Although it may feel like it at times, Spring isn’t an on/off switch. It takes time for leaves to grow, grass to turn green and dogs to get back into their warm- weather routines. It won’t take much, though. And it’s up to you, as the owner, to make sure there’s a smooth and safe transition into the new season.
The warm weather can bring up a lot of questions about your dog’s well-being and behavior—and we’ve heard them all. Here are a few things to keep in mind as the snow and ice give way spring and sunshine:
• Easy does it: If you’ve been binge-watching old episodes of “The Sopranos” all winter instead of taking your after-work run, you won’t log 15 miles on your first run of the spring. Instead, you’ll ease back into your workout and give your body the time to work itself back into shape. Don’t expect your dog to be any different. Unless they have a regular schedule of playtime, most dogs are inactive during the winter months. Sure, they’ll occasionally chase a rabbit out of the yard but for the most part, they’re pretty inactive, content to stay cozy and warm curled up next to you on the couch. If your dog’s your running partner, it’s your responsibility to make sure she ramps back up to a normal routine. Dog’s muscles get sore, just like yours. If you push your dog too hard, he may be out of the loop for a few days while his body recovers.
• Paws for concern: Fertilizer may work wonders on your lawn but it isn’t doing your dog’s paws any favors. Even if you’re committed to organic, eco-friendly fertilizer, there’s no way to tell what your neighbors are using. That means your dog’s paws will be picking up a variety of lawn treatments while taking that morning walk. If your dog is licking her paws a lot, you may notice that they have a reddish tint. It’s not blood. Red paws are a sign of increased alkaline in your dog’s system, which is present in their saliva, which gets into their paws when they clean them. If your dog is outside in the spring, it’s good practice to wash their paws off when they’re back inside the house. If you know that your grass has been recently fertilized, it’s not a bad idea to continue using your dog’s winter shoes. In addition to fertilizer, spring beings the application of pesticides and herbicides as well, so an extra layer of protection is never a bad idea.
• To shave or not to shave: The springtime shave is a favorite for dog owners but before you ask for the puppy special, keep in mind that your dog’s fur isn’t just there to keep him warm. Unlike you, a dog can’t sweat to regulate his body temperature so his fur helps keep his body heat in check. Think of it as a barrier against the heat, protecting him from the sun and excessive temperatures. While no one likes trails of dog hair on their couch or rug, your dog’s annual ritual of spring—and fall—are an essential step in the process of preparing for the months ahead. Shedding their undercoats, which helps keep them warm in winter, means a rebirth for their outercoat, which is the barrier they need to keep them cool. Despite what you may think, shaving a dog to keep her cool may actually have the opposite effect. And if you’re tired of the shedding, be proactive and brush your dog more often when she begins losing her winter coat.
• Roll with it: As the rest of the animal world moves back into plain sight, your dog will encounter plenty of the gifts they’ll leave in your yard and along your walking route. If you see your dog rolling around the grass in ecstacy, it’s likely they’re rolling around in something that may not be too welcome in your home. If you have rabbits and racoons in your yard, or if you walk along a path that is also frequented by deer, make sure your dog is “gift”-free before entering the house and alter her bathing schedule if necessary.
Dogs embrace the warm weather as much, if not more, than we do. If they’re not engaged during the day, cabin fever has set in and they may be looking to bust out of it in a big way. After all, they’ve been staring at your knees all winter and—no offense to your knees—are ready to hit the ground running the second you open that door. With a little extra care, you can help them enjoy their long- awaited time in the sun.
Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.