Travelling Snowbirds and Snowdogs

We are currently en route home from a trip to Florida – so not exactly “snowbirds” (i.e. the group of Canadians who escape to warmer climes in winter)- but a nice respite from the chilly Ontario December weather! Our trip included 4 adults and 2 Dalmatians…and was a lot of fun.

Whether you are escaping for the entire winter or a few days, it can be wonderful to bring your whole family, pooches included. However, there are some things to consider when planning a trip that involves your dogs (or, if you are particularly brave, your cat, bird, iguana, etc.).

Here’s my top 5 K9 Travel Tips:

1)      Connect with your veterinary team. Different areas may bring different health risks for your pets, and  your veterinary team may recommend vaccines, parasite prevention, or other preparation to keep them safer.

2)      Prepare for ‘on the road’ hours. If your pooch isn’t used to long car rides you might want to work up to a cross-country trip to help them acclimatize to travel. Either way, be sure to plan frequent stops along the way where you can walk your dog, let them go to the bathroom, and give them a break from the car.

Random and Hazzard are in crash tested kennels, secured to the vehicle.

Random and Hazzard are in crash tested kennels, secured to the vehicle.

3)      Make sure they are safe in the vehicle. The ideal set up for your dog in your car is a crash-tested kennel secured down to your car. If this is not possible, investigate one of the crash-tested harnesses to keep your pooch safe. Important to note – most harnesses are not crash-tested and thus are not the best option for safety.

Please don’t leave your pooch loose in the car. They will get hurt (or killed) if you are in an accident, they can hurt (or kill) you when they become a projectile, and their enthusiasm to see you or something else in the car could be the cause of an accident.

4)      Pack EVERYTHING they will need! Food is obvious, but there are lots of other things you will want to pack to ensure a smooth trip.

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a.       Toys and chew toys– if your pooch is used to having a selection of toys at their disposal (as mine are!) then pack a few favourites to keep them entertained in hotel rooms, etc. Chew toys – some dogs will appreciate a chew toy or treat. Remember to always supervise your dog when they are chewing on anything (so if they are having a treat on the road you need a passenger who can safely keep an eye on them). Your veterinary team can advise you on safe chew treats/toys.

b.       Water – some pets are sensitive to changes in water, and an upset tummy on the road is no fun for anyone. You might want to consider bringing water from home, and/or buying water en route. Either way, remember to have fresh water available at all times. We can all get a bit dehydrated sitting in a car all day.

c.       Medications – if your pet is on medication, ensure you have enough for your trip. Talk to your veterinary team about antihistamines – these (along with the correct dose, product and formulation) can be good medications to have on hand in case of an encounter with an unexpected insect. Your veterinary team can advise you on appropriate use.

d.       Coats/jackets/boots (+/- snoods) – ensure you and your pup are prepared for weather you may encounter on your way so you can still enjoy your walks!

e.       Collars/ID – ensure your pet has current ID tags in case of an accident or other event where they may be lost. I wear a wristband with a tag containing a few emergency phone numbers and the phrase “check car for dogs”. If I am in an accident I want people to realize my dogs are in their kennels, as in the chaos of an accident they could be missed.

f.        Leash and poop bags – be a responsible owner so that everyone can continue to bring their pups along on trips 😊.

5. Pre-book pet-friendly places to stay. When traveling with a pooch (or two) it may be easier to pre-book your hotels. Not every hotel is pet friendly, so if you wait til you are on the road you may have some difficulty. Many, many hotels are pet friendly these days, so you should not have any problem finding a place that will accommodate you and your pooch. Some dogs LOVE camping, so if you are an outdoorsy person this can be a good option! Definitely try this out before taking off on an epic trip – as it may take your dog(s) some practice to adjust to tent life.

I have a ton of fun travelling with my dogs and with a bit of forethought and preplanning we are prepared for the expected and unexpected. This also means that I am never lonely on long car rides (though they are not the best conversation artists) and we have so much fun exploring new places along the way… whether they are snow-covered or not.

Baby it’s cold outside….

It’s so cold. SO COLD. What do I do with my crazy dogs?

When I woke up this am it was -14C. I feel personally offended by this temperature. I grew up in Saskatchewan, so I am VERY familiar with cold weather and horrid winters. I remember waking up one morning on the farm I worked at on weekends and hearing the weather report “with the wind chill it is -55C today”…omg, can I stay in bed?

