For 2 interviews, my process was extremely informal. As I walked my dogs in the neighborhood, I engaged 2 of my fellow walkers and asked them about their experiences with dogs in winter. In both cases, each of us was handling multiple dogs so my notes are from memory.
My questions were pretty general; prompts to the topic and then let him talk. Overall, the subject was introduced with DOB -dog owner banter. The usual "Getting colder."; "Yup.": "It gets harder to get these guys out every winter."; "I hope it's mild this year."; etc.
I believe I only asked two specific questions....
- What is more challenging about keeping the dogs exercised and in good health during the winter?
- What do you dream of that would make it easier?
In the first case, I talked to Stan who regularly walks his two Westies. I was interested in his opinion because he copes with smaller dogs than I. Both the number of dogs and their size can have considerable impact on the needs of the owner.
Stan lives in a townhouse with no yard. He is a retired business man. His dogs are middle-aged and so their exercise requirements are beginning to wane. He has primary responsibility for their care and exercise, although his wife takes them out sometimes. (Less in the winter.)
One of his challenges is that Heath, the black male, can be fairly dog-agressive. A second subject was the difficulty navigating potentially icy sidewalks in the dark. (We had some additional conversation here. We are agreed that the ice and dark have far more impact on exercising our dogs than the cold does.) He also mentioned that some of the chemicals used on the sidewalks now are far more injurious to the dogs that the old salts used to be.
He misses having a yard, but feels that the smaller dogs get adequate exercise. He feels that larger breeds, which he's had in the past, need more running room. "There is no substitution, regardless of the dog, for at least one leashed walk per day."
His wishes: 1) Better lighting; 2) Better enforcement of sidewalk clearance regulations; 3) Elimination of the painful chemicals; or 4) A 'safe' place to walk - on leash, lit, and clear sidewalks.
I also talked Marnie, a neighbor who has had up to 4 Great Pyrenees in her home. She is one of the leaders of the statewide Pyr rescue organization and active in the neighborhood association. I felt the latter two activities might give her additional insights into the challenges of dog ownership in the MN winters.
Marnie is in her early 60's, and lives in a home with a yard specially subdivided to provide for the Pyrs and her avid gardening. She currently has one permanent dog, and one foster. She states that just finding time to walk them is the first challenge. She, like I, sometimes enlists the aid of students in the neighborhood to help get her dogs exercise. This can be a bit of a concern as you develop knowledge and trust of the person, and as the dogs get accustomed to another handler. (Try to provide consistency, but it can be difficult.)
I tried very hard not to lead the conversation. Still, much of what Marnie said was a close copy of Stan's comments. Although she has a yard, she cautions herself not to rely to much on just letting the dogs out in the winter time. "It just makes summer that much harder." She was pretty adamant about getting rid of the chemicals that can cause the dogs pain. "I can't carry a 150 lb. Pyr home." Also, ice and darkness were cited as more problematic than the cold.
My third interview was with a woman who owns a pet waste pickup business. I worked for her for a couple of seasons, and can vouch for the change in dog behavior and waste volume that occurs in winter.
Sonja stated that she sees a marked increase in business during winter as people choose to just let their dogs out into the yard (or tie them up outside) more. She also noted how much of her annual sales occur in spring from people who neither walk the dogs nor clean up their yards all winter. We talked a little about the changes in behavior seen as dogs get less structured exercise from their owners. From dogs becoming more boisterous to downright dangerous, it is clear that they are less happy in the winter. (Note: Looked for stats on whether dog incidents are more common during the winter months. Could not find quickly, but this may warrant some further research.)
Talked to a few people just jogging by about their winter jogging habits, and whether they would consider taking a canine companion along sometimes. The majority responded that they continue to jog during the winter, and that they would like to have a companion. (One young woman mentioned that it might even be a safety enhancement.) They were not sure how they might hook up with a pet. We also had some discussion about responsibilities and issues about consistency in commands.
Lastly, I talked to two friends who fairly regularly come around and take my boys for a walk or jog. These are people I met over the fence as they stopped to encounter my dogs, and with whom I've developed friendships. Both of them articulated that they were missing dogs from home when they first began stopping to talk to my dogs. They began walking them both because they found it relaxing and they wanted to help someone (in this case, me) out.
Problem Statement 1:
Helena, an older homeowner in the Marcy-Holmes area, needs to walk her dogs in the winter while all of them remain safe and uninjured, because all of them require exercise to maintain balance in their physical and mental health.
Problem Statement 2:
Susan, a 19 yr old freshman at the Univ. of MN from Augusta, ME, needs an exercise companion during the winter months because she misses her dog from home and she feels more secure running at night with a dog at her side.