Black Jack Guiding into Winter Wonderland

Each winter, my daughter anticipates venturing out into the winter landscape to build snowmen, go sledding, and being pulled around the neighborhood by me on her sled. Conducting these tasks with the standard white cane left much to be desired, since its difficult to feel the ground covered by snow and ice through thick gloves. Even when relying on Blind Square, these jaunts left us trudging through neighbor’s yards, streets, and just about anywhere besides the snow covered sidewalks. When winter’s first snow hit us, we possessed a new tool in our arsenal of tools to enjoy snow, Black Jack, my guide dog from America’s Vet Dogs, a subsidiary of the Guide Dog Foundation.

Fortunately, this first snow left enough snow on the ground to test out Black Jack’s comfort with winter. The sidewalks and driveways received a small layer of snow and ice, while the grass remained mostly visible and green. When heading outside to relieve Black Jack, I noticed his gait felt as if he did not favor the cold slippery substance covering everything. Likewise, a quick foray into the backyard produced similar results, where after a quick gaze and sniff he darted inside again. You can feel Black Jack uncertainty about this winter thing, especially since he hails from Atlanta, then raised by a military family stationed at Fort Bragg, before receiving training on Long Island.

These two initial experiences presented an opportunity to reach out for advice on Facebook about how to handle a Guide Dog in winter. Jenine, who is one of America’s Vet Dog’s representatives, Black Jack’s Sister’s handler, and other friends shared some helpful tips. They consisted of slowing down, use the white cane to assist in navigating snow banks and other piles of winter love, care for your dog’s paws, prepare to do some leash guiding, and beaware of nose diving into snow.

Slowing down probably is one of the hardest things for me to do. As I previously posted here, being able to walk at a fast clip attracted me to guide dogs, however, this is winter and safety must come first. For example, I had the pleasure of sliding for 20 meters after hitting a patch of black ice on a downslope of a hill. I was moving too fast, and Black Jack tried to warn me. Though fun, it reminded me about winter’s approach and early morning ice.

As much as I try to avoid the white cane, it seems it finds new ways of assisting me navigate. Though we did not have enough snow to create snow banks, the white cane with a guide dog still helps to find the edge of sidewalks and streets and judge the depth of snow. For this reason, looks like my old Chris Park cane will once again adorn my belt like a Jedi’s lightsaber.

The most important aspect of using a guide dog in winter is caring for their paws. Actually, this is a must in any situation, but requires a little something extra in winter or extremely dry or hot environments. First of all, Black Jack dislikes boots, no matter what we do, so one piece of advice I received is a little Musher’s Secret. Musher’s Secret is actually a wax for dog paws and aids in their protection; keeping snow, dirt, salt, and other debris free; and smells kind of nice. This video accurately describes Musher’s Secret. Black Jack did not mind Musher’s Secret, as we managed to play outside and head out around the block with my daughter in tow. Even wiping off Black Jack’s paws proved quick and easy, thanks to Musher’s Secret.

When walking in narrow spaces, leash guiding is a technique where the guide dog leads one by the leash with or without holding onto the harness. This also refers to being led without the harness as well. As I was unsure how Black Jack might handle the snow, we relied on leash guiding, and I learned how it might benefit us in deeper snow with narrow walkways.

The last recommendations revolving around nose diving and eating snow plagues many dogs. Luckily Black Jack did not find a sent buried in the snow while walking, so I have yet to experience what this might feel like. However, one must be cautious as a dog might ingest a harmful substance resulting in one sick puppy. This warning extends to even licking of the paws, but I believe Musher’s Secret’s ability to keep the paws clean prevented Black Jack from nibbling away at paw toe jam.

Overall the recommendations enabled my daughter, Black Jack, and I to enjoy the snow. Unlike navigating with just the cane, Black Jack ensured my daughter possessed the chance to sing dashing through the snow in a one guide dog and Daddy led sleigh. Black Jack will greatly improve the fun we have this winter.

This staged picture features Black Jack, a black lab guide dog in a leather harness, sitting infront of a young girl on a sled located on a snow covered sidewalk.