I’ve been a K-9 officer with the Pittsburgh Police Department since 2005. Because Pittsburgh is prone to harsh winters, complete with sleet, snow, ice and frigid wind chills, I not only have to take necessary steps to ensure I'm able to weather the cold months while on duty, but I also have to look out for my partner Frodo, an 8-year-old German Shepherd.
If you’re a K-9 officer in an area of the country that sees blustery, cold winters, check out these tips for keeping your K-9 partner safe.
1. Don't overexpose your partner’s paws to snow and ice: Your dog will let you know when it becomes a problem by lifting his paws and limping. Make sure he gets breaks periodically to warm his paws. I prefer a good quality set of dog boots, but like any other piece of equipment, you have to train with it before you deploy it on the street.
2. Avoid rock salt and other ice-melting chemicals: Rock salt and other melting agents can burn your partner's paws and get stuck between his pads. Again, I prefer the boots for longer operations, but if you have a problem with exposure to salt, clean the dog’s paws with warm water. I’ve found that petroleum jelly works well for dry and cracked paw pads.
3. Keep your partner hydrated: Cold weather increases the risk of dehydration. Make sure you and your dog are getting plenty of water during long operations.
4. Watch for buried hazards: Heavy snow hides everything from cinder blocks to broken bottles. This is another example of why buying and training with dog boots can be a smart investment. Remember: As far as K-9 equipment goes, you get what you pay for.
5. Utilize your partner's ballistic vest: During summer months, the ballistic vest may overheat the dog and be a hindrance, especially on longer incidents. We have no excuse during the winter. Train with the vest and use it on the street.
6. Wear insulated boots with an aggressive tread: If you've ever conducted a K-9 track in the snow, you know it doesn't take much pulling from the dog to lose your footing. I like to use supplemental traction equipment that straps to your boots (e.g., Yaktrax). These low-cost accessories are critical when it comes to walking on snow or ice. Disposable feet warmers are also a good idea on extended operations.
7. Wear high-quality gloves: I like to utilize disposable hand warmers inside gloves. The trick is to put the hand warmers on the back of your hand as to maintain a good grip on your K-9's leash.