7 min read

13 Tips for Walking Your Dog in the Winter


Written by Kim Rain

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 11/16/2022, edited: 02/08/2024


The coming of winter can mean many things. For some, it means school and work vacations, or bundling up for skiing or sledding. Images of baked goods, hot chocolate and visiting loved ones also come to mind. And taking cold dog walks. What??

No matter the weather, your dog still needs to go outside for a walk to relieve themselves or to get their much needed physical and mental exercise. But wintery conditions can sometimes mean you'll need to take some extra precautions to ensure your dog stays safe and enjoys your local winter wonderland. Read on for our top tips to safely walk your dog in the winter!

Woman in pink coat taking large dog for walk in the snow

Keep your dog on a leash

Temperatures in winter will drop with the sun, and scents are harder to detect in the snow, which can make getting lost in the freezing winter deadly. Keep your dog securely leashed at all times and be sure they have a current ID tag on their collar or a microchip to speed their way home. 

Having your dog securely leashed also helps you control where they go and reduces their chances of running onto an ice patch or into a slippery road. 

Find the right leash and harness combo

Harnesses and standard leashes can give you much more control than having the leash attached to your dog's collar. Neck collars can easily slip over a persistent dog’s head, especially if they’re a puller. Harnesses are much more challenging to get out of so they can keep your dog securely by your side and under your control at all times.

What about retractable leads? These are much tougher to control and can easily break if your medium to larger dog gets spooked and tries to run off. You'll want to have a solid leash and harness combo to be sure you can easily navigate your dog around hazards like ice, sidewalk salt, giant slushy snow piles and dangerous intersections. A good ol’ fashioned leash will allow you to guide where your dog goes and keep them from snatching the leash out of your hand.

Small white and brown dog wearing a dog coat and booties in the snow - 13 Tips for Walking Your Dog in the Winter

Train your dog to wear protective booties

Cold and icy sidewalks can be just as harmful as hot pavement for sensitive dog paws. Plus, in snowy conditions, toxic salt on roads, sidewalks and driveways can harm your dog's paw pads. Often, salt is mixed with other chemicals to create a quicker ice melt when spread, which means this could be poisonous if your dog licks the salt off their paws.

Make sure you protect those sweet feet by giving your dog a pair of booties. You can find these pawsome additions for your winter dog walks online and at any pet store. Easy to put on, these boots come in several varieties, such as light, breathable boots for summer, and thicker, waterproof ones for winter. Keep in mind it takes time for dogs to get used to them, so definitely practice at home before hitting the streets. 

Does your dog truly hate the booties and refuse to walk in them after several training sessions and practices? Try paw wax on their feet, just be sure to keep a towel on hand to wipe off your dog’s paws afterward to prevent frostbite and salt damage, and check for any chafing or cracks.  

Be seen with reflective gear and LED collars

If you do opt for clothing, be sure to avoid donning your dog in black, especially when walking at night. Choose a coat or sweater that has reflective strips and can easily be seen in the evening. You can also add reflective leashes and harnesses to the mix for even more visibility.

Another easy option is to get an LED collar. These are furbulous for keeping your dog visible, and usually come with settings to customize the color or blinking to solid light capabilities. And they can do double duty in the summer for all your camping trips too!

Stick to well-lit places when walking at night

When you can't see patches of ice or toxic de-icing salt mixes on the pavement or road, you could be heading for a disaster for you and your pup. No one wants to slip or get hurt on a lovely winter stroll! But sometimes, you'll need to walk your dog at night when visibility is at its lowest. Plan to take your walk in well-lit areas to keep the dangers in sight.

In the darkest areas, others are also not able to see you, especially if you and your pup aren't wearing reflective clothing. Whether walking in a brightly lit neighborhood, a lighted city route or even to your local dog park, a safe dog walk is a fun one!

small white dog wearing a winter coat in the snow

Keep your dog warm

Warm clothing may seem obvious to you, but dogs can be affected by cold temperatures too. Only a few breeds have thick fur coats that can keep them warm, such as Siberian Huskies, but other dogs that are smaller, thinner-coated, young or elderly, or have a medical condition are more susceptible to hypothermia. Keep your dog toasty with their own coat or sweater and have a blanket on hand to wrap your pup in if extra warmth is needed. 

