Avoid canine cabin fever with these winter dog walking tips

Guest post by Leah D.
Avoid canine cabin fever with these winter dog walking tips
Dobermann winter jacket from WufWufStore

It’s wintertime where I live. In case you’re like me, and you are trying to avoid canine cabin fever for as long as possible, here are some tips to make sure your pup is happy and healthy during the winter walking season.

1. Paw protection

Dog paws are not impervious barriers to winter cold, chemicals, and other nuisances. Snowmelt chemicals can cause paw irritation and toxicity if the dog licks their paws, and cold sidewalks can cause chaffing and cracking. Dog paw protection is a must for winter walks…

For my dogs, high quality boots were a necessity. I like the Grip Trex by Ruffwear (and am currently trying out the Summit Trex model to see if it keeps snow out of the boot better). I’ve also read many positive reviews for the Muttluk’s All Weather or Fleece-lined dog boots. Yes, $40-70 bucks is a lot to spend on dog boots but they are a worthy investment. I’ve put my dog’s Grip Trex boots through three winter seasons and besides protecting my pups’ paws flawlessly, they still look brand new. Cheaper alternatives aren’t going to do the job and probably won’t last as long.


Dog boots tip #1: You’ve really got to get the right size so the boots don’t come off easily but are still comfortable. Measure your dog’s feet according to the manufacturer’s instructions several times to ensure accuracy. And definitely check out the seller’s return/exchange policy before purchasing in case you need a different size anyway!

Dog boots tip #2: As with any new pet accessory or device, you have to introduce boots slowly and positively. Not many pups are going to be overly thrilled about having boots on for the first time in their lives, but (in my experience) they forget about their footwear disdain when they discover how much more comfortable they are outdoors.

While you’re introducing your dog to the wonderful world of dog boots (or if your dog just really isn’t going for shoes), there are several things you can do to keep your pup’s paws as comfortable as possible in the meantime!

  • First, trim the fur between your dog’s paw pads. This will keep the fur from matting and clumping around snow, ice and snowmelt chemicals.
  • Next, use a paw salve like Musher’s Secret Pet Paw Protection Wax or petroleum jelly to moisturize and minimally protect your pup’s paws from the element.
  • Finally, thoroughly wipe your dog’s paws with a washcloth after every outside excursions, being sure to get in between the paw pads.

2. Coat protection

Depending on how cold it gets where you live, or if you have a short-haired, elderly, young, or ill dog, a dog coat is also a great investment. There are some pretty hardcore coats on the market from brands like Ruffwear or Hurtta that will set you back $40-90 and some less impervious dog sweaters from other retailers like Target or Petco for about $20. A wet coat isn’t going to do your pup much good, so if your area experiences severe weather during the winter, opt for a more expensive, waterproof winter coat. If you’re just combating the cold and can avoid rain/snow/sleet all of the time, a cheaper dog sweater might cut it.

Cold, dry winter air is as rough on your dog’s skin as it is on your skin! Ask your vet if an omega-3 supplement could help keep your dog’s skin moisturized and healthy during the winter months (and beyond!). Lastly, it’s a good idea to wipe off your dog’s legs and underbelly after walks just like paws. You may even want to bring a towel with you during walks to remove snowmelt products or snow/ice from your dog’s coat and feet immediately.

3. Keep your dog on leash with a harness

Although hazards for off-leash dogs exist in abundance year-round, winter poses some particular risks for un- or under-supervised dogs. Toxic substances like snowmelt chemicals and antifreeze abound, and if your dog is zooming around off leash, you may not notice her gulp some rock salt or take a lick of an antifreeze spill. Chucks of ice, asphalt liberated from the street by snow plows and sticks are also items your pup shouldn’t ingest but might if left to her own devices. So play it safe and keep your dog on leash.

Clipping a leash to a neck collar is not an optimal way to walk your dog at any time of year because it puts strain on the dog’s neck, leading to breathing problems and eye issues as the result of increased intracranial pressure. It’s also, like, the least efficient way to control your dog’s position in space, which can really be an issue in winter when ground conditions aren’t ideal. Opt for a front-clip harness like the Easy Walk harness and carry a small bag of dog kibble with your to keep your pup by your side during distracting events.

4. Keep it short

No amount of gear and preparation will wholly protect your pup from winter hazards, so keep walks short by breaking your usual walking time into two or three shorter components that are spaced out over the day. Monitor your dog for signs of real discomfort, frost bite or hypothermia. Frostbitten skin will most common occur on extremities like the ears, tails and toes and can look pale or red, painful or numb, and swollen. If your dog is exhibiting shallow breathing or disorientation, get your dog inside immediately and check for a slow pulse — these are all signs of hypothermia and your dog should be taken to a vet ASAP.

What are YOUR suggestions for walking in a winter wonderland… with your pup?

Comments on Avoid canine cabin fever with these winter dog walking tips

  1. I swear by the easy walk harness. Love it! It is hard to find in the tween sizes, though.
    I’m lucky that I live in Arizona now, but last year’s polar vortex weather in the Northeast was a killer. I invested in the boots, but my pup LOVED the snow on her paws and would *always* get them off. We ended up keeping a warm damp washcloth by the door to wipe her paws when we got in. And always check for those chemical snow melt pellets – they love to get stuck in the pads. 🙁

    • The Easy Walk harness is the BEST! I love the front clip, and it has two different buckles so it’s super easy to take on and off.

      Where we live, winters aren’t cold but they are WET. And our dog looooves to drink gutter water (what a majestic creature -_-). An added benefit of the front clip harness is I can easily pull the leash to turn her around when she runs to drink from tasty-gross gutters.

