Winter tips for your dog
Many people look forward to the cooler weather and dark cosy nights, while others cannot wait for Spring again. Here are some ideas to help make Winter a breeze for you and your dog.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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What can you do to help your dog?
Warmer walks: keep your dog warm on a walk. Think about the length of your dog’s coat. Perhaps you can ask the groomer to leave it longer or not get them clipped as often? Do you have a puppy, a small breed, like a Chihuahua, a toy terrier, a short-haired dog or a very lean dog, such as a Whippet or Greyhound, dog with a thin coat or an older dog? These individuals typically feel the cold more than other dogs. See if they will tolerate wearing a coat. Try to ensure that their coat stays dry. Put on coats just before going outside. Long haired dogs may actually be cooler with a coat on because their hair traps air, which helps to insulate and keeps them warm. Squashing their coat down may not enable so much warm air to be held within the hair.
Some dogs need training to get them used to wearing a coat. You can start by rewarding them with treats the first few times you put their coat on. Some dogs refuse to move once they have a coat on. This may be because they do not like the feeling, or it affects their natural movement. Try scatter feeding so that they have to move around to find the treats on the ground. Use this technique each time their coat goes and they should soon be happy to wear it. Don’t forget to reduce their food portion or take the treats out of their food allowance.
Visibility: make sure both you and your dog can be seen easily on a walk. There are lots of useful high-viz items available to buy for you and your pets. Reflective collars and collars with lights will help your dog to be seen at all times.
Clean and dry: after your dog has been out for a walk, use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down their feet, legs and stomach. Check between their toes for dirt and debris, or compacted ice and snow. Salt from the road can irritate their skin and paws, so remember to rinse it off with warm water and dry them thoroughly afterwards. Try carefully clipping the hair between their toes, if needed, to stop grit and ice accumulating. Matted hair and ice can be painful for your dog; if necessary, discuss this with your groomer.
Calories: don’t forget that dogs may be exercising less during the winter months, or not as active as normal. Consider reducing their calorie intake, or portion sizes, especially if you also use food games and training treats to keep them entertained.
Pain: older dogs, especially those with joint pain, can struggle more in the cooler, damper weather. If you are concerned that your dog is slowing down or seems painful, please contact your vet or make an appointment with one of the FirstVet vets to discuss this. Make sure that older dogs do not slip as this will cause discomfort; try to keep their nails and the hair under their feet clipped short. Read more about older dogs and dogs with arthritis.
Frozen ponds: we would recommend keeping all dogs on the lead around frozen watercourses. Ensure that your dog does not walk on the ice to prevent them slipping or falling into the water.
Blizzards: snow storms can make finding your way home hard. Go for shorter walks and stay safe. Only let your dog off the lead if they have good recall. Entertain your dog at home if needed.
Cars and travel: never leave your dog in a car in cold conditions as their body temperature will drop very quickly.
Heat sources: if your dog has difficulty staying warm during the Winter weather try moving their bed closer to a radiator. Take care to check that they don’t overheat! Also ensure that they sleep in a draft free area with a thick blanket to provide extra insulation. You could invest in a Snugglesafe, which is heated in the microwave and stays warm for up to 10 hours. Petsavers make a heat pad that can be plugged in at home or in the car, and can be used for dogs who are not likely to chew the cables. Consider buying your dog a jumper to wear when they are inside to keep them warmer if needed.
Meal times: make them more entertaining by putting their normal food in a KONG. This can also be frozen so that they enjoy it for longer. If it is not too cold outside, scatter part of their food on your patio or lawn, and let them sniff around looking for it. Or, try hiding food in several locations around the garden and let them hunt for it. Ready made activity feeders include Activity balls, Puzzle Balls, Buster Cubes and Havaballs. There are many other ideas for making your own version online.
Games and training: keep your dog entertained at home or during shorter walks by using the time to work on their training, or to teach them new tricks. Dogs can be masters at using their noses but sometimes we have to spend a bit of time teaching them how to use one of their best senses. Humans have approximately six million olfactory receptors, whereas dogs have up to 300 million. The part of their brain that analyses smells is 40 times bigger than ours! This is the reason why dogs can be trained to find illegal drugs, people and even certain diseases. With time and patience you can teach your dog how to use their best sense and make it fun at the same time.
Three games to make Winter days more fun
1. Find the food - this is a simple game to start with. It teaches your dog how to use their nose and to start thinking about searching for things. When your dog is out of the room, start by placing one or two treats in a room, in full view, then call in your dog. Your dog will find and eat the treats, and then start looking for more. Repeat the process on a different day but make it a little bit harder for them. Start by placing them out of view, or in less obvious places, and then let them search for them when they come back into the room. Vary where treats are hidden and what treats are used. Try hiding a KONG occasionally too, or playing the game outside, so that they have to walk around more whilst searching
2. Pick the hand - for this game you will need a treat that is tasty and strong smelling; chicken or turkey, or even a very small bit of cheese may work better than their normal food. Put a piece in the palm of your hand and make a loose fist around it. Offer your dog your fist and say “find it”. Let them sniff, and when they sniff your hand, offer them the treat. Repeat this a few times. Then make it a bit harder by having both fists present but only a treat in one. Move your hands from side to side and then ask your dog to “find it” without letting them see which hand you put the treat in. When they sniff the hand containing the treat, reward them by opening your hand and giving them the treat. Once they understand the game, you can add in friends and family members. Start by adding one person at a time, and keep it fun for your dog.
3. Pick the cup - this game builds on the skills that your dog learnt during the ‘pick the hand’ game. Use four dog-friendly plastic beakers or containers that cannot be knocked over easily. Ask your dog to sit in front of you whilst you place one of them on the floor. Put a treat underneath one cup then move it back and forth. Then ask your dog to “find it”. If they sniff the cup, reveal the treat and let them eat it. If they knock the cup over, that’s fine. Next, add a second cup, move the cups back and forth, and then say “find it”. Wait until they sniff the right one before praising and lifting the cup. Repeat with two cups until your dog is consistently picking the correct cup. Then you can add more cups to make the game more challenging.
For more advice about how to make your dog’s day interesting and fun, visit the Dogs Trust website.
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