Winter Travel Tips for Dog Guide Users

Winter Travel Tips for Dog Guide Users

Winter is in full swing, and those of us who live in Chicago know all too well how unpredictable the weather can be during this time of year! People who are blind or visually impaired and use dog guides can experience unique challenges when out and about in cold and icy conditions. To see how they cope, I spoke with three dog guide users: The Chicago Lighthouse’s very own Maureen Reid, Adnana Saric, and Brett Shishkoff. Maureen and Adnana are both long-time dog guide users, while Brett has only traveled with a dog for less than a year. Here is what they had to say about having warm and safe travels with your four-legged guide and friend during the winter months.

Maureen:

To me, foot protection is the highest priority during winter. My dog guide wears ruff wear boots that look like sketchers for dogs, which were provided by our dog guide school. I also purchased Paws protective footwear because my dog prefers them, and they protect his feet from salt and snow pack in his pads, although they are not as insulating from the cold temperatures. They appear to behave like deflated round balloons that wrap around my dog’s feet. I also have a container of applicable foot cream similar to a product called “mushers secret.” This is an ointment that is applied to their feet to moisturize and protect them from salt and can help prevent snow pack from getting stuck into their pads.

My dog guide also has a wool Pendleton style coat that was kindly donated to him by one of our Chicago Lighthouse Flair Fashion show designers, Woof in the Wool. It fits under his harness and does not impede his guide work.

Dog guide users should ensure their dogs have increased access to water, as it is dryer in the winter months and they might get dehydrated more easily.

Also, owners should do their best to balance out making sure they take dogs on working walks, even though they might not want to spend any more time in the cold than necessary. Dogs can get bored and mischievous, and their guide work may suffer if not given the opportunity to go out for a stroll. Dogs respond to this weather differently from one another. My retired guide used to bulldoze herself through the snow and then wrapped it up with a summersault onto her back, while my current guide is far less enamored with the snow and cold temperatures — he would rather avoid them all together!

Chicago Lighthouse employees Maureen Reid (left) and Adnana Saric (right) walk outside with their dog guides.

Adnana:

Traveling in extreme cold weather can be a challenge for a guide dog team because of the salt and ice on the ground, as well as the low temperatures. In order to make the travel more pleasant for both myself and my dog, I make sure to give us plenty of time to get to our destination. The extra time allows us to stay calm and on the same page when trying to work through any problems we might come across. I also make sure that I have plenty of treats and praise to reward my dog for his hard work. Just as we like to wear layers and winter shoes to stay warm, I make sure that my dog’s paws are protected with dog booties or wax. In case of forgetting the shoes or wax, I make sure to wipe my dog’s paws with a damp cloth when indoors to remove any sault and prevent irritation. I also make sure he is warm by having a jacket that properly fits from neck to tail. Lastly, I look out for the well-being of my dog and myself by using Paratransit, cabs, or other rides in order to spend less time in the extreme cold.

Brett:

I have worked with my Guide Dog Poet Since May of 2017, and have learned a lot during this first winter! When traveling with Poet, we didn’t have much trouble until the frigid temperatures hit Chicago during the holidays. My dog guide school suggested that having a comfortable coat for the dog is a good idea once it drops below 20 or so. Each dog is a little different, and might be able to handle the colder temperatures better than others. Poet doesn’t seem to be bothered with the cold until the single digit temperatures arrive. Also, having a good set of boots or paw protection of some sort is a great idea. Many individuals and businesses use rock salt, when clearing the area around their property, and that can get stuck in a dog’s paws, causing some discomfort.

Regarding traveling, the dog will go out and do its job no matter the weather. I myself air on the side of caution and use transportation services like Paratransit, Uber, and Chicago’s Taxi Access Program when it’s cold and icy outside. We have to be safe and take some precautions in our travels. I tend to move a tad bit slower when out and about during winter, and I also always bring my white cane to help my dog find the opening through the snow to get safely to the crosswalk.

Chicago Lighthouse employee Brett Shishkoff smiles with his dog guide Poet.

Do you use a dog guide or other type of service animal? If so what other winter travel tips would you share with fellow service dog users? Please comment below, or email me at sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. You can also read my previous post about general winter travel tips for people who are blind or visually impaired by clicking on this link. Safe travels to everyone, and stay warm!

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Winter Travel Tips for People with Vision Loss

Winter Travel Tips for People with Vision Loss

Winter officially begins next Wednesday, but Chicago and many other cities across the United States are already experiencing extremely cold and snowy conditions. Traveling in inclement weather is difficult for everyone, but more so for people with vision loss or other disabilities. Today, we are revisiting the subject of traveling outside during the winter with some tips for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Most people are not aware, but snow muffles the sounds of things. Someone who is blind or has significant low vision relies on echoes and other sounds to orient themselves to their surroundings, so snow will make this difficult. Crossing streets can also become challenging, because it can be harder to hear the sound of cars. Snow also interferes with the information we get from our canes. When streets, sidewalks and grass are covered in snow, it is difficult, if not impossible for cane users to know where we are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten thrown off my path because I had no idea where the sidewalk begins and ends!

