Winter Walks

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When is it too cold out to walk dogs?

Many winter days in Ohio are perfectly safe to walk most dogs. It also depends on the breed and size of the dog that you’re walking, as every pup responds differently to cold weather. Please see Does the breed, size, and groom of the dog matter in the wintertime? to learn more!

If the outside temperature is above 32 degrees F (freezing), it’s best assumed that walks can be completed as normal!

If temps are below 32 degrees F (check windchill as that may sometimes read colder!), you might consider taking the dog outside to quickly potty and then come back and maximize playtime inside (to ensure the pup is still getting an energy release and stimulation!). You are encouraged to do this sparingly and depending on the following factors.

Remember to also refer to any pet profile notes that indicate how the dog in your care responds to colder weather. Some pet parents will be clear with you on what they’re expecting with winter walks. This is your best bet so that our pet parents can obtain peace of mind knowing that the work was completed to their liking and expectations. If you do NOT see any profile notes regarding this information, use your best judgment! Please refer to any sections below for further assistance.

What if the dog doesn’t wanna walk, but the client is expecting me to walk them?

Most importantly, have you done your best to ensure the dog is comfortable and prepared for the walk? Before starting any winter walk, please refer to pet profile information regarding winter gear (coat, jacket, booties for paws, etc.). Many of our pet parents will have the necessary attire to put on their pets before you leave for walks. If the pups don’t have any attire, click here. This attire is designed to contain a pup’s body heat and keep them warm while outside. For smaller and shorter-haired dogs, winter attire is almost always a necessity! For bigger breeds with fluffier cuts, maybe not so much…

It’s also important to ensure you have on the proper attire for yourself!

Beyond attire, what else have you done to ensure the pup in your care is winter-weather ready? This comes in the form of verbal motivation and encouragement, which can go a long way if a pup responds to it well! Try the following techniques:

  • Get down to eye-level with the dog.
  • Talk to them and give them some encouragement (anytime they show they’re getting more comfortable, douse them with praise and positive reinforcement). If they use any particular commands as noted in their profile, please use those!
  • If the dog is pulling in a certain direction they want to walk in, take them in that direction (unless it’s towards another dog or somewhere they shouldn’t be!). They may feel most comfortable following a certain scent or path.

As long as you’ve tried to get the pup to cooperate and continue walking, that’s what matters most! You’re also encouraged to reach out to the team in Slack to see if they have any ideas to share that can help you. Then, management will most likely contact the client to ask them for permission to modify the service. Nonetheless, what’s most important is to allow the pup to still get some form of stimulation and energy release; so if you do decide to modify the service, it’s best practice to maximize indoor playtime.

Overall, we feel that a pup’s comfort level is much more important than ensuring they get their daily exercise. Moreover, if their walk is at the expense of their comfort and well-being, it is not worth it. Of course, you’re encouraged to try all options to make a walk happen; but if you’ve exhausted all options, then choose to do what you think is right! It is in your best interest, then, to briefly explain in your journal report to the client why you decided to modify the visit (ensuring open communication and honesty). Trust us! If a client gets a proper explanation about why a service was modified, they may feel more at ease about the delivery and not feel dissatisfied that their expectations were unmet. Especially if you mention the ways in which you tried making the walk happen, and then explain that you decided to modify the visit for the pup’s safety and well-being… No client would be dissatisfied about you having their pup’s best interest at heart!

What if a client doesn’t specify winter walk preferences for their dog?

If a client doesn’t specify winter walk preferences in their pet profile notes, you’re encouraged to use the information in this support article as well as your best judgment to determine how to go about the service.

Where can I locate winter walk preferences in pet profiles?

Winter walk preferences will be in checklist format towards the top of pet profile information. Please follow the steps below to locate that checklist:

  1. Login to your pet sitter account.
  2. Go to Petcare > Pet Profiles
  3. Locate pet profile you’re looking for using the search feature Screen Shot 2022 11 02 at 3.53.28 PM.
  4. Once you find it, click the down arrow Screen Shot 2022 11 02 at 3.54.28 PM off to the right.
  5. Locate the section that reads “Things to know about me”. If that section is blank, then there is no information on winter walk preferences. Try scrolling through profile notes to locate anything about winter walks (may be detailed in there).
  6. Locate the checked items under a header that reads “Winter Dog Walk Preferences”.
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Does the size, breed, and groom of the dog matter in the wintertime?

Yes, most definitely! Dogs that are large and fluffy have more working in their favor to protect them from being sensitive to cold temps. On the other hand, dogs that are small and short-haired have little insulation and are more sensitive to cold weather.

