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Dogs are like mail carriers: Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail shall keep the animal from their appointed rounds. That is to say, your pooch still has to exercise and use the bathroom, even if it’s nasty outside. No matter how much you hate the snow, if you want a happy, healthy pet (and a poop-free home), you have to bundle up and take them out. Here’s how to walk your dog during the winter in a way that’s safe and effective for you both. 

Why walk a dog in winter?

Your dog gets a lot of benefits from walking outside, so try to keep that in mind when you’re suiting up for a chilly trot around the neighborhood. In a perfect climate, according to veterinarian Dr. Lindsay Butzer, walking your pet for 20 to 30 minutes a day is sufficient to keep them healthy and in shape. 

“Dogs, just like us, need mental stimulation and need to get out of the house,” she says. “If they are kept indoors every day or even let out for one minute and then brought back in, they may go stir-crazy or develop anxiety [due to] not releasing natural endorphins from exercising and seeing the world around them.” Even when it’s cold, it’s important to take them out to give them some exercise, relax them, stimulate them, and cut down on destructive behaviors like barking and chewing. 

When is it too cold to walk a dog?

All that said, Butzer does caution that any temperature below 20 degrees Fahrenheit can pose issues for you and your pet, but some breeds with short hair and frail body types could even be adversely affected in 45-degree weather. A good rule to keep in mind is that if it’s too cold for you to be outside on a long walk, it’s too cold for them. 

If it’s between 30 and 40 degrees out there, Butzer suggests still taking them out to use the bathroom, but come back inside when they’re done. If it’s between 45 and 60 degrees, limit your walk to about 20 minutes. 

If you’re worried it’s too cold for your dog but the numbers on the thermometer aren’t helping you, use your own senses: “If your eyeballs are cold and dry, so are your pet’s,” says Butzer. “Simply using common sense in these winter situations with your pets will help you a lot.” In those cases, it might be better to stay inside until there’s a warmer moment. More on that later.

Tips for walking a dog in the cold

If you can walk the dog, you should, even briefly, but there are ways to do that safely. Butzer recommends outdoor gear when the temperature drops, like a coat or even little boots.

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No matter how bundled up your dog is, another tip to keep in mind is that you should know exactly where you’re going when you set out. Bad weather doesn’t present an ideal environment for exploring unfamiliar places (even if your dog thinks it does). Stick to a route you know will be plowed and areas you can recognize, even in snow. 

What to do if you can’t take your dog on a walk in the cold

When it’s just too cold to go out, you still have options, even if you don’t have a backyard to unleash your animal in to do their business or run off some energy. Try having a grass or pee pad inside so your dog can feel comfortable relieving themselves. 

Beyond that, prioritize play time indoors. Butzer says you don’t need anything too fancy; fetch with a ball or tug with a larger toy will do fine. Playing consistently for even five to 10 minutes will release a lot of your dog’s energy. Even working on training commands is mentally stimulating and tiring for them, so if your space isn’t big enough to toss a ball around, try practicing commands (or teaching new commands) like sit, lay, roll over, wait, or whatever other cues the two of you use to communicate. Turn it into a game to keep them guessing and, of course, reward them with a little treat at the end.  

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