But now I live in Ontario. We have milder, shorter winters. It isn’t supposed to be -14C in late November. When you live with Dalmatians though, you brave the cold. In fact, perhaps I precipitated this drop in temperature by purchasing the spots fleecy “snoods” yesterday. Whoops. But at least their ears will be warm 😊. So, we bundled up and headed out for our walk, but it was less fun than usual.

I LOVE winter, as long as it isn’t too cold and there is a ton of snow. There are a lot of fun things you can do in winter to keep active with your pooch. There are also some things you can do to keep your pooch active when it is just too awful to be outside.

Skijoring

Cross-country skiing with some help from your pooch! If you are even slightly comfortable on skis, this can be an easy one to get into. You need a bit of gear: a harness/belt for you, a pulling harness for your pooch (I recommend an x-back harness, there are some great Canadian suppliers), bungee line to attach you together – then voila! Off you go! SO MUCH FUN. I am a mediocre skier at best, but have a lot of fun forging out with my dog.

Sledding

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If you are willing to invest in a bit more gear, kick-sledding is a great next step. An entry level kick-sled will run you around $250, though you can often find them used. Same harness as above, same bungee line (though I actually like a shorter line on the sled than I do on skis). Harness your pooch to the sled and off you go! Kick-sleds are cool because you can help your pooch a ton. Last year it was just Random and I, my 43 lb Dalmatian. So kick-sledding was a decent work out for both of us. I spent a lot of time either jogging behind, or kicking with one foot on (a la scootering) and very little time being pulled. The combo of me + sled was too heavy for Random other than short spurts. She LOVED it! This year her partner in crime, Hazzard, is old enough to start pulling his weight (and mine!). I am eagerly awaiting more snow and have visions of the two Spots pulling me along while I gracefully coast behind them. In reality it will probably involve them seeing a deer, me falling off and having to sprint after them. In a snowsuit. I will keep you posted.

Biking

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My awesome husband surprised me with a fat bike (mountain bike with GIANT tires) for my Bday in October. It was been revolutionary to our biking! Upgrading from my second hand, clunky mountain bike to a slick fatbike has increased our speed and our ability to manage terrain. And fatbikes are also great in snow. BRING ON THE SNOW.

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What if it is just too vile out?

One way to tire out dogs is to work their brains. Food puzzles are great. You can purchase ones with different compartments, or stuff a kong with food, or get a snuffle matt to hide kibble in.

Training for obedience or tricks can work their brain and get them moving.

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Treadmills can be awesome for indoor exercise. Other than quite small dogs, please do not use human treadmills for your pooch. The footbed is not long enough and will shorten their stride. There are several brands of doggie treadmill which are quite affordable.

Winter can be fun if we get out and enjoy it, and most of the time our dogs are EAGER to get outside, despite the foul weather 😊.

Proceed with caution! Watch out for ice, you and your pooch can slip and hurt themselves. Beware of ice melt/salt products on the sidewalk/roads – this can be harmful to your pup’s feet. Boots may be in order, or wash their feet when you get home. Keep them cozy, if you are bundled up, your pooch might need to be, too. There are tons of great jackets and boots…and snoods.

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Hiking Adventures

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Few things can beat a hike with your best K9 buddy. However, before you embark on adventure, there are three things to consider to ensure success.

Leashes and the like

MOST areas for hiking will be on leash. There are many reasons for this, some of these include: the safety and comfort of people using the trail; the safety of your pooch – there might be wildlife in the area!; protection of natural areas – some parks/trails include sensitive fauna that could be harmed by an enthusiastic pooch bounding through it; other hazards such as old fences/wire, etc can pose a risk to a loose dog.

A harness may be a good option for your on-leash hike, as it allows your dog to pull ahead, sniffing and investigating, without pressure on their neck. A sturdy leash is a must. Flexi-leads are rarely a good idea – dogs can become tangled, you can drop your clunky end and startle your dog, and your dog can get waaay too far out front. There are belts you can wear that you can hook your dog’s leash too, these leave your hands free for balancing yourself on a hike, accessing water, etc.

Your pooch may be able to pull his or her own weight and carry a small backpack with poo bags and treats. Mine always keep my car keys (they are far less likely to lose then than I am!). If your dog hasn’t worn a pack before, start slow and light, then work up to them carrying a moderate weight. It is recommended that dogs not carry more than 10% of their own weight. This means my 43 lb Dalmatian can comfortable carry a water bottle, my keys, and some treats.

