Many of us have seen Christmas Story and the scene that Ralphie is so well insulated that his arms are stuck up as he has been bundled for his walk to school. He whines “I can’t put my arms down” and his mom comments “Well..you can put your arms down when you get to school.” When I work in locations that require walking dogs in snow and ice, I can’t be bundled up like Ralphie. When we are out playing with our dogs in winter areas that has snow and ice, we need to be able to move about safely and stay warm.
I lived in Alaska for two years and really had to prepare for travel in subzero temperatures. Part of that ritual was having my own traveling winter emergency kit available. It includes extra warm clothing, blankets, dry shoes, a candle, a lighter or water-proof matches, food that doesn’t freeze, access to water, emergency flares, a first aid kit, and the list goes on. The biggest challenge was dressing for winter. I had to learn to layer so that I wouldn’t be walking around like Ralphie. One of the important layers is two pairs of breathable socks or a pair of heavier breathable or insulated socks, if your feet got cold or wet there can be problems. Then the first layer was the layer closest to the skin after the undergarments and socks.
In Alaska that first layer was a polypropylene top and bottom, this is also called long johns, long underwear, or a base layer. From that I would put on the normal outerwear garments: pants, blouse, or sweater. I got into the habit of wearing two tops one being a turtle neck and then something on top of that. That way if I got to hot inside I could remove a layer of clothing. From there came the coat (my coat in Alaska was gauged for minus weather) or a jacket that covers the butt. I sometimes will double layer under the coat with a fleece vest. To protect myself from the wind a light weight pair of ski pants to cover the bottom. I like to double layer my hands, head, and neck. For the hands my first layer would be a light weight pair of contact gloves and either another set of heavier gloves on top or a pair of mittens. There are also gloves out where the wearer can remove the top to expose the fingers just in case one can’t use the fingers with gloves on. For the neck/chest area I would put a scarf under the jacket and a neck gator that would cover a portion of the neck, mouth and nose. I use to double layer the head gear as well, using a warm hat and either on or under the hat I would wear ear mittens.
The final dress wear before going out in snow and ice is the shoes. Your type of shoes will determine how warm and dry your feet are and wearing normal tennis shoes in snow or ice will maintain this goal and will be slip resistant. Using waterproof shoes or boots that are lightweight will help. Coating those with a water repellent fabric treatment can help waterproof shoes. Traction is very important on ice and snow, I keep a pair of slip-on cleats to put on the bottom of my boots, these are similar to the ice shoes worn by those who climb glaciers. Don’t forget polarized sun glasses to block the glare of ice or snow, it’s important that you see where you going.
In 2013 Southern Illinois got a lot of negative weather temperatures and I actually layered well enough that my main layer was a hunter’s jacket (camouflage on one side and orange on the other) all winter long.
Take care of dog paws, some dogs won’t put up with dog boots on their feet so using a petroleum jell on their feet will help protect the paws just be sure to wipe off when your back from walks. Do your best to protect the paws form getting cut by ice or the salt while out walking. Rinse the paws in warm water to remove ice pellets and other ice melt products, so not to send the body into shock.
Winter can be a wonderful season to be out in about walking dogs and taking care of pets. Take care of yourself and dress appropriately during the winter to protect yourself. Don’t forget to take care of pet’s paws when out walking.
Joyce Rheal is based in Southern Illinois and is a nationally certified pet care consultant, trainer, and the author of Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies and Disasters and Disaster Plans: Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies and Disasters.