Training Dogs To The Dangers Of Thin Ice

We teach our children water safety, to never go out on the ice alone and to watch for signs of thin ice. Ever wonder, "Can I teach my dog water & ice safety?". You sure can! A recent outing brought this lesson home, and thankfully had a very happy ending!

This past weekend was a beauty: the weather app promising sunny Spring-like weather, though the calendar still read mid-February. I packed leashes, snow boots, sled and grabbed my husband for an excursion to one of our favorite hiking spots. Driving north, past lakes, reservoirs, streams, and rivers I couldn’t help noticing the most dangerous signs of rising temperature: thin ice.   

“We packed Tally Ho’s drag leash right?” I called back to my kids. Thumbs pointed up, “Roger that!”. Although our other dogs avoid wet like the plague, Tally is a curious 100-pound water puppy, who though schooled to the properties of ice and water, is like other young, energetic dogs, who race around first and think later.

To socialize your dog or puppy to water, secure him to a long line or retractable leash, then let explore the iced-over water’s edge. If he wanders out on the ice, don’t panic. Calmly pick up the line and watch closely for signs of thin ice, such as a cracking noise or shifts below the surface. If this happens shout “Back” as you yourself run back away from the shoreline. Encourage your dog’s sensitivity to shifts underfoot.

Parking the car, Dad turned to the kids who are equally energetic, impulsive and daring when given off-lead freedom!

•    Never go onto ice alone.

•    Remember to stay away from cracks, and dark, slushy spots.  

•    Snow acts like a coat, warming the ice so that it won’t freeze firm.

•    We’re on a river—remember that ice doesn’t freeze firmly over moving water so don’t test it.

•    Carry a walking stick and remember to use it if you see anyone fall through the ice. Do not go      on the ice alone: get help. Call 911

•    If you hear ice cracking, get low or roll to safety. Weight distribution — that’s key.

•    If you fall in, don’t panic. Think and breathe. Turn and use your elbows to crawl forward until          you can wiggle and roll your body to the surface. Then roll to safety.

As it turned out the day held a great lesson in store, thanks to our Tally who cavorted about meeting dog friends and gather admirers.  

I don’t know who was happier when we finally got out of the car, the dogs or the kids. After a short bout of sledding, Boozle my little dog on the sled, the other dogs racing downhill beside them, we headed down to the river when lots of people and dogs had gathered for a picnic.  

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At first, it was tough going for Tally, who longed for a little dog play. He raced up to greet Roofus, a Standard Poodle, who seemed eager for a romp but whose parents refused him slack. Next, he approached Cookie, a sweet though tiny Maltipoo, who cowered under the picnic table, utterly stupefied by Tally’s size. The German Shepherd Dog held real promise as he chased Tally’s favorite toy — a squeaky tennis ball; but alas, Duke was not practiced in the art of sharing. Tally was striking out.

But wait! Up the path, came a dazzling young Lab named Connie, her wet black coat glistening in the sun. Connie was off leash. She raced over to meet Tally. She spun, she bowed, she leaped and nuzzled. For a few minutes, the world was a happy blur of wagging tails and flying paws.

Then it happened as all accident’s do: in one split second. Connie raced out past the river's bank. Tally stopped at the edge and barked as if willing his friend to stop. There was a crack and an ear-piercing yelp as Connie fell through the thin ice, her paws flaying as she turned back.  

People gathered, her Mom shouted, and my husband — bless his soul — started to dart out, alone, to retrieve the dog. “Nooooo! “ my children shouted as he quickly reversed direction.

Rarely do I let my "dog expert" out when socializing with friends and family, but it seemed as good a time as any. I shouted, “Stop!”  

“Everyone, stay calm or you’ll upset her more,” I said to a bunch of strangers, who listened anyway. I tried to think. I called to her calmly, but she was too scared to move. I tested the ice, but it was solid by the bank. Connie was whimpering in panic. Then Tally bumped into me, whining and staining and frantic to help his new friend. And then it hit me: the long line. Of course! Tally Ho was terrified, panicked, and growing weaker.  

As a puppy, he’d fallen through ice as part of his water safety training. I had used the line to gently guide him back up and over the edge.  

“Let Tally go,” I shouted and Tally helped Connie break through the ice and then guided her to safety. She got out, shook off, gave him a few grateful chin licks and then they were off playing again.

 I teach dogs to race to shore when the ice shifts, and Tally had proven his understanding more than once.  But when he was rescuing his friend, he didn’t turn back until she was safely close enough to shore, and even then he guided her to the bank. Dogs are just amazing.  

If you live near thawing waters or are letting your dog romp in unknown areas or with unfamiliar dogs, please use a long line . Your dog can still run free but it’s a reassurance should an unpredictable situation happen.  

Have you got a story to share? Or a video that shows just how clever, heroic and sensitive a dog can be? Please share it here or send it to me. I am always happy to wallow in dog love!

Life sure is an adventure. Go grab a leash, and c’mon, let’s play!

Sarah Hodgson