Winter Gear

New Yorkers know all too well that the winter wonderland feeling of a sunny day after fresh snow is short-lived in the city. One morning it is all fluff and excitement and the giggles of children sledding down makeshift hills, the next morning it is brown slush, salted sidewalks, and whipping wind. We have a few tips for making trips to the dog run, or the park, or just around the block a bit more comfortable, but our best piece of advice is simply to brave the elements and give your pup the daily dose of outside time because it is what she needs, if it doesn’t always seem like what she wants.

Your Dog May Not Need a Coat

Most dogs are born with a coat, and a pretty sophisticated one at that. The skin and fur perform extraordinary functions – regulating body temperature, wicking moisture, and repelling ultraviolet light and toxins in the air.

The default state of being for most dogs in moderate climates should be to not wear a coat, and raincoats are almost always a bad idea. Winter coats, however, are a different story, and it serves us well to pay attention to breed, age, personality, and health conditions.

Some breeds have evolved to withstand and even thrive in extreme weather conditions and they have fur coats that should not be messed with: huskies, malamutes, and many shepherds, to name just a few.
Dogs that are small, old, sick, or have short hair are more likely to need a coat when it is very cold outside. That being said, don’t rush into it. Pay attention to the signs, and have a coat with you but not necessarily on your dog.

One thing you may also need is a thick skin to ignore the scoffs and disapproving looks from your fellow city denizens who (incorrectly) think that everyone should have a coat!

Less  is More

When preparing to take our dogs out in the winter, whether it is for a sidewalk stroll or a hike in the woods, we have found that less is more. We recommend having just a few things on hand that will make winter outings easier for everyone:

  • Paw wax. Some dogs get used to wearing booties, but we’ve never met one who enjoys them. Dog feet are not made to be in shoes. Instead, we suggest trying paw wax. It provides a more natural barrier between your pup’s paw pads and uncomfortable things like salt and ice.
  • Waterproof leash and collar. Leather and nylon will not only absorb slush and mud becoming stinky and soggy, but the moisture will also deteriorate the materials. Having a polymer coated leash for wet days will make your life much easier. Materials like BioThane can easily be rinsed or wiped off at home.

Read the Signs

In an urban environment, dogs will usually try to take shelter from precipitation (interestingly, this doesn’t happen much on hikes). Wolves do the same thing, it’s natural. However, this doesn’t mean that you should follow your dog’s lead and stay inside. Getting out for some exercise, activity, and socialization is as important on yucky days as it is on nice days. Instead, you should be looking for real signs of being too cold like shivering or trembling, limb stiffness, whining, and lethargy.

Our dachshund, Ollie, is not made for cold weather. His hair is short, his body is low to the ground, and no matter how much we feed him he has always been and will continue to be a skinny little guy. And yet, he only started regularly wearing a coat this year at fifteen years old because of a medical condition, and he wears it begrudgingly. On any given day, even with deep snow and brisk wind, Oliver would rather freely walk, run, and play than be constrained by clothing.

Dachshund in Snow

Ollie’s disdain for coats has required us to be prepared and attuned on our winter outings. Afterall, his nearly hairless body cannot withstand the cold for long periods of time unless – and the unless is key – he is really moving. On slushy sidewalk strolls, he will go one or two blocks before stopping and lifting a paw. Not a big deal. However, when the temperature drops his little shivers become trembles, and it is time to warm up. We go for short, coatless walks on these days. On the leash, he just doesn’t move enough to keep himself warm, so our city outings are brief. Off leash hikes, however, are an entirely different story. The same weather conditions that make Ollie put the breaks on in the city are met with excitement in the country. The coat goes on intermittently when the activity isn’t enough on its own to keep Ollie warm, but he is always relieved when it comes off!

Having a dog requires that we spend at least a little bit of time outside every day, and what a wonderful gift that is! Especially this winter, when throwing a ball in the dog run, waving to a neighbor, or having a socially distanced conversation in the park are the community interactions that make life a little lighter.

About the author

Writer, Owner at NYC Doggies

Jennifer is a writer and graduate of NYU School of Law. Jennifer researches and writes original, science-based articles for the NYC Doggies blog, and her writing on other topics can be found in the Huffington Post. Jennifer and Ovidiu have co-authored the upcoming book, WHOLE DOG PARENTING: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO RAISE AND TRAIN AN URBAN PUP