Avoid ice and ice-melt chemicals

Slippery ice can cause a fall which could injure you or your dog, and can also be too cold for tender paws. Ice could also hide freezing water underneath. Always avoid traversing frozen lakes or ponds as a break in the ice could be deadly!

Also avoid walking your dog in salted areas, as the salt can dry and crack their tender paws. Be sure to use pet-safe de-icers at home and avoid spilled antifreeze and de-icers along the walk. Always be sure your dog’s feet are thoroughly wiped clean of these irritants, as a simple lick or two could be toxic for your dog.  

Small brown dog with a hat on and a mouthful of snow

Don’t allow your dog to eat snow

Speaking of cold weather products, antifreeze, de-icing chemicals and road salts could be hiding under a fresh layer of snow. You may not see them, but all it takes is a couple teaspoons or less of some toxins to poison your dog, so be sure to keep your canine pal from eating snow as it could possibly contain them. Ingesting too much snow can also lower your dog’s body temperature and make them more susceptible to hypothermia. 

Keep an eye on your dog

Be aware of your dog’s response to the cold and watch for signs of discomfort, as hypothermia and frostbite can set in quickly. If they are shivering too much, slowing down or favoring a paw, you may need to get them out of the cold immediately. If small, wrap them up in a blanket and carry them, or for bigger pups, keep wiping their feet until you get home. 

Remember that you may be having a good time, but your pooch may be pining for the warm indoors. Even if they aren't experiencing a dangerous medical condition due to the cold, they still may not be enjoying the ice, snow and freezing temperatures. Always put your pupster first and get them back to comfort if they need it. 

Woman hugging Saint Bernard dog in the snow

Know the signs of hypothermia

If your home experiences cold weather in winter, you’ll have to contend with exposure to freezing or sub-zero temperatures that can cause hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature. While any dog can experience the shaking, trembling, and listlessness that can indicate hypothermia, puppies, elderly dogs, small and toy breeds, and short-coated dogs are even more at risk. If you see any signs of this condition in your dog, which can also include shallow breathing, confusion, dilated pupils and pale gums, warm them up inside and keep an eye on that temperature!

Blood vessels can also constrict when exposed to freezing temperatures for too long, causing a reduced blood flow to some areas. Painful swelling, ulcers, and blackened, dead skin caused by frostbite often affect a dog’s nose, ears, nipples, and tail, but can be avoided by taking precautions to keep your dog warm on your winter walks.

Take short, frequent walks

Dog walking on really cold days is no fun for anyone. Keep the walks short and go more often instead of venturing out for a long trek. Head back home if your pooch starts lifting their paws, showing anxiety, or trying to lie down. When temperatures are frigid, don’t go far from home. If your dog exhibits signs of hypothermia or frostbite, call the vet right away. 

Some dogs are more at risk of hypothermia, such as senior dogs and puppies. The same goes for dogs with thin coats, and pooches with short legs whose bellies may be low to the ground. Dogs with certain health conditions should also not be taken on lengthy outings, such as arthritic dogs who could fall more easily. And canines with medical problems like diabetes and heart disease can feel the cold sooner than healthy dogs do.

Small brown and white dog with a jacket on running in the snow

Stay updated on weather conditions in your area

It can only take minutes for cold weather to turn dangerous, so be on the lookout for disasters that could affect your area. Make it a routine to check the weather before heading out in winter weather. If a storm is arising, shorter walks could make all the difference between a fun adventure, or a trip to the emergency room for runaway hypothermia! If in doubt, stay home and save the walk for a safer day.

Carry a winter safety kit

Being prepared for the cold can make the difference between a fun outing and a trip to the emergency vet clinic. A great way to have everything you need is to create a winter safety kit. 

What to Have in Your Winter Safety Kit

  • Waterproof backpack or bag
  • Dog sweater or coat
  • Dog booties or paw wax
  • Towel
  • Blanket
  • Attachable lights
  • Reflective clothing, collar, harness or leash
  • LED collar
  • Extra leash
  • Emergency veterinarian numbers

Remember that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them, so save the walk for a warmer day. There are lots of pawrific indoor activities to keep your pooch busy when the snow and freezing temperatures keep you inside. 

When you do venture out, keep these precautions in mind for a safe and fun winter walk your best canine pal will love!

Winter walks can be exciting, but they can sometimes result in an injury. Before hitting the sidewalk, compare pet health insurance plans to keep your dog protected for all your outdoor adventures!

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