September and October bring very mixed weather. Some days are bright and dry, and it is a joy to head out for a nice, long walk with your dog. But other days are damp and dreary, and it is easier to stay on the couch by the fire. That makes this a good time of year to develop a plan to keep you motivated to walk your dog daily through the winter. We humans can head to the gym and exercise indoors when the weather is bad, but what about our dogs? They need exercise too to stay healthy and fit. And regular exercise also keeps them from getting bored, which means regular walking has some real benefits for your shoes, furniture and other chewable belongings!
You can develop some tactics now while the weather is still mostly good to keep you going through the winter. The two main things are to get into a good routine and to anticipate the obstacles and plan to overcome them.
If you and your dog get used to taking a walk at the same time every day, it will be easier. Dogs love routine. If they expect a walk at 7:00 pm, they will remind you with nudges, barks and a lot of pacing. So the first step is to figure out what time of the day will work consistently for you through the winter. For some people, a walk before work makes the commute more bearable. For others, a stroll after work or later in the evening clears the head and relaxes them. You might love an evening walk, but if you are required to work late regularly, it will be harder to make it a habit. Some of us prefer two shorter walks, one in the morning and one in the evening. Find a schedule that works for you, and it will be easier to stick to it.
What Are Your Obstacles?
Ideally, walking your dog in autumn means you are crunching through drifts of colourful, dry leaves in the crisp, cool air. But in Ireland, those days are not the norm. Autumn here is wet and dark. But there’s saying that there’s no bad weather, just bad gear! Planning ahead to overcome the obstacles that make it challenging to walk your dog when the weather turns can make a real difference.
What obstacles trip you up? For most of us, it is all of them!
- Dark: As the days get shorter, it’s harder for many of us who work standard business hours to get out for a walk when it is light out. High viz gear for yourself and your dog make walking in the dark safer. For your dog, that can mean a reflective dog coat, harness or collar.
- Damp: Wet dog smell is something all dog owners have to manage, and the idea of bringing a soggy doggy into the house can be very off-putting. Delaying your walk until the rain stops will mean missing a lot of walks. A water-proof dog coat can keep much of your canine companion’s fur dry, and keeping an old towel near the door lets you dry him off as soon as you get home.
- Cold: The best remedy for cold is to keep moving. Most dogs are not that bothered by cold, but older dogs, very small dogs and those with thin coats such as greyhounds and whippets do need a dog coat in cold weather.
- Ice and Snow: Dark, damp and cold are uncomfortable, but snow and ice can be dangerous. Some dogs, particularly older ones, are better off skipping their daily walk if it is snowy or icy out. But others love snow and aren’t too bothered by ice. A two-year-old Labrador will have a different view on winter weather than an eight-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. We humans do best with good boots and ice cleats. Our dogs have claws that give them traction on ice, but snow can get stuck in between their paw pads. That is painful for them. Follow your dog’s lead on these days. If she slows up or stops, check her paws. Sometimes a short, slow walk is the best you can do.
Where to Walk Your Dog in Autumn
On busy weekdays when you need a solid routine, a walk in your own neighbourhood is the easiest habit to maintain. But on weekends or whenever you have time and we are blessed with one of those ideal crisp autumn days, why not head out for more stunning scenery?
In Dublin, Marlay Park in Rathfarnham and the Phoenix Park on the North Circular Road have long been popular with dog walkers. Both are great places to stretch your legs and feast your eyes on the changing colours. But what about beyond the Pale?
Just outside Mullingar, County Westmeath, Belvedere House and Gardens is now extremely dog friendly. Enjoy a stroll through the woods, explore the follies and then secure Fido in a kennel with a dog house and water bowl while you have lunch in the café. Belleek Woods in Ballina, County Mayo offers a crisscrossing network of trails through the woods and along the River Moy. There’s even a fairy trail. Expect to encounter a lot of other dogs here. Fitzgerald Park is popular with Cork City dogs and their humans. In County Kildare, Celbridge’s Castletown House is a beautiful spot for walking year ‘round.
Ireland boasts lovely forest trails and canal tow paths as well as urban parks. When we want a nice day out walking with our best friends, we are spoiled for choice. But not everywhere welcomes dogs. Avoid working farms as many dogs will get too excited at the sight of livestock and upset both the animals and the farmers. Autumn and winter are not the best times to challenge yourself in the mountains as the weather can turn quickly, making it dangerous even for experienced hill-walkers.
Wherever and whenever you take your dog out for a walk this autumn, one of the nicest feelings is when you get back home. Time to put on the kettle, light the fire and snuggle up with your best friend! And when you get yourself a nice cuppa, don’t forget to give your dog a treat too.
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