It may not officially start until 22nd December according to the astronomical calendar, or 1st
December by the meteorological calendar but, whatever the ‘official’ sources say, it very much feels
like winter has arrived already … especially if you have a dog or dogs to walk.
The evenings are dark, the weather’s cold, the leaves have pretty much gone and paths are muddy
and slippery. Yep, it’s a dog walker’s favourite time of year…! Hmmm. As we all know, regardless of
the weather or conditions, your dog still needs its exercise (and so do you!). However, when the
daylight hours are shorter it’s not always easy to fit these walks in while it’s light, so a stroll in the
dark is sometimes unavoidable.
Now, I’ll come clean here … the inspiration for this blog came from my own experience of being ill
prepared for the conditions. As I took Poppy for her evening walk a couple of nights ago, the battery
in my torch went flat and, despite following a route that we both knew well, stumbling around in the
woods illuminated only by the dim light of my phone torch wasn’t an experience I want to repeat in a
So, in order to remind myself how to be prepared at this time of year, and hopefully to give you some
tips too, I’ve put together some thoughts to help you and your pooch stay safe and comfortable on
your winter walks.
We’ve all heard of the ‘Be Safe, Be Seen’ road safety campaign – it’s been around for many years.
Most of us will remember from our school days being taught of the importance of making sure we’re
visible to motorists when we’re out walking in the dark. But, do we always follow this advice? Or do
we just throw on our warmest coat (probably dark in colour) and head out the door, with warmth
and comfort our top priorities, ahead of visibility? I’ll hold my hands up and say, in all honesty, it’s
not always my first consideration. However, now I think about it, it really should be! As motorists,
how many of us have suddenly noticed a darkly-dressed pedestrian at the last minute when light
levels are low? It’s quite alarming.
Making sure both you and Fido are easily seen (and, therefore, much safer) is actually quite simple.
You don’t have to swap your beloved winter coat for a florescent alternative, but adding a few
reflective accessories can ensure you stand out against the darkness, rather than blending into the
shadows. You can buy reflective hats, gloves, armbands, collars, leads and dog coats … all of which
will help you to, as the slogan says, be safe and be seen.
When it’s dark, a torch is a vital piece of kit and, after my recent experience, I highly recommend
carrying a spare! Personally, I like to use a head torch or body torch to keep my hands free (for lead
holding and poop scooping!) but whatever type of torch you use, make sure it’s fully charged or has
fresh batteries. Being plunged into darkness mid-walk is very disorientating. If you’re walking alone
or in unpopulated areas it’s a good idea to stick to lit paths for your own personal safety, as being
isolated in the dark can put you in a precarious position.
Dogs have much better vision than we do in low-light conditions, due to anatomical differences
including higher numbers of rods and reflective tissue below the retina, so they won’t be reliant on
torchlight to find their way around. Their extraordinary sense of smell helps with navigation, too.
However, in order for you to keep track of where Fido is, it’s useful to illuminate your pooch! You can
buy rechargeable LED collars or small clip-on lights that attach to the collar, which can help you to
see where your four-legged friend is in the darkness.
As fun as it can be to go exploring, and it’s nice to vary Fido’s walks, dark mornings or evenings really
aren’t the time to do it. Stay in familiar territory to avoid either you or your pooch getting lost or
disorientated. Stick to well-trodden paths and avoid fields of livestock which could be alarmed if you
suddenly appear out of the darkness. As mentioned, for your own safety it’s a good idea to stick to
busier or lit areas if you’re walking alone.
The darkness isn’t the only thing to consider on winter walks – keep an eye on the weather
conditions too! While not many people (or dogs) enjoy going out in the pouring rain, you’d be lucky
totally avoid drizzle at this time of year. Sometimes, we just need to reach for our waterproofs and
get on with it! And walking in the cold weather is absolutely unavoidable at this time of year … but
once you’re out and picking up the pace you’ll soon find that you warm up a bit! Check the forecast
before you head out so you can be prepared for whatever the elements are going to throw at you.
While you’re wrapped up from head to toe in hat, scarf, coat, gloves and boots – what about Fido?
Does your pooch need a coat on, too? Clothing isn’t a natural thing for a dog so coats aren’t strictly
necessary as usually their own fur will do, but there are times when an extra layer can really help
your dog to stay warm, comfortable and safe. As the PDSA explains, a fit and healthy dog with thick
fur should be fine outside if they’re running around or playing, but some dogs – such as those with
thinner fur (e.g. greyhounds or whippets), older dogs, dogs with health conditions, young pups or
small dogs like Chihuahuas – can easily feel the cold and will benefit from an extra layer to help keep
them warm. If your dog ever displays signs of being cold on a walk, such as shivering or hunching
over and tucking their tail under, then it’s time to invest in some doggy outerwear! You don’t need
to spend a lot or go for doggy-designer makes; any additional layer will help and dog coats can be
picked up quite cheaply (or second-hand).
Another wonder of winter is the mud. It’s everywhere and some dogs just seem to be mud magnets!
Wherever you walk, they hunt it out and can’t help wallowing. Even if they don’t roll around in it,
the chances are your pooch’s paws will be caked, so job number 1 when you return from a walk is to
give Fido a clean! And, that’s not just for the sake of saving your floors and soft furnishings. It’s
important to get the mud off your mutt to prevent bacteria growing on their fur (which can then be
ingested through licking or chewing at their fur). Fur can also become matted if mud and dirt is left
on there, which can cause skin irritation and pain, especially when it accumulates in between the
pads on their paws. There’s no need for a full bath every day – in fact, using shampoo too often can
make your pooch’s skin dry and lead to problems – a simple rinse off with water will suffice.
Depending on the size of your four-legged friend (and the muddy state they’re in!) you can use a
bucket or baby bath with tepid water in, or a damp cloth to wipe them down, then a quick dry off
with a towel and a brush. You don’t need to go to the extent of a full wash and blow-dry after every
walk, but keeping your dog clean is really important.
While I may have painted a picture of cold, dark, gloomy, wet walks, winter’s not all bad! There are
plenty of positives about walks at this time of year. It can be tempting to stay indoors during the
darker mornings and evenings, but being out in the fresh air is really good for both you and your dog.
As long as you’re prepared for the conditions, walks can be enjoyable for you both, even in the dark
and cold. Enjoy the peace and quiet, and look out for a glimpse of nocturnal wildlife that you might
not usually spot in spring or summer. I’ve heard quite a few ‘twit twos’ while I’ve been out recently!
So, wrap up warm, make sure you’re visible and relish those winter walks. (But, please, learn from
my mistake and make sure your torch is fully charged…)