It is DARN cold here in Northern Kentucky; I woke up this morning to a temperature of five below zero with windchill factor of sixteen below. Pretty cold for our part of the world.
It's a good time of year to be cognizant of how the weather affects your pets, particularly if they spend a lot of time outside. Make sure plenty of fresh water is available, and that it does not freeze. Wipe your pets feet when they come in from outside if you use salt or chemicals on your driveway so that the residue doesn't cause irritation (I keep baby wipes for wiping feet and messy rear ends- works great). Be on the lookout for antifreeze leaks; just a small amount of antifreeze will kill a dog or a cat. And it's a good idea if you park outside, to bang on the hood of your car or honk the horn before starting it up just in case a cat has taken up residence under the hood on the warm engine (I've had at least two cats that I adopted after they were injured by fanbelts- a common scenario).
As far as pets who live outside, it is an individual call as to when to bring them in especially for the night. If they are out, a dry, windproof, insulated area is essential to keep them safe. Most dogs can tolerate some pretty cold temperatures if you protect them from wind and wet. I recommend a doghouse with an offset door so that the wind and rain doesn't blow in. Straw makes great bedding as long as it is kept dry- much better than blankets or newspaper. A common scenario is the stray kitty outside; often the "good samaritan" can't bring it inside due to other pets who may not get along, but feels bad for the stray. A cheap, quick and easy shelter is one of those inexpensive styrofoam coolers. Fill it with straw, tape the lid on, and turn it upside down. Cut a small hole in the side, and voila! Instant cat shelter. If you want to REALLY insulate it, line a rubbermaid storage container or larger styrofoam cooler with straw or crumpled newspaper, turn it upside down and place it over the original cooler shelter. Cut a corresponding hole and now you have an insulated, better water-proofed house. (It actually works better to turn the original shelter upside down and put it inside the larger one; cut the opening, tape the lid on the bottom one, and then turn it all rightside up again. But I thought it was easier to picture the end product with the first description).
Here's a great chart from Tufts Animal Care and Condition Scores recommendations; it helps you to determine when your pet may be in danger:
If your score is a 1 or 2, you are minimal to no risk. A 3 means no immediate threat but watch for changing conditions and be sure to take special circumstances into consideration; there is potential for problems without supervision. A 4 means you have a potentiallydangerous situation and prompt action should be taken to avoid problems. A 5 or higher means your pet's life is in immediate danger. I like this chart because it takes variables such as breed, size, and protection from the elements into consideration.
I read an article on "winterizing your pet" in the Enquirer's online edition today. One of the things they cautioned about was that pets were more likely to get lost when there was snow on the ground, as they could "lose their scent" due to the snow and not be able to find their way home. I don't know who came up with this old wive's tale....not anyone who tracks with dogs! I have been training my dogs in tracking off and on for the past couple of years. I was hoping to have them both ready to certify in time for the winter/spring tests in our area (they have to pass a certification track before they can enter an "official" test). I've been lazy this fall though and haven't had them out in a while. I can tell you though, one reason tracking tests entrants pray for snow the day of a test is it makes tracking so easy! Not only can you often SEE where the track goes (you can't make the dog go that way, but it sure makes it a lot easier to know when to believe your dog or not if he tells you there's a turn!), but the dogs find tracking in the snow incredibly easy in most cases. I try NOT to track them in the snow too much while we are training, for fear they will get used to that all winter and then make it into a test the weekend of a spring thaw and not be acclimated to tracking without the snow holding all that scent.
I laid a short track for my younger dog Cory on Wednesday (decided it was too darn cold for Andy the old man, although he thought otherwise). We've only been out once since we stopped tracking for the summer (tracking is not a hot weather activity!). That time I ran a fairly fresh track, about 30 minutes old. When we stopped for the summer he was tracking really well for me, mostly doing 1 1/2 to 3 hour old tracks, with multiple turns and articles and starting to add obstacles like parking lot and sidewalk crossings. When I took him out on the fresh track in mid October, he did a lot of running and circling; I had some trouble with this when we first started and he seems to do better with older tracks. I'm guessing the fresh tracks have a lot of hot scent swirling around whereas on the older tracks it has had time to settle back down. At any rate, Wednesday I decided to stick close to home since it was so cold and laid our track in the empty lots across the street. This meant that it was sparse cover, mostly mud with scant grass and lots of gravel and rock, and our available area was long and narrow. I ran the track at about an hour and 15 minutes old. This seemed to suit Cory much better; I downed him at the start article, waited until he indicated the direction of the track, then ok'd him to get up and start down the track. He did most of the track at a run (or at least, trying to run with me not moving nearly so fast at the end of the line). We had a few minor issues with wanting to cut corners and go directly to the gloves I had dropped since the area was so narrow and our legs* were not very far apart, but he worked through it very quickly and we were back inside eating chili in record time. Now I am motivated to get out and work again, but with sub-zero weather not only is it too miserable for me, but the dogs don't tend to scent as well when their mucous membranes dry up and freeze; my guys also tend to have their feet freeze up. I do have boots for them to wear in training (not legal in a test, although jackets are), but haven't really tried them yet as the dogs are very offended when asked to wear them.
Here's a picture of Andy (the older dog) tracking in warmer weather. These were taken at a seminar in Bardstown 11/07. Also pictured is my tracking partner Sharon and her Welsh Springer Baylin. Baylin earned her TD (Tracking Dog title) last spring and is now working on TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent). Andy unfortunately ran into a few bobbles in his tests and did not pass; we are having a few age related health issues with him but hope to be able to try again this spring.
Those pictures make me long for nice fall "jacket" days to track in! Oh well, we'll hang in there and wait for it to warm up just a little and then we'll get out there again!
*By "legs" I mean each particular segment of the track, not the dog's or my legs! Ideally you would like it if no part of the track passed closer than about 50 yards to another. In this case, because it was such a narrow strip of land we had to use, in some cases the track was only 40-50 FEET from another segment; not ideal and not something I'd do everyday in training as the dogs want to cut directly across and head to the glove (which usually has a treat in it).