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Winter weather brings an extra challenge for pets and their owners. Your pooch can't break out snow boots, don a sweater, or add a warm comfy blanket to his bed at night, so he needs some help from you. When you begin winter preparations, be sure your pet's safety and comfort are high on your list. Here are a few ideas to keep your favorite canine from freezing when Old Man Winter comes a-calling.

The Great (Cold) Outdoors

Of course, keeping your dog indoors with you during the wintertime is the best idea. But remember, indoor dogs are used to being indoors - it's cold outside to them, too. A warm sweater or coat is highly recommended for short or thin-haired dogs, such as the Chinese Crescent, Schnauzer, Scottie, Yorkie, and Cocker Spaniel, and is a good idea for any dog who shivers when the weather's cold.

There's also the dreaded cold-weather potty problem: Just as owners hate braving the cold to take pets out for their regular constitutional, many indoor dogs hate the ritual, too. Your dog may feel it's more convenient and comfortable to use the floor or carpet, but you can curb this with a regular outdoor comfort-station schedule: first thing in the morning, twice during the day, and last thing at night. This regularity will help train your dog's bodily functions and alleviate you having to rely on his own good judgment, or lack thereof.

If your dog is allowed both indoors and outdoors, install a pet door with draft protection. A "double door" forces the outer door to close before the inner door opens, thus trapping cold air before it enters the house.

Pampered Paws & Pads

Dog boots are a perfect way to help protect and insulate tender paws from the harmful effects of snow, ice and road salt. Many pet owners think snow is a paw's worst enemy, but the real culprit is the salt used on icy roads and sidewalks. Salt can cause a dog's pads to become dry, cracked, and painfully sore. Dogs also tend to get ice stuck between their toes, which can cause significant discomfort and, sometimes, frostbite.

If you haven't bought dog booties yet, be sure to wash your dog's toes and pads in warm water and dry them thoroughly after he's been romping outside. If your dog does develop dry, cracked or sore paws, have his vet take a look at them, since this may indicate the first stages of frostbite. To help prevent this, use a trimmer or clipper to keep his nails and the hair between his toes and pads short and even with the bottom of his feet.

Dodging the Draft

While it's obviously preferable to keep your dog indoors during the winter months-and a dog should never be left alone outside in the cold-a doghouse can provide some shelter from the shivers when he does go outside.

Doghouses defy the conventional wisdom that "bigger is better." It's quite the contrary-a smaller doghouse helps trap body heat and maintain warmth. The house only needs to be big enough to allow your pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably.

Help keep the doghouse warm by:

  • Positioning it in the yard where it will receive the most sunlight.
  • Placing it behind a structure or barrier to protect it from wind.
  • Elevating it on a low platform to keep it off the frozen ground.
  • Utilizing a door or heavy flap of material over the entrance to keep cold air out.
  • Covering the dog house with some sort of waterproof insulation, a blanket covered with a plastic painting tarp will do the trick.
While blankets work well inside heated homes, inside the dog house they tend to trap moisture and can feel damp and chilly. Hardwood shavings, straw, or hay spread across the floor of the doghouse provide better insulation.

Dogs are particularly vulnerable to dehydration, especially in winter, so you must take steps to keep the water dish from freezing. Deep and/or dark-colored plastic dishes tend not to freeze as fast as shallow and/or light-colored metal ones.

With a little forethought and planning, you and your dog can enjoy a happier, healthier, and safer winter season.

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