Preventing your dog slipping on the ice

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column
By: Gail T. Fisher

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about slipping on the ice. As Mayday, who will be 13 in two weeks, gets a little slower and stiffer with age, he is also being more careful. The deck the dogs go out onto in their yard has some ice on it, and Mayday has been walking out very carefully. Cannon, on the other hand – still very much the adolescent – barrels through, over and across whatever is in his path. While it hasn’t stopped his running into the yard, he has slipped on the kitchen floor once or twice, and now avoids the middle of the kitchen, having made the association with that part of the room, rather than the his reckless racing.

Many dogs learn to adjust their footing, as Mayday has, while others never seem to get the connection between their speed or activity, and the need to adjust to different surface traction.

Since Monarchs hockey came to town, our Flyball team has put on some demonstrations during period breaks at some games. Performing “Flyball on Ice” is a challenge – but one that our flyball team enjoys meeting. We lay two 70’ tracks of rubber matting along the ice, with four jumps and the flyball box at the end. We have additional side mats for extra width at both ends, so if a dog makes a wide turn, he will be on the mat rather than the ice.

Last year one of the dogs did slip on the ice during one demonstration. The dog was fine, but after the game a hockey fan and dog lover emailed his concerns. He related his own experience when his dog had slipped on the ice at a pond, tearing his cruciate ligament (holding the knee in place), and requiring surgery. To decrease the likelihood of an injury, this year at our demonstration last Sunday, we laid extra mats to try to avoid a repeat of the slip.

That didn’t stop some of the dogs from choosing to run around the jumps and across the ice – much to the delight of the fans in attendance. The dogs were fine – no one slipped. And neither did the human members of the team.

The subject of dogs slipping on insecure footing is interesting. Some dogs adjust, quickly learning to regulate their speed. Others, however, exacerbate the problem by walking up on their nails. Since nails have far less traction than foot pads, this makes the problem worse. It’s like the difference between the broad, flat surface of a boot as opposed to the narrow, blade of an ice skate. If you know how to skate, that’s fine – but if you don’t, you’ll do far better walking carefully in boots.

There are things you can do to help your dog avoid slipping on ice. First, keep your dog’s nails trimmed or filed. A Dremel grinding tool works well, and once the dog gets used to the sound and feel of the Dremel, it’s generally quicker and less stressful for many dogs. A professional groomer will trim or file your dog’s nails if you’re unsure how to do it, or if you’d like to see how your dog adjusts to nail grinding before investing in a Dremel yourself.

In addition to keeping his nails short, keep excess hair on the bottoms of his feet trimmed short. Hair between the pads can form ice balls – both painful and potentially dangerous for slipping. I don’t recommend you trim this hair yourself, as it is very easy to cut your dog’s foot. Again, a professional groomer can remove any excess hair between your dog’s pads.

Consider boots. Boots will protect your dog’s feet from ice balls, and add traction. In extremely cold weather – something we haven’t had to deal with so far this winter – boots will protect your dog’s feet from the pain of walking on frigid ground.

And finally, if you’re not sure of the traction, or how your dog will react, keep him on leash to slow him down, and limit his activities – especially around frozen ponds or other icy conditions.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2007. All rights reserved.
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