6 Ways to Winterize Your Dog for Cold, Snow, and Everything In Between

updated Jan 15, 2021
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It was the first big snowfall in the Twin Cities, one of those surprise October blizzards that doesn’t last very long, but dumps nearly a foot of snow over everything. My Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dandelion (aka Dandy), was thrilled, romping and jumping into drifts. Me? Not so much — and not because we’d have to shovel the sidewalks. After taking Dandy for his evening walk, my little guy was covered in big, icy clumps of snow from his feet to his ears. It was time to winterize the dog.

If you live in a cold climate that regularly experiences snow or chilly weather and have a furry friend who requires frequent walks, you know the struggle: wet and slushy streets equal dirty paws and dirtier floors; overzealous salting can irritate sensitive footpads, and then there’s the whole “wet dog” smell, not to mention the shock of a wet dog on your new couch. How do you enjoy the season with your pet while keeping them protected and keeping your space relatively clean? We asked professionals for their best canine-friendly winter hacks and tricks.

Start by thinking like your dog.

According to the experts, it’s best to start with what your dog actually wants and needs. “Regardless of the climate you live in, I recommend observing your dog and responding to their personal needs,” shares Ashley Paguyo, Co-Founder and Product Development Lead at Lucy & Co pet apparel. “Do they seem off in the winter? Are they acting differently? Averse to going outside in the rain? I don’t blame them.” 

Watch your pet closely when you’re outside, see how they react to different conditions, and consider how you can help solve any potential issues, like sore paws or the chills. You wouldn’t treat an illness without figuring out what it was, would you? Apply that same logic to helping your pet triumph over winter weather with the correct gear or tweaks to your routine.

You have a winter wardrobe. Your pet should too! 

“As a lifelong Minnesotan, I’ve heard there’s no bad weather, just unprepared humans and insufficient gear,” Paguyo says, adding that preparedness goes double for your pets. “I recommend additional layers for those living in subzero temperatures, such as a jacket, vest, or sweater.” She points to water-resistant gear with quality filling as essential for cold climates, and raincoats for warmer regions. 

It’s also important to pay attention to certain breeds’ body types. “Smaller dogs and hairless varieties seem appreciative of additional layers and barriers to shield from the elements, especially those that protect sensitive footpads and underbellies,” says Paguyo. But don’t make your short-hair wear a sweater if they seem to hate it in even the slightest way. “Need or no need, some dogs don’t like clothing,” she adds. “If that’s the case for your dog, don’t force it! Find other ways to help them safely navigate the reality of winter.”

Start off on the right foot.

If you live in an urban area where businesses and homeowners salt the sidewalks, your pet’s paws may be feeling the pain. Consider finding boots or socks to protect their feet from the pavement; I’ve tried several varieties on Dandelion, from the popular balloon-style boots, which allow the dog to feel the ground better than a sturdier boot, to Love Thy Beast’s Rubber Dipped Socks. However, some dogs simply refuse to rock a boot (mine included), so you can also try a paw balm or salve to treat their skin before and after walks.

 Set up a winter-ready cleaning station at the front door.

To reduce wet spots, muddy prints, and general mess, set up a station right by the door for post-walk or outdoor time cleanup. Paguyo recommends keeping an absorbent towel in your entryway and your car if you’re hitting the dog park to reduce any salt, snow, and slush in your house and car. She and her family place towels and blankets on their dog Lucy’s favorite resting spots both to encourage her to nestle in and get cozy and to protect their furniture.

Credit: Anna Spaller

Keep cleaning supplies close at hand — or paw.

Mess is inevitable with a dog in the winter, but if you think ahead, you’ll be able to keep your space and your pet clean. Consider buying a few packs of pet-friendly wet wipes for easy winter cleanup; they’re great for everything from cleaning muddy feet to reducing any stinkiness. 

I keep a stash of microfiber cleaning cloths near the back door for Dandelion’s post-potty break paws and a fluffy towel in the front entry to dry him off after a walk, and regularly sweep and wash the floor to reduce any dirty paw prints. If you have the space, keep a bottle of multi-surface spray and a rag handy to wipe up any immediate messes — get at those prints before they dry and reduce scrubbing time later! 

If your dog hates the cold, don’t force them to like it.

Some dogs just aren’t into the winter — and that’s OK! If your pet would rather visit the vet or get a bath than venture outside in the snow, don’t force it.

Paguyo recommends shoveling a designated spot for potty breaks if your dog is snow-averse. “Prepare with gear that works for your dog’s needs. Mitigate barriers, like untraversable snowbanks, and stressors, like clean-up,” she shares, adding that you can  change your route up to keep your dog interested and distracted from the temporary discomfort of the cold when you do have to go outside. “Add elements of fun and delight, such as a new outdoor toy, trying a different walking route, or changing up the dog park you visit,” she says.

When it’s really cold outside, turn your home into a doggy gym and have a vigorous play session to help them get their daily exercise. “Be realistic … maybe just potty breaks and skip the walk on the coldest of days,” Paguyo says. “That’s all you can do.”