold?

When it is damp, foggy or windy your dog will feel colder than the temperature that shows on the thermometer, just as you do. Dogs can warm themselves up with exercise, but if they are just going outside to relieve themselves and stand to wait to be let back in, they will feel the cold more keenly. Watch your dogs closely to understand their limits.

  • 55°F to 60°F - Comfortable for dogs of all sizes
  • 45°F to 50°F - Danger unlikely, but the smallest and most vulnerable dogs could be at slight risk with prolonged exposure
  • 30°F to 40°F - Potentially unsafe for prolonged exposure, especially for small and medium breeds. Limit exposure and provide warmth and shelter.
  • 25°F - Dangerous for small and medium breeds to be out for long periods; slighter danger for large breeds. Extra care should be taken to protect young, small, sickly or thin-coated dogs.
  • 20°F or below - Potentially life-threatening with prolonged exposure. Special measures should be taken for all breeds to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.

What to Wear?

Measure your dog’s neck, chest and the distance from the neck to the waist before choosing clothing. You want sweaters that are snug enough that the dog can’t pull them off easily, drag them along the ground or catch them on branches and shrubs. Of course, it can’t be so tight that it binds the dog uncomfortably or is a struggle to take on and off. Wool is a great insulator, but if you think anything your dog wears will need to be washed a lot, synthetic blends will dry more quickly and with less shrinkage.

As cute your new sweater or jacket may be, it’s important to remember to take it off when the dogs come inside to avoid chafing, overheating and snagging.

Avoid chemicals on your walks

If possible, try not to walk your dog in places that have been treated heavily with road salt and de-icer. These can irritate and even burn dog feet. When dogs lick at their paws to clean them or comfort themselves, they can ingest these potentially poisonous chemicals. For the same reason, don’t let your dog drink from melted puddles along public sidewalks or anywhere else that might have been treated with ice melter.

More about the paws

Cold, snow, ice and salt can make puppy feet tender, scalded and cracked. If you’ve tried booties or socks and can’t get your dog to walk, you can always minimize the discomfort by rubbing on a protective barrier - such as petroleum jelly or Bag Balm - before you go out. Keep an old washcloth near the door to wipe the paws when you come back in to wipe off the salt and balm.

Long toenails can make it hard for dogs to keep their balance on the ice. Keep the claws clipped, and make sure the fur between the pads isn’t thick enough to form painful balls of snow and ice.

Feeding for Warmth

Because thinner dogs feel more cold, it makes a certain amount of sense to feed your dog more in the winter to fatten them up. Not really.

In fact, if your dog is begging to come in shortly after he does his business, he could be burning fewer calories. Due to genetic adaptation, a dog’s metabolism slows as the days get shorter, promoting the deposition of fat.

If your dog is not staying outside for long periods or getting lots and lots of exercise, you may need to actually cut back on the amount of food your dog gets each day. The health risks of being overweight far outweigh the benefit of having extra calories to burn.

Winter ways to keep Fido fit

  • Arrange your schedule to take more frequent, shorter walks.
  • If you let your dog out into a fenced in yard, just be sure not to forget that he’ll need to come in to get warm sooner.
  • Create an obstacle course indoors and work on obedience training with your dog.
  • Play fetch on a staircase (make sure the dog’s toenails are clipped to prevent slipping and injury.)
  • Train your dog to walk on a treadmill (always with supervision.)

The best winter dog treats

If your dog spends time in the cold outdoors and gets a healthy amount of exercise, he’ll need “warming foods.” Look for ingredients that support metabolism and circulation and offer a higher level of protein and complex carbohydrates.

Some ingredients to look for:

Peanut Butter High in Protein, Biotin and natural oils that help lubricate joints (Biotin promotes healthy skin and shiny coat): I Ruff You Pup-PIE, Peanut Butter Banana Pup-PIE, Carob Peanut Butter Pup-PIE, Sniffer Nutters, Barkin For Bananas, Frost Bites, Howlin' the Blues, Birthday and Adoption Pup-PIEs, Operation Drool Overload

Unsweetened coconut Coconut contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which have been shown to help increase the liver’s efficiency at metabolizing energy: Frost Bites

Sweet potato High in fiber and offer amino acids and antioxidants: Sweet Puptato Pies, Sniffer Nutters, Operation Drool Overload

Carob Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 & D and they also inactivate harmful toxins in the intestinal tract (Iron is critical for healthy red blood cells and is an essential component of some enzymes - Magnesium interacts with Calcium to provide proper heart, muscle and nervous tissue function - Vitamins B-1, B-2 & B-3 help convert food into energy): Carob Peanut Butter Pup-PIE

Molasses Full of minerals and other nutrients, proven effective at combating both acute and chronic ailments: Pumpkin Gingrrs, I Ruff You Pup-PIE, Homestyle Pumpkin Pup-PIE, Chow Chow MEIN, Carob Peanut Butter Pup-PIE, Peanut Butter Banana Pup-PIE, Frost Bites, Birthday and Adoption Pup-PIEs, Jingle Jangle Gingrr-breads, Buy a Bone Help Give a Dog a Home, Sweet Puptato Pies, Yappin' over Apple

Pumpkin High in antioxidants and great for digestion: Pumpkin Gingrrs, Homestyle Pumpkin Pup-PIE, I Ruff You Pup-PIE, Chow Chow MEIN, Peanut Butter Banana Pup-PIE, Jingle Jangle Gingrr-breads, Buy a Bone Help Give a Dog a Home

Oat Flour Rich in B vitamins & minerals and an easily digestible carbohydrate source (Carbohydrates are a great source of readily available energy): Barkin For Bananas, Homestyle Pumpkin Pup-PIE, Chow Chow MEIN, Howlin' the Blues, Yappin' over Apple, Carob Peanut Butter Pup-PIE, Pizza Crust Bites, Strawberry Smoochies, Mutt Mallows, Frost Bites, Birthday and Adoption Pup-PIEs

Cinnamon May help protect against arthritis: Buy a Bone Help Give a Dog a Home, Birthday and Adoption Pup-PIEs, Peanut Butter Banana Pup-PIE, Carob Peanut Butter Pup-PIE, Frost Bites, Homestyle Pumpkin Pup-PIE, I Ruff You Pup-PIE