Over at the little-dog meetup, our ranks are already thinning. It happens every year about this time as a bite returns to the air and the snow creeps lower on the mountains. Owners say their dogs refuse to go outside in the cold.
Like it or not, not all Alaska dogs are northern breeds, or even double-coated. Some pets have short hair. Others, like my Yorkies, have single coats that don't insulate well.
Left to their own devices, these dogs often balk at going outside. Owners, for lack of a good solution, give in and either find indoor places to exercise or dig in for a long, sedentary winter.
I'm looking for advice from veteran, cold-weather pet owners. How are your dogs acting this time of year? And for those with dogs ill-suited for the cold, what do you do to survive an Alaska winter?
My Yorkies have come to anticipate winter walks, and we take two a day just about every day throughout the winter. At minus 5, I cut the length of walks. At minus 10, I may skip them altogether. I just watch my dogs and see how they're reacting. And I always keep them moving.
Here's my advice after 8 years of trial and error:
* Don't take no for an answer, but keep walks fun. If your dog balks at the cold, bring a favorite toy or treats along on the walk. Keep walks lively and fun so they forget about the cold. And keep them moving so they generate their own heat. They are not going to get frostbite at 40 or 50 degrees, so don't feel like you're torturing them insisting that they go on a walk at this time of year. As it gets colder, watch and see if they're just uncomfortable or if real pain is setting in.
* If you anticipate having to use a coat or booties as it gets colder, pick them out now and get them used to wearing them even before the snow flies. You don't want to spring the full winter experience on them at one time -- coat, booties, snow and cold. Ease them into it by getting used to the clothes now. I've never met a dog that likes wearing clothes, but they can learn to tolerate them and even forget they're wearing them.
* When purchasing, think comfort and practicality before fashion statement. I've found that clothes that restrict a dog's movement defeat the purpose. Unless you're planning to carry your dog, a big hood is just annoying. Long-legged coats make sense, but they don't work for my Yorkies. They slow them down, and the secret of staying warm in winter is to keep moving. As for a fabric, I prefer fleece or wool. Yes, both get wet, but they keeps their insulating capacity and seem to be comfortable.
* When getting your dogs used to wearing a coat, distract them. Put it on, toss a favorite toy. Have them do a trick and reward. You want them to forget they have it on. But watch how they move in the coat. If it's rubbing awkwardly somewhere, restricting their movement or falling off, you might want to try another coat.
* For my Yorkies, nothing made more of a difference than fleece booties. Just getting their pads off the icy surface is enough to make a potentially miserable experience tolerable. They make a lot of heavy-duty booties with everything from leather to nylon, but I've found simpler is better for little dogs. You want them to be unobtrusive and easy to walk in. Put them on before the snow flies and play some games with your dogs. Lure them a few feet with a treat. Usually, they can learn to tolerate them in just one or two training sessions.
* The bottom line is your dogs need exercise, or their excess energy will turn into problems around the house. If you're not a winter person yourself and don't expect it out of your dogs, find a place where they can get some regular exercise indoors. Petco and Sportsman's Warehouse are two places I know that allow dogs. Alaska Mill and Feed is allowing them again, but not in the checkout line.