A Dog Owner’s Guide to Surviving Winter’s Perils

There are many reasons why I love my Westchester County home. The ice storm phenomenon is not one of them.

I love snow in all its forms—snowball snow, sledding snow, stick-to-the-trees-and-take-a-million-photos snow. The past month has been one photo-op after another: Boulder, our good-natured German Shepherd, wearing a sled harness and pulling the kids around the neighborhood. Click! Whoopsie, treat-focused as always, with her butt in the air and her head in the snow, searching for buried treasure. Click! My kids, sleepy, calm and cooperative after hours of outdoor play, curled up by the fire with mugs of hot chocolate. Click! Click! Click!

But recently, we’ve had what the weather reporters euphemistically call “a wintery mix.” It amounts to a 3-inch layer of impermeable, impassable, impossibly treacherous ice that has kept us all indoors. And I mean seriously indoors. Not even a quick foray to the coffee shop. The word “confinement” comes to mind.

As often happens during periods of boredom, all eyes turn to me. “Entertain us!” these eyes say. And so we watched a few movies. We baked, played board games and did some crafts. We blew up balloons for Lindsay’s upcoming birthday party. Two-year old librarian-in-training Bohdie removed all the books from the shelves and replaced them in a surprisingly orderly way.

For Whoopsie and Boulder, nearly 200 pounds of pent-up canine energy, I invented a few silly pet tricks. They jumped over my prone children. They delivered kindling to fire starter-in-chief, Roman. They ate a lot of dog biscuits. Life is, after all just a passage of time. As long as we’re united, there is peace—mostly—in the kingdom.

Interestingly, my dog training business and online consultation forum has been buzzing. Dog owners are facing the challenges of bored, housebound dogs and are seeing an increase in destructive chewing and house soiling accidents. Seasonal and weather-related questions have increased, too. Hour-long leash walking sessions are on the rise. The simple acts of going outside and existing together are now fraught with new concerns and frustrations.

My column now features a question-and-answer format every other week. You can post your questions to this column in the comment box. I'll respond to them each week. I will continue to share my stories every other week, but alternate them with "Ask the trainer" columns, in which I will devote my entire column to reader questions.

Meanwhile, here are your answers to a quick list of popular queries this time of year:

Ice cuts

Ice cuts are one of the top reasons dogs end up in the veterinary emergency room. Shards of ice and crusted snow can cut a paw right down to the bone. Even under white, fluffy snow, the danger lurks underneath. Limit bounding and racing if at all possible. Keep your dog on a leash and walk on well-trodden paths and shoveled driveways. Boring but safer.

Salt

Road salt stings and when it contacts cracked, winter-dry paws, you’ve got a painful predicament. Your dog’s solution? Lick, lick, lick…sodium and chemical additives be darned. Use dog-safe ice melt or sand at home and keep a bucket of water handy to rinse your dog’s feet after a walk on suspect roads.

Paw care

Fuzzy-footed dogs get snow encrusted between their paws. Picking or pulling at these ice balls is painful; better to let them melt. Add a squirt of Dawn® dish detergent to a bucket of warm water and dip your dog’s paws. Carefully trim back the hair on your dog’s feet until it’s level with the paw pads. Consider buying booties for your dog. Not all dogs love the booties, this is true. But if your dog will wear them, it makes winter walks a pleasure.

Bathroom breaks

Winter housebreaking issues are a big topic in my business. Puppies loose focus, older dogs regress, accidents happen. During the winter, create a potty area very close to the house. Make a path and clear an area of snow for ease of use. Use sand to make the area slip-free and keep it picked up.