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How to Protect Your Dog’s Paws in the Winter

brown fuzzy dog resting paws on a tree branch

Winter can be brutal on your dog's paws. The cold weather, snow and ice can lead to cracked or peeling paw pads — and that can be painful for your pooch. Fortunately, you can take a few simple steps to prevent pad problems and keep your dog comfortable when you’re outside on dog walks or enjoying winter activities.

woman holding puppy close to chest

Keep Your Dog's Nails Trimmed

Long nails make your dog's toes spread when they walk, allowing more room for snow and ice buildup between their toes. Unclipped nails also affect your dog's weight distribution, pushing their weight onto the back of their feet; this means they'll have less traction and will be more likely to slip on icy surfaces.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your dog’s nails long enough to be seen, but not extending past the paw or clacking on the floor when they walk.

Regular Paw Grooming

Keep your pup’s paws trimmed of extra fur between their toes. By keeping the fur between the toe pads level with the pads, you'll reduce the amount of slushy snow, salt and grit clinging to their fur. Compacted snow salt on the bottom of your dog's feet can make walking difficult and affect your pup’s ability to stay on their feet. Ice and salt balls between toes can also be a source of discomfort; they push your dog’s toes apart and pull on their fur.

dachshund running through the snow

Moisturize Paws before Heading Outdoors

Cold weather, ice and salt can cause your dog's pads to dry out and crack. You can help prevent this by coating their paws with a petroleum jelly-based product like Vaseline, paw balm or cooking spray before you take your pup out for a walk. Afterward, be sure to keep your dog off slick surfaces inside the house, such as tile, and outside the house, such as ice, and wipe down their paws after your trip outside.

Consider Dog Booties

Dog boots provide the ultimate protection from the elements and help your pup retain body heat. As you can imagine, many dogs do not instantly take to wearing boots, so try a gradual approach. Let them wear booties in the house for short periods of time, giving lots of praise (dog treats will help, too). Note: Fabric fastener or Velcro straps stay on the paws better than those that tie.

Use a Pet-safe Ice Melter

Salt and other ice-melting granules or chemicals often used on sidewalks and driveways can irritate your pet's paws — and cause stomach issues if ingested. Opt for nontoxic options, such as sand, gravel and non-clumping cat litters. If you do use salt or chemical de-icers, look for pet-safe brands.

light brown dog cuddling with human

Wash Your Dog's Paws after Walks

A rinse with warm (not hot) water will not only thaw out cold paws, but also wash off any salt or de-icing chemicals and dissolve ice that's formed between your dog’s toes. Keeping a designated dog towel near the door makes it convenient to wipe off your pet’s paws any time they come back inside, too.

Go for Shorter Walks

On the coldest winter days, keep your walks short. Being outside in extreme cold can lead to frostbite — for you and your best friend. Try mixing up your pup’s exercise routine with indoor activities, such as learning a new trick, navigating an obstacle course, running up and down the stairs, a game of tug or playing with your dog’s favorite toys. If you have to go outside, consider bundling up your best friend in a winter coat.

When your feet get cold and sore, the discomfort can make you miserable; the same goes for your dog. Caring for your dog's feet as you do your own, especially during the winter, can help keep your best friend looking forward to walks and quality time with you!

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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