If you consider certain dog breeds, here are the ones commonly accustomed to winter weather (in laymen’s terms, “snow dogs”):

  • Siberian Husky
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Samoyed
  • American Eskimo Dog
  • Saint Bernard
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
  • Shiba Inu
  • Akita
  • Tibetan Mastiff
  • Tibetan Terrier
  • Icelandic Sheepdog
  • Chow Chow
  • Newfoundland
  • German Shepherd

Every single one of the breeds above has something in common, which is that they are all pretty large and fluffy! To learn more about cold-weather dog breeds, click here.

Overall, it’s important to take size, grooming style, and breed into account to help keep dogs safe on winter walks. This is not to say that some pups may defy the odds and show unpredicted signs of discomfort in cold conditions. The size-groom-breed rule is one protocol that’s used to help prevent hypothermia and other health risks; but it’s 1) not always reliable and 2) should be used in combination with other best practices and rules of thumb! It’s important to treat every dog for their individual needs and comfort level, despite their physical make-up alone.

How do I properly prepare the dog before heading out on a winter walk?

There are many ways to prepare pups for being out in the winter weather. It is most important to ensure that the pup’s natural body warmth is preserved as best as possible. This can be accomplished with dog coats, paw booties, paw ointment, scarves, and other protective gear! Our clients are usually very clear about their pups’ wintertime routines, so just make sure to pay attention to all details in pet profile notes. If it’s filled out by the client, you can also locate a Winter Walk Preferences checklist towards the top of pet profiles. The checklist may include any or all of the following items:

  • If it’s above 20 F, please walk me as normal.
  • Please put my coat on me before we leave home.
  • Take precautions (avoid road salt/ice and look for any signs of discomfort).  
  • Please wipe my paws when we get back home.
  • Check my paws and let my human know if there’s any cracks or dryness.
  • Use my paw-pad moisturizer.
  • If it’s too cold out (below 20 F), still walk me for the full time (I’m a snow dog!).
  • If it’s too cold out (below 20 F), modify the service as necessary depending on my comfort level.
  • If it’s too cold out (below 20 F), just let me out to potty then let’s play inside!

If you do NOT see any information within the pet profile regarding winter walk routines and expectations, you’re highly encouraged to navigate this support article to locate and use our best practices. Please contact the team in Slack for further assistance!

If a client does NOT have any winter garments for their pup, you’re welcome to kindly inform them in a journal report or in-app message that you think garments would be a worthy investment. Mention which garments would be best (a coat, at the very least!). Don’t be shy when it comes to sharing your pet expertise! Contacting a client shows that you are proactively concerned about their pup’s well-being in the wintertime.

How can I tell if the pup I’m walking is uncomfortable?

It is super important to not only know what the signs of discomfort are, but also to pay close attention to see if they arise in the pup you’re walking. To best prevent these cold symptoms, please ensure the pup is prepared for the walk properly before you even leave the home.

The most common signs of discomfort in dogs while out in cold weather are:

  • Shaking/shivering
  • Hunched posture with tucked tail
  • Whining/barking
  • Behavior changes (anxious/uncomfortable)
  • Reluctant to continue walking (wanting to turn around and go back home!)
  • Seeking places for shelter
  • Lifting paw(s) off ground

Should you notice any of these signs of discomfort arise, we recommend doing the following:

  1. Seek shelter and warmth ASAP!
  2. In some cases, apply a warm water compress or soak the affected area in a bowl of lukewarm water. PLEASE be careful NOT to use any extreme measures (i.e. excessive heat) to resolve discomfort as that can actually cause burning/shock and create more discomfort for the pup in your care.
  3. Once you’re in a safe, warm place, see if the dog is getting warmer and more comfortable. If they are not (and go with your instincts!), contact their local vet/MedVet and ask for insight. You’re also encouraged to reach out to the team in Slack!
  4. Provide an update to the client via in-app messages or in your journal report for that particular service.

If the signs of discomfort are seemingly extreme, we recommend following the steps above in quicker fashion and prioritizing the following:

  1. Contact a local emergency vet or MedVet. Relay to them everything you’re observing, in detail. Reach out to the team in Slack as well, if you wish to!
  2. Provide an update to the client via in-app messages or in your journal report for that particular service.

How can I tell if a dog has frostbite? What do I do if they have it?

While extreme frostbite isn’t super common in dogs, they can get “frostnip” on their paws. This simply looks like snowballs and ice caked onto and in between paw pads. The most common areas that dogs get frostbite are typically their paws, tails, and ears (extremities that are far from the core of their bodies- where body heat originates).