People who use dog guides have other challenges when dealing with ice and snow. Salt is wonderful for getting rid of ice, but it can hurt a dog’s paws. Dog guide users won’t always know if or where salted spots are located, so they must take additional precautions to prevent their four-legged companions from getting their paws hurt. Dog boots can help keep the paws warm and prevent injury from the salt or other sharp objects hidden under the ice and snow.

Perhaps the best advice for people with vision loss is to be cautious when traveling in the winter. The white cane is generally good at detecting snow and icy spots, so take precaution and walk at a slower pace if need be in these areas. If you get disoriented and need assistance, don’t hesitate to ask whoever is nearby for help. Of course, when it snows it’s generally cold, and this can make traveling outside more unpleasant — keep in mind that you might already be traveling at a slower pace to begin with! Always bundle up when traveling in extremely cold temperatures.

When winter conditions are extremely cold or dangerous, you might want to look at other forms of transportation. If you feel unsafe waiting for a bus or train in cold or icy weather, it might be a good idea to consider taking a cab, Uber or asking a friend or family member for a ride. Of course, there will be times when you will absolutely have to wait for public transportation outside. Always bundle up with extra layers of clothing and find a shelter to protect you from the inclement weather in this situation.

Winter is hard for people with and without vision. Coping with this often brutal weather is no walk in the park for anyone, but by having good independent travel skills and using our common sense, we’ll be able to safely get around. These are other useful tips from the American Foundation for the Blind on traveling during the winter with a white cane. Stay warm, and safe travels to everyone! What other winter travel tips do you have for people who are blind or visually impaired?

How Do People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Travel in Snowy and Cold Weather?

I had just gotten out of a lecture in college, when a classmate pointed out that it was snowing pretty hard and that there were already a couple of inches. This happened in 2011, a year when Chicago had a very brutal winter. I knew my commute back home would not be easy when my classmate gave me these not so great news! The ground was covered with snow, so even knowing where the sidewalk was became difficult. Crossing the street also became a nightmare. Needless to say, I got disoriented on my way home more than once.

 

Traveling in snow is challenging for everyone, but it can present additional obstacles for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Like anyone else, we must still go on with our activities during the winter – hibernating is not an option! While winter travel will always create hardships, there are a few tips and tricks that might help relieve some of the challenges for both blind and sighted individuals.

 

Most people are not aware, but snow muffles the sounds of things. Someone who is blind or has significant low vision relies on echoes and other sounds to orient themselves to their surroundings, so naturally snow will make this difficult. Crossing streets can also become challenging, as it can be harder to hear the sound of cars. Snow also interferes with the information we get with our canes. When streets, sidewalks and grass are covered in snow, it is difficult, if not impossible for cane users to know where we are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten thrown off my path because I had no idea where the sidewalk begins and ends!

 

Dog guide users have other challenges when dealing with ice and snow. While the salt is wonderful for getting rid of the ice, it can hurt a dog’s paws. Blind dog guide users won’t always know if or where salted spots are located, so they must take additional precautions to prevent their four-legged companions from getting their paws hurt. Dog boots can help keep the paws warm and prevent injury from the salt or other sharp objects hidden under the ice and snow.

 

Perhaps the best advice for blind and visually impaired individuals is to be cautious when traveling in the winter. The white cane is generally good at detecting snow and icy spots, so take precaution and walk at a slower pace if need be in these areas. If you get disoriented and need assistance, don’t hesitate to ask whoever is nearby for help. Of course, when it snows it’s generally cold, and this can make traveling outside more unpleasant — keep in mind that you might already be traveling at a slower pace to begin with! Always bundle up when traveling in extremely cold temperatures.

 

When winter conditions are extremely cold or dangerous, you might want to look at other forms of transportation. If you feel unsafe waiting for a bus or train in cold or icy weather, it might be a good idea to consider taking a cab, Uber or asking a friend or family member for a ride. Of course, there will be times when you will absolutely have to wait for public transportation outside. Always bundle up with extra layers of clothing and find a shelter to protect you from the inclement weather in this situation.

 

Winter is hard on all of us, and it is something we have to deal with each year whether we like it or not. Coping with this often brutal weather is no walk in the park for anyone, but by having good independent travel skills and using our common sense, we’ll be able to safely get around. If you want more tips on how to travel during the winter as a blind or visually impaired individual, read this article from the Lighthouse Guild. Stay warm, and safe travels to everyone!