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Photograph: Jim Larrison/Flickr

5 things to know about owning a dog in Chicago during winter

Written by
Bill Mayeroff
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It’s winter, folks. Even if you’ve somehow missed that fact, your dog most likely hasn’t. Winter—especially in Chicago—is as tough on pets as it is on people. While we've come up with quite a few winter hacks for humans, you can also make an often miserable time of year a bit easier on your pup with the right preparation and common sense. 

Here are five things to keep in mind if you're a dog owner in Chicago this winter.

Rock salt + dog paws = A bad combination

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes in Chicago during the winter, then you’ve encountered the rock salt used to keep streets and sidewalks free of ice. While your feet are (mostly) protected from the salt by shoes or boots, your dog is not so lucky. Rock salt can easily get into the crevices of your dog’s paws and make walking extremely uncomfortable. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to ensure your dog’s winter walk is pain-free.

Dog boots are perhaps the most obvious solution. They keep your dog’s feet warm, dry and free of salt. You can find a ton of styles—from simple, disposable rubber galoshes to insulated, knee-high boots.

But not all dogs take well to boots. If your dog is one of them, you might consider a product like Musher’s Secret (I only mention that brand because it’s what my dog uses; pick whatever brand you feel is best). Put the ointment on your dog’s feet before going out. It won’t prevent salt from getting into his paws, but it will provide a barrier between the salt and the paw, making it easier for the salt to slide out. And it’s water-soluble, so after the walk, wipe your pal's feet with a wet paper towel and they’re clean and salt-free.

Speaking of your dog's paws …

Make sure you keep an eye on your dogs’ nails in winter. Walking around outside, especially on cement, can wear nails down, but in winter months, you’re likely taking shorter walks. And if there’s snow covering the sidewalks, it won’t wear down the nails as quickly. Overly long nails could make walking difficult and uncomfortable for your furry friend. Keep an eye on those little feet. If it means you need to clip your dog's nails a little more often (or take an extra trip to the groomer), do it.

Winter weight gain isn’t just a human problem

Dogs are only as active as their people. If you live on your couch during the winter, so will your dog. We all know hibernation can lead to weight gain, and it’s as true for your dog as it is for you. 

Luckily, it’s not hard for us to help keep our pets' weight under control. Even if you’re taking shorter walks, you can take more of them and speed up your pace (hey, it's cold after all). Don’t just take your dogs out when they have to pee; take a walk just to walk.

You can also get your dog moving inside. My dog’s favorite indoor exercises are "puppy wind sprints." I get him up on the bed and start playing tug-of-war. When he lets go, I toss the toy away from the bed. He jumps off the bed, grabs the toy and jumps back up. Repeat until he's tired.

Do not leave your dog in an unheated car for any length of time

Every summer, TV news programs run stories about why it’s bad to leave a dog in a hot car. But few stories tell us how it can be just as dangerous to leave dogs in cars during winter.

Even if the car has been running and is plenty warm inside, it can cool down very quickly after you turn it off. If you wouldn’t spend more than a couple minutes in an unheated car during a winter deep freeze, don’t make your dog do it. 

Snow does not make poop disappear

Clean up after your dogs, people. If your dog poops and the droppings get covered by snow, that waste will still be there when that white blanket melts away. Snow is not a magical poop disappearance device. And snow-covered poop is just as likely to attract rats and other vermin. It does not, as so many think, provide fertilizer for grass. It looks gross and it stinks. Clean it up.

If you’re still not convinced, failing to clean up after your dog is a crime. According to Chicago ordinance 7-12-420: “No person shall appear with a pet upon the public ways or within public places or upon the property of another, absent that person's consent, without some means for the removal of excrement; nor shall any person fail to remove any excrement deposited by such pet. This section shall not apply to a blind person while walking his or her guide dog. Any person found to have been in violation of this section shall be fined not less than $50 nor more than $500 for each offense.”

What does all that legalese means? "Pick up your dog's shit."

Enjoy your winter, folks. Keep your dogs—and yourselves—safe out there.

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