by Nancy E. Hassel, ThisFurryLife.com
The last few weeks here in the Northeast and other areas of the country, the temperatures have been brutally cold, dangerously cold. Below 0 degrees farenheit in many areas. And that quickly froze many of our water ways, even the waves in the ocean have been a frozen slush, it’s incredible to see. But what I have seen repeatedly in different areas where I live, is people walking or letting their dogs run on frozen ponds, or worse or salt water bays that have active channels and inlets. In my opinion, you are surely setting your dog up for failure and putting him in harm’s way.
You may be reading this, thinking “we have done this for years, our dogs are always fine on the ice.” True in some areas they have full winter festivals on lakes that are frozen, but it just takes that one time where you thought it was fully frozen and it wasn’t and your dog falls through. Then what do you do?
We always hear about dogs chasing birds out onto the ice, falling through then the owner trying to save his or her dog falling through and hopefully they are rescued without injury. Call me paranoid, but I am not going to let my dog run or walk on the ice, not even one doggie paw pad on the frozen pond or bay! Why take the chance?
How to keep them off of the ice?
First, keep your dog on a leash and don’t walk onto the ice. Um, makes sense right? If you want to go ice skating fine, but leave your dog at home! Why would you risk the chance of an area of the pond or bay not being completely frozen and you or your dog falling through?. What if you fell through and your dog is now running around frantic trying to get to you? Then your dog falls through. What is no one is around to help you?
When I got my first dog as an adult, a young female puppy Doberman in the late summer of 1995, I did a lot of training with her in many different places. One place more than others, happened to be a park with wooded trails, streams and a lake. That first winter, the then 8-month old puppy was very curious about the strange frozen occurrence that the lake had become.
While wanting to show her the ice, I also didn’t want her to think it was safe to walk out onto. So without taking a dog training course on winter safety and going on my instincts, I let her sniff the ice, put a front paw or two on it, but never ever let her walk out onto the ice. Using various commands, “off” if she ventured more than one paw onto the ice, or “stay” to keep her by me, or using “eh ah” if she tried to step on it. Of course this was all done while she was on a leash and giving her verbal praise as a reward. I also let her step on a frozen part right near the edge that I knew would break apart, you know those couple inches of water at the edge that freeze but can still be cracked pretty easily – showing her that it would break. Doing this repeatedly throughout the winter months, trained her not to ever step out onto the ice. Each winter after that I would do a refresher near the first frozen body of water we came upon. I was lucky to have one ridiculously smart dog, who learned quickly and seemed to understand the danger. She was also trained to heel, so when in the presence of ducks, geese or any other wildlife she would not chase an animal. Of course a dog being a dog, she still had instincts to want to chase but having her trained on a verbal recall, helped in having to worry if she did get off leash near ice. I did all these same winter training rituals with my current dog, and he too learned quickly.
You also have to keep in mind what breed of dog you have too. If your dog was specifically bred for hunting, chasing out birds or is a water dog, you still want to teach your dog winter safety training. Just because your have a Chesapeake Bay Retriever doesn’t mean it can get out of a dangerous situation like falling through ice in a middle of a lake.
Winter can be a lot of fun for us and our dogs, but teaching a dog to stay, come on command and never letting your dog off leash near thin or thick ice, are vital to keeping our dogs safe – and ourselves for that matter. Now that the weather is getting cold enough for ice to begin to form across many of our lakes, ponds, and bays – think about training your dog with winter safety in mind. If you are not sure how to do this properly, consult a dog trainer and ask them for a winter safety training session or two.
And as our winters go here in New York, 2 weeks of frigid temperatures, back up to 50 degrees, ice surely starts to melt. Please be safe out there with your pups!