It’s November in Chicago and winter is definitely coming. Today is one of the first truly chilly days we’ve had in awhile. As dog walkers, people who are outside 5 to 6 days a week, for hours at a stretch, we are intimately aware of the weather and we truly do appreciate beautiful, warm days. As the warm days wain and blue skies fade to white and grey, it can be difficult to maintain a positive, enthusiastic attitude during the depths of this upcoming season.
For this posting, I’d like to explore how we maintain relatively upbeat attitudes, combat winter fatigue and how we stay committed to healthy, safe dog walks during the Chicago winter.
We’re walking a beagle down a slushy sidewalk in the Ukrainian Village. The dog is outfitted in Muttluck boots, a sweater and a winter coat. He is excited to be out of the house, happy to be exploring all the smells in the winter snow. A delivery truck pulls away from us and sprays the sidewalk with icy water, soaking our feet. At this point, frustration could set in, but we have some tactics to combat this type of scenario. We learned about an acronym called H.A.L.T. via pet industry guru Kristin Morrison.
She suggested a dog walker who is too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired is a stressed dog walker and a stressed walker is sometimes a stressed dog. Being cold and harassed by ice water and loud trucks can make one angry, lonely and tired. We emphasize open communication among all those in our circle (Client, Dog, Management, Walker) so if our walkers are experiencing any of these feelings, we encourage them to communicate that to us. We will meet them wherever they are with hot coffee, warm clothes, a new towel, food, whatever they need to get a pick-me-up.
Another tactic we use to combat winter blues is humor. Without keeping our humor, which we use liberally during our walker breakfast meetings, we’d be feeling winter’s chills much more. We just have to laugh sometimes. For example, last winter Super Dog Walking got together as a team and participated in Chicago Project Rescue’s Freezin For A Reason event. We dressed up like sharks and lions and plunged into Lake Michigan to raise money for that great rescue organization. We laughed in the face of the subzero temperatures and came out of that icy water feeling alive and energized!
We’ve also given gift cards and discount cards to our walkers to use at REI. We want to make sure they stay outfitted and prepared. We do have some who are super tough and willingly ride their bikes year-round. That being said, if a pair of new biking gloves will help, we’re more than happy to provide that to them. We’ve had clients who’ve bought our walkers new boots, hats, hand warmers, Starbucks giftcards and wool socks. All of this adds up and its let us know our clients appreciate our work during the winter, thus boosting our moral.
Lastly, we rarely cancel walking days, but this past winter we did cancel a handful because of the extreme cold. We cannot subject dogs or our walkers to days like that and we always err on the side of caution and respect when it comes to potentially dangerous weather. On those days our walkers were encouraged to stay indoors with their own dogs, bundle up with a book, hot cocoa and relax! Dogs and humans can use days like that to re-energize and enjoy being cozy under a blanket.
Overall, dog walking, especially during Chicago’s long winters is not so much a job, but a lifestyle. We’re all in it together as a team and we all work to make sure our dogs and walkers are staying warm and safe. Once you’ve got a few Chicago winters under your belt, you can look back and laugh at it a little. Wow, we did that. Winter is coming, but practicing all these tactics will certainly make it more bearable and who knows, maybe even enjoyable! Bring it on WINTER!