History is full of famous snow dogs, who have defied the elements to perform amazing journeys or rescue stranded travellers. But when it comes to winter, our own pampered pets are not quite as well prepared, this is where dog training sessions can come in handy. So, what do we need to do to look after our own dogs in the snow and what are the dangers to look out for?
Some dogs are bred for the snow and can go long periods and cover vast distances in the very coldest weather. Sled dogs, such as huskies, have been used for thousands of years in the Arctic regions, and are still used to this day in places like Greenland and Alaska. There is a world sledding championship held every two years, and it was even a demonstration event at the 1932 Olympics.
Perhaps the most famous snow dogs of them all are the St Bernards, who have been bred to help rescue people stuck in the snow on the French-Italian border since the 17th century. The last recorded rescue was in 1955, but they are still kept as pets by the local monks. Sadly, there is no evidence that they ever carried a small barrel of brandy round their necks!
By contrast, our domestic dogs here in Britain are not bred for the winter weather at all, and so we need to be very careful when it comes to the coldest days. Most British dogs are house dogs and are used to the same warmth and comfort that we enjoy ourselves. Even long-haired breeds will struggle when the temperature drops, so you need to take steps to look after them.
Short-haired dogs will need more winter care than long haired breeds, and you should invest in a coat for them for the coldest weather. You should also take extra care with shorter, smaller dogs, who will be closer to the frost and snow, as well as puppies, who don’t have the body mass they need to produce enough heat. Even long-haired dogs can get ice in their paws and snow in their coats, reducing the effect of their fur.
There’s nothing more heart-warming than watching your dog frolicking in the snow, especially if they have never seen it before. But you need to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get too cold. Hypothermia can be very serious, and even fatal if it goes untreated. Therefore, ensure your dog has completed full dog obedience training to ensure they will always come back to you. A good rule is that when you have had enough and are ready to head home for a warm by the fire, then your dog probably is too. Look out for shaking or shivering, reluctance to move, whining or a tense, uncomfortable posture, especially in older animals who maybe feeling the cold in their joints.
Once you are back home, you need to dry your dog thoroughly and clean their paws to remove ice balls between their toes as well as any toxic winter chemicals like anti-freeze or salt from the gritters. You don’t want them licking or chewing at these substances as even a small amount of antifreeze can be fatal. You should keep your dog indoors in between walks, with a warm, comfortable place to sleep, making sure that radiators and fires are protected so you dog doesn’t get too close and burn themselves. Generally, a dogs intuition kicks in around hot areas, however dog training classes are always a preferred option. Very short haired dogs, such as greyhounds and whippets may even need to wear their winter coats indoors.
Of course, the best way to keep beat the cold with your dog is to enjoy a cuddle on the couch. Curled up and cosy, you’ll both stay toasty and warm and share some special time together into the bargain.