Here in New Hampshire we have had some rather cold and icy weather which presents a few challenges for Autumn and me. I’m occasionally asked how do I know when it’s safe to work with her outside. As part of our teamwork, I’m responsible for her well-being which includes making decisions to appropriately reduce all the risks we encounter.
The first choice I make is simply when is the weather inappropriate for the two of us to travel outside at all. My comfort and hers are not too far apart, so typically if it’s under 10 degrees or has a windchill into that range, I minimize our time outside. Balancing the benefit of our daily exercise goals with the safety of extreme cold, ice, or the perils of snowplows. When in doubt, we don’t go out is the simplest rule because if it’s questionable I already believe in finding other ways to accomplish our goals besides the outdoor walking approach. This may mean enhancing the indoor play sessions for energy outlet or it may mean coordinating rides to places we can work inside together.
If I’ve made the decision for us to go outside, even for short travel from car to buildings, I realize her biggest challenge is the salt used to melt ice in many locations. While we use pet-safe ice melt at our home, I realize many public locations might expose her pads to the painful reaction of contact with this chemical.
Fortunately there’s a simple, low-cost solution which we’ve spent time ensuring she will tolerate. A latex boot called “PAWZ” allows her full feeling to connect to the ground while providing a layer of protection from salt and even some of the cold. I’ll either put these on her in advance or carry these with me in the pocket of my coat to ensure I can react quickly if she shows any signs of discomfort. We exposed Autumn to these early in her time with us and while initially needing encouragement in my tone and time spent in the boots, she’s now totally comfortable allowing us to put them on anywhere and anytime.
Much like with winter hiking, moving generates heat for both of us and so our brisk walks often still work well. As such, the last part of working together as a team is to be attentive to her reactions in any environment. While I cannot see Autumn’s reactions, there are many other ways for me to check for signs of comfort or concern. Reading the type of step she has through the harness is always an indicator and when something is different I need to check for it immediately.
When checking there are two body signs that are often good indicators. Putting my hand to her head, I can read her comfort and happiness by her ear position. A second source of constant information is her tail position. It may not always be wagging or raised but the more tightly it tucks under her, the more suggestive it is that she is in distress I need to address. In cold and wind this can be misleading but they both lead me to turn her into me for some further interaction, giving her a chance to nudge into me for shelter and comfort when her curious and adventurous nature would normally want to be facing the world around us. If I’ve watched the temperatures and forecasts well and used my first rule of “when in doubt, don’t go out,” this should never be an issue and yet this is my final verification to see that she is comfortable along the way.
I make one final practice which is to walk a test lap in my neighborhood staying very close to home while evaluating how she reacts. If all is positive, then and only then do I adventure further with the comfort we are both ready to march forth in the still wintry possibilities of early March.