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Winter K9 Operations

Winter time is upon us and brings on challenges that the other seasons don’t present, such as freezing water/rain, frigid temperatures and traction.  Everyone must equip themselves for it, including us, the police.  Individually, those issues can be a pain, but when you combine those elements, they can be downright dangerous.

As I write this, Winter Storm Dion is causing problems across the United States.  In some areas worse than others, but we must be prepared for operating in the winter, especially when storms like this strike.  Other than the preparations specifically for the K9, these preps are universal to all officers.

Being out in the freezing rain can be very cold and uncomfortable if you are not protected.  Although a duty type jacket/coat will suffice, I find that a rain jacket is more appropriate.  A duty type jacket generally does have a coating for rain and will provide you protection for a while, in my experience they can only take so much before they start getting saturated.  Saturated, how can that be if it is freezing rain?  You’re creating heat and can cause that freezing rain to melt.  A rain jacket is made specifically for dealing with rain, whether that it is freezing or not. 

Dealing with the frigid temperatures can be uncomfortable, but I would rather be a bit uncomfortable than get sick. Personally I hate wearing a jacket when on-duty, I find that it gets in the way of equipment on my duty belt, but I always have it in the cruiser in case I do need it.  I prefer to wear a layer or two under my uniform to stay warm.

I also always have a good pair of patrol gloves ready to put on.  Most patrol gloves don’t give a lot of insulation to keep your hands warm for a long period of time, but I find them to be better than thick ski type of gloves.  The gloves we wear must be able to provide us good grip on our equipment, and not hinder us gripping our firearm or putting our finger on the trigger.  Keep that in mind when shopping for a pair of gloves.

Footwear is another issue.  I have a nice lightweight pair of boots that breathe for the spring and summer months, but do nothing for protecting my feet in the late fall and winter.  Having a good pair of insulated boots is a must, and waterproof is even better.  There is a trade-off though with wearing insulated boots, they are bigger, bulkier and heavier.    The weight difference isn’t significant, but you will notice it, but will quickly grow accustom to it.

You should also protect your head.  Your agency may dictate what type of headwear you can use, so keep that in mind if that applies.  I have the luxury of using pretty much whatever I want.  A beanie type hat works well, and I have used them in the past.  In recent years, I have been using an Under Armour Coldgear® Hood.  I like the UA Hood for several reasons.  It can be folded up to be like a beanie, protecting the top of your head.  It can be pulled down around the neck and under the chin to provide protection to the head and neck, but exposing your face.  If needed for those really cold days, you can pull the front up over your face to just below your eyes.  It can also be used as a neck gaiter.  As you can see the UA Hood is very universal, but provides the warmth you need.

Traction in the winter is a must, whether that is tire traction or foot traction.  You probably don’t have any say on what kind of traction you get with your cruiser, but there are some options for foot traction.  First off, you should check your winter duty boots for how much tread they have.  If they are pretty worn, you should replace them.  Having nice deep lugs on your boots help in the snow, but even that doesn’t do anything for when walking on ice.  You can get studded tires for your car, well how about for your boots?  So far, I haven’t seen any duty boots with traction studs, but there is an option.

There is what is called Crampons.  What in the world is a Crampon; well you have probably seen them before.  Crampons are a device that strap onto the bottom of your boots that provides you additional traction.  Mountain climbers use them for in the snow and ice, but the types they use have quite large and sharp spikes/teeth on them.  There is a style of Crampons that are for more general use, but are excellent for police work.  I have been using a pair for several years.  The type I use, you can get at your local sporting goods store.  They are made out of rubber and have small studs on the bottom that protrude out about 1/8”.  It isn’t much, but they do the job.  No more slipping, sliding or falling on the ice.  I know there has been numerous times I wouldn’t have been able to do my job if I hadn’t had a pair of Crampons.  There are several sizes, so it is best to wear your duty boots when you go shopping for them, just to make sure they fit properly.

Now for your canine, what protection is there for them, or what protective measures should we take?  The most common canine breeds for police, generally do not need much more protection than what they are born with.  Police canines, generally have a double coat which provides them insulation and warmth.  That double coat also provides some protection from the rain, freezing rain and snow.  The canine knows what they need to do to protect them, such as shaking the water and snow off, but my advice is to keep a couple of bath towels in the cruiser to help dry them off.  Shaking may or may not remove the frozen rain from their coat, so it may require them warming up in the cruiser and getting toweled off.

Between their pads, webbed feet and claws, canines have pretty good traction, no matter what the surface.  They can slip and slide some, but since they have four legs compared to our two, it is easier for them to stay upright.  So traction generally isn’t an issue for them.  Depending on the animal, their paws may be sensitive to the various ice melts that are applied to the roadway and sidewalks.  In most cases you can just rinse and dry their paws after being exposed to these products, but that isn’t always the case.  You may need to get little booties, known as MuttLuks for them.  MuttLuks are available in various designs, ranging from simple to some with my experience, they aren’t something that you can just throw on their paws and go to work.  They will feel uncomfortable and foreign to them and be trying to kick them off or pull them off with their teeth.  Just like everything else, it is a matter of training.  It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, you can put them on during training sessions and get them use to them.  Start out with the canine wearing them for short periods of time and gradually increase the time over several training sessions until they pay no attention to them.

Have a warm and healthy winter.

Stay Safe!