Some areas will allow for off leash hiking. This can be a wonderful adventure, but needs some preparation, too. Most importantly, ensure your dog has a VERY solid recall. They need to come when you call them, reliably, and not just in your yard/house, but when there are distractions around. If your dog starts chasing a squirrel and totally ignores you they could run onto a road, or into another hazard, or get lost!

Don’t be a weekend warrior

If you and your pooch are somewhat sedentary during the week, with small walks around the neighbourhood, don’t set out for a 10 km hike on Saturday, you will both end up sore! Start slow and build up, together. You can begin by simply adding on to your regular neighbourhood walks; add some extra distance, or difficulty by finding some hills to climb. Then head out to some trails to get you and your pooch used to different terrain.

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Prevent disease

Being out in nature is wonderful but can bring risks. Talk to your veterinary team to ensure your pet is protected against anything they might encounter. Dogs who are exposed to streams, puddles and/or wildlife (e.g. rodents, raccoons) urine or feces may need different vaccines (check out Dr. Evason’s podcast on leptospirosis!), and parasite prevention. Similarly, your pooch may need different flea, tick and heartworm prevention depending on where you live or plan to travel to.  Your veterinary team will be able to work with you to protect your precious pet.

 

NEW Fitness Focus Blog!

Guest blog by Heather Parsons (who has recently joined the Canadian K9 Lifetime Study team), with a few comments from Dr. Evason.

Hi my name is Heather. Everyone who knows me is aware that I am really serious about fitness for my canine family, and that I try to be serious about my own fitness, too.

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As Canada moves towards the winter months, and the snow starts to fly, we may need to be more creative about how we ensure our canine buddies stay active. The same is true for us! It can be harder to stay motivated when the weather is foul. Fortunately, our pets can help us stay fit! I have two young Dalmatians who NEED to get out for some serious exercise every day. They do a great job of motivating me to get moving!

Many dogs continue to enjoy their daily walks despite the winter weather. Some dogs may benefit from coats or boots to keep them warm and cozy. Protecting feet from the ice and road salt is also important – so even if your pooch braves the weather with no complaints, boots may be a good idea. If you or your dog decide that winter is not for you, there are lots of indoor activities to stay fit. Some areas across Canada have indoor doggie pools, swimming is an awesome activity for staying fit and conditioning without undue stress on joints. Agility training can be a great way to stay active and busy (and warm!), check out indoor clubs in your area. Obedience classes can tire out your pup’s brain while you work on manners, or train for competition. If you have a bit of space in your home, you can set up a doggie gym area and do some strength/fitness training. For active breeds, a treadmill might be the answer to the days that are too stormy to be outside. We will look at each of these options, and more, as this blog continues. We would love to hear your suggestions for staying fit and active in all kinds of weather!

If you and your canine pal have been too busy to be regularly active, but you are ready to get fit together, it’s good to check in with the medical professionals in your lives. Before you embark on an exercise program, you should talk to your Doctor - and it is the same for your canine fitness companion. Talk to your veterinary team - they can advise you on appropriate exercise, diet, and help you towards your fitness goals.

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Dr. Evason’s veterinary 2 cents: When things turn gray and gloomy outside, some of us (okay, yours truly), may need scientific support to help convince us to get moving. So, what about the science behind the importance of exercise AND the benefits of exercising with your K9 companion?

Just like the 2-legged animal (yes, I am talking about people), it’s well understood that canine obesity and weight gain result from myriad factors (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20402841).

And, once again similarly to humans…in dogs, increasing evidence has shown the positive effects of exercise on weight loss and ongoing weight maintenance (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26720083).

What is interesting (and unsurprising for those of who are admittedly K9 crazy and One Health focused), is that recent research also indicates that pet-owners are more likely to exercise their dog due to ‘dog responsibility’ or ‘the Lassie effect’ of dog health and enjoyment (https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-016-3660-2).

As such, the provision of regular exercise would seem sensible to support healthy life habits and weight management for dogs- along with their people. Not to mention that it’s tough to resist a pair of puppy love filled brown (or blue) eyes full of enthusiasm for one of life’s simplest (and in my opinion greatest) pleasures…walking the dog.