Dogs and Ice
It would seem that taking your dog on an ice trip is a good way to exercise your dog and let you enjoy some time on the ice. Most of the time it works out but, in the big picture, dogs on ice can be bad news. I have two good friends who fell through the ice rescuing their dogs. Dogs have no sense about ice thickness and little sense about open water. They have a strong desire to go after ducks or follow their nose to places they shouldn’t go.
If your dog goes in, the advice from our local Rescue team is to call 911 immediately. Stay on shore to keep track of where your dog is so you can guide the rescue team to the closest access point. Don’t try to rescue it yourself. If the ice did not hold up your dog it will not come close to holding you (even if you are crawling on your stomach). Most would-be rescuers fall through and are rescued or recovered by professionals. Rescuing a dog owner significantly delays and distracts from the rescuing of the dog.
Another even better reason to stay off the ice is it will be hard to explain to your spouse and children that their beloved pet drowned but it will be much more difficult for them to reconcile loosing you if you die trying to save the dog. The emotionally driven impulse to attempt to save a pet has killed many people over the years (five in 2014).
The wrenching decision that faces a dog owner when their dog has fallen through is best addressed ahead of time when logic and knowledge have a better chance of winning out over emotion and impulse. Prior planning also leaves you prepared to maximize the chances of a successful rescue: call 911, find the best access for the rescuers, guide them there when they arrive,and keep an eye on the dog.
If you do take the dog for an ice walk in spite of the above, a leash and good foot traction are recommended. Stay on ice that you already know well. Don't go out at night. Of course, ice claws, a test pole, life jackets and a throw rope should be taken by anyone going out on the ice.
If you are walking your dog in an area where there might be ice on nearby lakes, ponds, streams or rivers a leash is a good idea if there is any chance your dog could encounter ice. Most ice sheets have weak ice somewhere, especially when the ice is new or during and after a warm spell or in the spring. Most dog breakthroughs occur with leashless dogs.
A leashless and very wet dog about to be rescued-Lincoln Pond NY, November 2014. The dog had fallen through a new-ice hole and the rescuer was confident that he could approach the edge with little risk of breaking through (he also was in a dry suit). He was aware that the very stressed dog might try to bite him. That did not happen but there was lots of growling in the water and lots of barking once he was out.