After what seems like a particularly harsh winter in the Chicagoland area, people are starting to come out of hibernation. Because I have a firm rule that my dogs are never to be outside without human supervision, I am outside with Jackson and Tinkerbell all year. Between November and March, though, I normally am the only human, and definitely the only adult. As a result, I don’t need a groundhog to tell me that Spring is coming; I just need my neighbors.
Although I usually really love to walk my dogs in the winter, we have not done very much walking at all this year. This winter seems like we went through a continual cycle of snow, ice, melting, more ice, a day of dry sidewalks, followed by snow, ice, melting, and more ice. Add to it the fact that I fell and really messed up my shoulder at the end of January and I’ve become fearful of falling again. All the time I used to tease my mom for being so skittish on ice? She is laughing her ass off from heaven at me.
But now it’s starting to warm up and we even felt what 68 degrees feels like last week. I’m starting to see all sorts of humans out and about, including walking their dogs. This means it is time to get out and let these dogs experience the world beyond our fenced yard! Remember that when you walk your dog, you are nurturing not just her body, but her mind, too. Before you get back into your walking routine – assuming you were also stuck inside because of ice and polar vortexes – here are some tips and things to consider to make your walk as safe and pleasant as possible:
WAIT FOR A GOOD RAIN
I use the same rule with my dogs that my husband uses for his motorcycle: wait until mother nature gives the earth a good rinse with a rainstorm. All of that road salt, beet juice, and other stuff that your municipality uses to melt the snow is still out there and you don’t want your dogs walking through it. If you follow me on social media, you may have seen a photo of a disgusting pile of snow right outside my house that was black with all of the toxins of the world mixed into it by the snow plow. If your walk takes you on sidewalks, your dog is most likely walking on unseen residue from cars, automotive fluids, and all of those ice melters from the last snow.
PERFORM A POST-WALK PAW WASH AND WIPE DOWN
When you return, no matter the time of year, I strongly suggest performing a thorough paw wash and wipe down of your dog’s body to remove any chemicals and other substances from their feet, body, and face. For more information on the process I use, check out No Dogs on the Grass Part 2: Post-Walk Paw Wash.
WATCH OUT FOR TRASH
As much as I am a die-hard recycler, one downside of curbside recycling is that a windy day can send recyclables flying around your neighborhood. With most humans inside hibernating and binging shows on Netflix, they are less likely to be out in their yards picking it up and tending to their curb appeal. As you walk your dog, watch to make sure that he is not enjoying the remnants of food containers and other trash. Also, keep an eye out for dead critters and other things that your dog will sniff out long before you have a visual on whatever it is that your dog will consider food that you do not want her to consume.
BRUSH UP ON LEASH MANNERS
Dog training is all about patience and repetition, and it is possible that your dog may need some refresher lessons on loose-leash walking and manners when crossing paths with other dogs and humans. Not to mention, there will be new smells and things to experience since the last walk. Be patient if you need to backtrack a bit in terms of training. Here is a great resource on teaching loose leash walking from Whole Dog Journal: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/20_4/features/Loose-Leash-Walking_21623-1.html.