Just because Winter is here, and you want to stay inside where it’s nice and warm, doesn’t mean your dog does.  A lot of dogs cherish the cold weather. Add a little snow and some dogs just go batty!

We love to walk with our dogs and as much as we enjoy the warm temperatures and the gentle breezes, we like the cold, crisp New England air almost as much. Why, you ask? Are we crazy? Nope, we’re realists. The Winter months mean no bugs. No ticks (well, almost no ticks), and mostly, no mud! Walks in the woods and trails of our area are peaceful respites taken with our hands in our pockets and a warm jacket and hat. The dogs can run to their hearts content and never break a sweat. There are also less people to dodge and those who we do see are of like mind and usually have a dog in tow as well.

There are a few things to be watchful, however. This time of year brings ice. Not only on the paths we walk, but on the many ponds and streams in the area. It’s a safe bet, depending on where in New England you live, that the ice on the pond where you walk is not quite thick enough to walk on. If you are fortunate to have a place where your dog can run off leash, take extra care to not let your dog run out on the ice unless you know it’s safe.  Every year we see on the news a story of a dog who’s fallen through the ice. That is sometimes followed by the story of the person who fell through trying to rescue her dog.  It’s good practice to leash your dog when walking by the water, at least until you’re sure it’s safe.  Now, if the unthinkable happens and your dog does fall through, please think before you rush out onto the ice to save him. If it wasn’t strong enough to hold a dog, what chance do you think you will have?  First, don’t panic. Most dogs can stay in frigid water longer than a human. Did you know that dogs have dew claws for a reason? Believe it or not, in some cases, dogs can get themselves out of the water using their dew claws. Here’s a link to a YouTube video that shows just how important the dew claws are and more importantly, how dogs use them to get out. It’s a little long, but it’s worth watching. (Thanks to Quarter Moon Goldens for the video!)

Let’s say your dog doesn’t have dew claws or he just can’t get back up on the ice. If the dog is close to shore, can you find a big stick to break the ice between the the shoreline and the dog?  How about rocks or logs? Anything that can be used to break the ice so the dog can swim out.  The last thing you want to do is go out on the ice after him. Even if you know the water is not deep, you could still be in trouble due to the extreme cold of the water.  Finally, if your dog can’t get up on the ice and nothing you do helps, it’s time to call 911. It will be very hard to watch your dog flail around in the water, but he can take the cold water for a while. Hopefully, we’ve just scared you enough so you will not let your dog go on the ice until you know it’s safe to do so, right?

This time of year can be a joy to walk your dog. A little common sense, a long lead, warm clothes and a good dog can make an afternoon one to fondly remember.