  2. I struggle with my dog’s energy in the winter. I have two small dogs. One is a fluffy guy and he loves the snow. The salt does irritate his paws but we use Mushers secret and he gets by. But my other guy is 8# and has hardly any fluff so keeping him warm is a challenge! Unfortunately, he is also the one with the most energy! Anyone have a suggestion on a great winter coat for a tiny skinny dog? I have tried a couple different ones that were in the 40-50 buck range, but they never fit his tiny body quite right and he ends up peeing on them. 🙁

    • The ones made of impervious material (like a rain jacket) will probably be your best bet. Ones with velcro closures are good too, because they can easily be fitted to a skinny dog
      My sister has a teacup yorkie (~4 lbs) and this is what she uses for her tiny dog. The dog loves to go outside in the winter and bark at icicles, so this winter coat helps keep the dog comfortable.

  3. Ooh, thanks for the tip about the paw protection wax! We haven’t been successful with getting our dog to wear shoes (she only begrudgingly wears a coat), so I think this should be a big help.

    • I use Musher’s Secret on my dog’s paw pads, and it works pretty well instead of boots! Being a corgi mix, he has wonky front legs so it’s near-impossible finding boots that fit properly, and this stuff does the trick.

  4. A harness, collar, and/or leash that is reflective is important for us, in addition to our own reflective gear. The daylight hours are so short in the northern states this time of year that we often have no choice but to walk in the dark or in fog. I haven’t tried boots, but I’ve been thinking about it as our dog requires long walks. Thanks for the timely info.

  5. I am super thankful for my tiny backyard and that my dog loves running tight little circles in the snow! When there is a lot of snow, it’s better exercise for her to do zoomies and acrobatic jumps around the backyard than with me trudging through the snow with her on a walk. After losing 10 or so tennis balls in the snow, I got some lighter rubber or plastic-type toys in bright colors to make them easier to find in the snow. So I bundle up and go out there to toss toys around for her instead of our normal walk.

    When it was super cold, she would lift her paws up off the ground, which was a pretty good indicator that it was too cold for her outside. That was another perk of having an enclosed space- we are always close enough for when it suddenly gets too cold. On the days when she goes potty and then runs to be let back inside, we play games inside. Tossing a few pieces of dog food up the stairs or across the room is her favorite game. I also primarily use the food puzzles or balls when it’s cold to make her work for her food and get a little more mental stimulation.

    • When there’s snow on the ground I just toss snowballs to my pup. He loves it, and if he doesn’t find them, well, there’s plenty of snow to make more!

  6. Because Tesla is a pit mix socialization from an early age has been a huge priority. He’s been going to daycare once a week since he graduated from puppy play group at four months old. Now that it’s winter I’m really appreciating the day of daycare every week, because it gives him a chance to get a lot of energy out. It makes up for the days when it’s too nasty out to do more than a couple of loops around the neighborhood.

    We also do a lot of playing fetch down the hallway, and mini training sessions.

    • Doggie in the middle! Requires 2 people tossing a toy back and forth to each other, and the dog follows the toy. And obviously they get the toy while it’s still fun before they get frustrated or bored.

      Sometimes my dog will chase the laser with the cat. And what really works to get her energy out is to toss a few pieces of dog food up the stairs, then call her back down, repeat.

      I don’t know what is in your area, but some pet stores or dog trainers host indoor “doggie play dates.” So if your dog likes playing with other dogs, that could be an option.

      It doesn’t get AS cold where I am, but these worked for us on the couple days when it was just too cold to exercise her outside.

  7. One of my neighbors has a couple of tiny dogs. He got some knitted booties for fall, which are completely adorable! But I have a feeling that when winter comes, he will have to get something more substantial.
    Etsy has some great, afforadble, options for winter gear for your pets.

  8. My Puggle, Rosalind, loves snow! But last winter made even my sweet girl hate going outside because it was SO COLD for so many months. She was scared of some of the slickest ice, so I carried her across roads and sidewalks (she’s thirty pounds, that was not easy) when she whimpered at them. One time, she stepped onto the ice with her front paws, then backed up and sat up in the snowbank like a prairie dog, asking to be carried. I need to create a hole for her harness in her insulated coat so we can safely go on walks.

  9. I just wanted to add that it’s so important to introduce boots properly! We bought them for our terrier when I was a kid and we’d first moved to a snowy country. We put them on him and expected to just go for a walk – nope. He wouldn’t move, it was like he had lost all leg function. It was hilarious, but not the ideal result.

    With my current pup, I introduced them super, super slowly and made a HUGE fuss over every little step. (There’s some amazing training videos online! That’s what I used.) First it was just showing her the boots, then putting one on, give treats, lots of praise, take it off. Then we’d go outside the next time, more treats, etc. until we worked our way up to all 4 boots. It worked really well and she was such a good girl about it – plus she’d get all excited when the boots came out, because she knew it meant going outside.

  10. I have a Siberian husky in Chicago and it’s never too cold for her! She positively vibrates with happiness when the temps get below O*F. I wear two down coats and two pairs of gloves so she gets an hour walk no matter the weather. We do use the Musher’s Paste sometimes when the salt builds up too much on the sidewalk. The Easy Walk harness is also a must since she pulls like crazy. The rescue organization we adopted her from specified that is all we are allowed to use. She doesn’t really like wearing it so we made some fleece tubes for the strap that goes under her chest so it doesn’t cut into her as much.

  11. This more than any other factor has been my reason for putting off acquiring a dog. Which gives me the sads. I have Fibromyalgia and my iteration of it means that cold causes me bone shaking amounts of pain. Is anyone else in this boat? Do you have advice? It was something like -10 F today, I don’t have the slightest idea how to work around this and I have wanted a dog for years and I’m finally in a semi stable place where I might be able to have one.

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