Frostbite is usually characterized by:

  • Discolored skin – the skin could be gray, pale, blue or purple.
  • Skin that is cold to the touch and/or very fragile
  • Pain or whining (pup could be lifting paws up)
  • Swelling and/or blistering
  • Blackened skin (in extreme cases)

Should you notice any signs of frostbite or major discomfort/injuries, we recommend doing the following:

  1. Seek shelter and warmth ASAP!
  2. Apply a warm water compress or soak the affected area in a bowl of lukewarm water. PLEASE be careful NOT to use any extreme measures (i.e. excessive heat) to resolve discomfort as that can actually cause burning/shock and create more discomfort for the pup in your care.
  3. CONTACT A LOCAL EMERGENCY OR MEDVET. Relay to them everything you’re observing, in detail. Reach out to the team in Slack as well, if you wish to!
  4. Provide an update to the client via in-app messages or in your journal report for that particular service.

Do I still walk dogs if it’s snowing, hailing, or icy out?

It is generally safe to walk dogs in snowy/icy conditions; however, it is best to make sure the pup appears to be comfortable at all times. There are definitely conditions in which it may be less safe to walk pups, which include (but not limited to) the following:

  • Deep snow (4+ inches) on sidewalks that has not yet been plowed/shoveled
  • Sidewalks are covered in thick or hard-to-see ice patches
  • Heavily salted paths that are not safe/easy to avoid (since too much salt on paw pads can cause irritation)
  • Active, heavy sleet/freezing rain
  • Active hail coming down in large, heavy chunks

In any of these conditions, you may try testing the walk to see if the pup is comfortable, but then determine that it’s best to stay indoors. Keep in mind that the goal is to stick to the originally requested walk as best as possible. The presence of any of these conditions listed above may be a factor in your decision to spend time inside, but they do not automatically mean that you should stay in! Use your best judgement to decide what would be the course of action that most benefits the pet’s needs and the client’s wishes.

Should you decide to walk in any and all snowy/icy conditions, it is highly recommended that you steer clear of any road salt, ice, and snow on the ground as much as possible. After the walk, complete a paw check (especially if not possible to avoid certain ground hazards). Paw checks are for the sake of making sure no road salt, ice, or snow got trapped in between a pup’s paw pads while out on their walk. If so, it’s best to wipe them clean in order to help their paws remain completely healthy and scot-free!

If you wish to complete a paw check, please follow the steps below:

  1. Grab a towel (client may provide one, but you should also have one on you during winter walks).
  2. Lay the towel on top of the dog’s back and wipe.
  3. Work your way down to the underbelly area and wipe.
  4. Work your way to the dog’s legs and wipe.
  5. Proceed to paws.
    • IMPORTANT: When you get to the paw areas, lift them up off the ground and back! For front paws, gently bend down at the wrist to check paws. For back paws, lift leg back and up towards the ceiling. You will ensure the most cooperation (and cause the least discomfort) by following this method carefully.
  6. Check paws for the following and act accordingly: 
    • Is there any trapped salt, ice, or snowballs?
      • This can easily get stuck in the fur in between paw pads, especially if the fur is long. Wipe as best as you can!
    • Is there any dryness, cracking, bleeding, or discoloration?
      • Check pet notes as well as the general area in client’s home to see if there’s any available paw protection cream or Vaseline. If not, inform client in your journal report of what you witnessed and what you did to resolve problem. Inquire about Vaseline or cream that can be used for future walks. In true emergencies, call the vet!
    • Is there any swelling?
      • You would likely notice a dog starting to limp on walks should they experience any swelling/pain in their paws. As soon as you notice this, please take the dog back home. Soak the paw in cold water to reduce blood flow to the swollen area. In true emergencies, call the vet! 
    • Are they groomed properly?
      • The general rule of thumb is that the shorter the fur in between the paw pads, the better! The shorter the nails, also the better!! Salt, ice, etc. can easily get trapped in long fur/nails, affecting the paw pads as well. It’s best to inform the client of this and suggest that they get their pup groomed properly in those areas so that winter walks are not so hazardous. It is HIGHLY discouraged to attempt cutting paw hair/nails yourself!

Keep in mind that some dogs are pretty funny about their paws being touched, so please proceed with caution. If it’s explicitly stated in the pet notes that the pup doesn’t like their paws touched, do NOT touch them! Instead, just make sure to be very cautious on walks and proactively steer clear of ground hazards like road salt, ice, etc.

What are the common safety measures on winter walks?

The common safety measures on winter walks include:

  • Avoiding walking on road salt and ice as that can easily get trapped in paws. Check paws after walks to ensure nothing is stuck in fur, etc.
  • Avoiding harmful substances that the dog could get into (ice-melting chemicals, etc.).
  • Keeping the dog warm by bundling them up prior to leaving home (if they don’t have a coat or anything, you’re encourages to recommend it to the client via journal report or in-app message).
  • Ensuring the pup maintains their comfort levels (see How can I tell if the pup I’m walking is uncomfortable?)
  • Making sure you’re prepared to head out into winter weather.

How can I personally prepare for winter walks?

It’s extremely important that your comfort and safety are taken into consideration on winter walks, along with the dogs’! If you’re not fully comfortable, you may find yourself cutting services short. By doing this, you’re directly impacting our client’s experience with us and potentially creating dissatisfaction.

To best prepare yourself for winter walks, we recommend the following dress code:

  • Wear lots of layers on all exposed skin, head to toe! If you get too warm, you can remove any layers!
    • On your head/neck – hat ๐Ÿงข, scarf ๐Ÿงฃ, hood
    • On your torso – long sleeve shirt, sweater/hoodie, winter coat ๐Ÿงฅ
    • On your hands – gloves and/or mittens ๐Ÿงค, Hot Handsยฎ
    • On your legs – long johns/leggings, thick pants ๐Ÿ‘–
    • On your feet – socks ๐Ÿงฆ (extras in case your one pair gets soaked), warm boots ๐Ÿฅพ

Other recommendations:

  • Pack a “go” bag ๐ŸŽ’ that includes the following:
    • โœ… Tissues to blow your nose in
    • โœ… Chapstick to keep your lips moisturized
    • โœ… Bottled water to stay hydrated
    • โœ… Non perishable snacks/food
    • โœ… Towel (for yourself and to wipe pups’ paws with)
    • โœ… Extra set of clothes (especially socks)
  • Plan your day ๐Ÿ—“ so as to allow yourself ample time to commute between services ๐Ÿš—, especially on inclement weather days. Do NOT overbook yourself and end up having to rush to make it on time to services!
  • Steer clear of walking on icy surfaces! ๐ŸงŠ
  • Move slowly and carefully on walks, taking extra precaution to avoid situations where a pup might get excited and pull you.
  • Keep a hot beverage โ˜•๏ธ in the car to sip and help you warm up in between services.
  • Follow our car care best practices, especially when it comes to prepping your car before the cold begins.

How do I take care of my car properly in the wintertime?

Using your car is one of the biggest parts of your job here at Hands N Paws. This is why it’s extra important to take care of it, especially in inclement weather such as the wintertime.

Prior to the weather getting bad (in the 30s F and below), make sure your car is prepared for the winter by doing a preparatory check-up:

  • Bring your car to a local car shop (Midas, Goodyear, etc.) and have them check the following:
    • LIGHTS ๐Ÿ”ฆ (headlights, taillights, turn signals, dashboard lights, etc.) to ensure they are all fully functioning. Especially since the sun sets earlier in the day during the wintertime, it’ll be important to make sure you can fully see the road in front of you when driving (headlights). Even replace any foggy or dim lighting. Dashboard lights will be important to check too, in the case that tire pressure drops or coolant levels are low.
    • COOLANT (antifreeze) to ensure levels are good and that there are no leaks. This is what directly impacts your car’s drivability in winter months, so this one’s super important! Inquire about the 50/50 coolant-water mix and it’s impact on the engine’s freezing point as compared to just coolant.
    • OIL to ensure it’s changed (if need be) and winter-ready!
    • TIRES to ensure they are winter-friendly (pressure, tread, etc.). Tire pressure gets lower in the wintertime since air inside the tire contracts. Please make sure to maintain good tire pressure by overfilling at the start of the season, and maintaining a good fill throughout the season. You may even consider just getting winter-designed tires as they perform better throughout the season than regular tires!
    • BATTERY HEALTH ๐Ÿ”‹ to ensure power level is good since you typically use it to fuel more things in the wintertime (wipers, headlights, etc.).
    • WIPER BLADES/WASHER FLUID to ensure that the blades are adequate for rainy winter weather conditions (straight metal arms with no ripped or torn rubber). The washer fluid should ideally be a winter-blend.

Throughout the season, we recommend the following best practices:

  • Keep your gas tank at least half full at all times.
  • Keep tire pressure full at all times.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your car at all times.

What if the weather is so bad I can’t get to work?

If you cannot make it to work safely due to extreme weather, send a message in Slack immediately! It is best to check the forecast ahead of time and let us know your thoughts. Our record points system does still apply during the wintertime and you are subject to incurring record points for any assignments you’ve accepted and suddenly back out of. Instances in which it doesn’t apply is if the roads are closed due to ice and weather conditions are extreme.

Please do not let us know you cannot make it to a scheduled service at the last minute; we ask for at least a 24-hr notice or “heads up” so that way it can possibly get covered by someone else (send a message in Slack #coverage for any needed service coverage!).

In especially bad weather, we will also be keeping an eye on things and will also proactively have the discussion with the team to see what the best course of action is for everyone.

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