by Lori Herbel
Colder weather is here, and try as we may to avoid getting out and working or trialing in inclement weather, it must be done! The difficult part is dressing for warmth without hampering your ability to move. Here are a few tips on staying warm while training your dog, or taking care of your livestock this winter.
Boots - Buy a good pair of insulated boots, and while you're at it, look for a pair that is also waterproof, for those days where the dew is heavy, or the snow is deep. Keeping your feet warm and dry will not only allow you to extend your training sessions, it will allow you to think more about what is happening between you, the dog and the stock rather than how cold and miserable you are. Be prepared to spend some money, as comfort and quality are very important. Properly cared for, a good pair of boots should last you for quite some time. When trying on boots, wear the socks you will be wearing with them out in the cold, to make sure you buy a size that will comfortably accommodate thicker socks. Waterproof boots require treatment on occasion with a special waterproofing crème that should be available at the same place you buy your boots. Hiking boots, or day hiking boots, are comfortable and have good traction. Don't worry about what the tread picks up in the mud and muck, just use a good sprayer on your garden hose and hit the bottom of your boots after each training session before the mud dries.
Toasty Toes - For extra warmth on those days when the mercury dips, try the little warmer packets that are made especially for boots and shoes. These can be found in almost any hunting department or discount store. The packets made for boots have adhesive on one side so they can be secured in a stationary position inside the boot, and are thinner than the hand warmer version. The ingredients are all natural, and all it takes to activate them is a vigorous shake, with the warmth lasting up to 10 hours.
Socks - Check the hunting department for warm socks. Hunters have been staying out in the elements nearly as long or longer than dog owners have been out taking care of dogs and livestock! A wide variety will allow you to choose what is most comfortable for you - everything from lamb's wool (how appropriate, and it appears to keep the lambs warm), silk, nylon, cotton, spandex, etc. Buy a thick, warm pair, or layer a couple of medium thickness pairs for more insulation. You can even buy socks that heat themselves with batteries, up to 56 hours.
Insulated Jeans -- Check the hunting department again for a couple of good pair of insulated jeans. On the outside, these look like regular jeans. On the inside, they are lined with a comfortable, quilted lining that will keep the wind and chill far away from your skin! For extra warmth, long underwear may be worn underneath, but you may find you don't need it. Try these jeans on before you buy, and consider buying a size a bit more loose than you are used to wearing. Tight clothing doesn't keep you as warm as loose layers. A little bit of room also gives you the option to wear a layer underneath.
Gaiters - This is a great invention that keeps the moisture and mud away from the bottom of your jeans. These are waterproof leggings that snap to your boots on the bottom, and the tops come up to the bottom of your knees. If you are working in wet grass or snow, these work great without adding the bulk of rain or snow pants. They also help keep the tops of your shoes and your socks dry.
Silk - For a lightweight and warm option for long 'handles', try silk. One of the best attributes to silk is its ability to wick moisture away from your body. Silk won't weigh you down, you'll still have that ability to move. You can purchase silk tops, bottoms, gloves, and socks. You won't even know you're wearing it.
Shirts - Layer, layer, layer! Dressing in layers allows you to accommodate different temperatures by adding or removing layers as needed. Remember to keep each layer loose to trap warm air inside. Start with a T-shirt, then a turtleneck, then a sweatshirt. The hooded sweatshirts are great for those windy days, and also provide a place to put your hands with the front pocket. Also available are fleece-lined, or flannel lined button up shirts, which are also comfortable.
Neckerchief or Scarf - Don't leave your neck exposed to the elements, it just gives the wind a place to sneak in. Wrapping something around your neck makes a BIG difference. Just try it and you'll like it. Silk neckerchiefs are really stylish, lightweight and warm. They don't scratch like knitted mufflers or scarves can. Check the western stores for neckerchiefs and the slides that hold them on. These are also easily put on and removed as the temperature changes.
Insulated Coveralls and Overalls - A definite investment for winter herders. Don't skimp on the quality of your insulated outerwear and you will be a happy and warm handler. Check out all the options, as several of the popular companies make a variety of products from lightweight to heavyweight (extreme temps). The overalls are nice as you can wear a coat with them and this allows you to adjust your body temp by zipping or unzipping your coat, or taking the coat off if it gets too warm. On the other hand, coveralls are nice as they are all one-piece and give no place for the chill of the wind to sneak in. Look for the kind that have zippers on the outside of the legs, this helps you get them on and off much easier, yet seals the weather out when they are zipped better than snaps.
Vest - Nothing is warmer than a goose-down filled vest. These can be worn under your jacket. If you get too warm, you can unzip your jacket and you still have the vest to keep you warm, yet you can cool off to just the right temperature.
Jacket - Buy a good coat! Actually, have several options, from lightweight to heavyweight, depending on the outside temperatures. All-weather coats keep out the elements no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.
Gloves - A must. Keeping your hands warm is important. A wide variety of gloves and mittens are available. There are even gloves that are both - you can fold the mitten part back and have gloves with the tips of your fingers exposed. This works great for those who have difficulty maneuvering (gate latches, snapping leashes on, etc.) with gloves on. You can also buy the hand warmers, just like the toasty-toes, and they work great inside gloves. A pair of waterproof gloves are great if you are working in the rain. Cold temps make hands slow to respond to brainwaves, and wet combined with cold is even worse.
Hat - Have you ever seen the old photos or movies where everyone wore what looked like a stocking cap to bed? That's because they stayed much, much warmer when they didn't allow all their body heat to escape through the top of their heads! Studies show that you can retain 80% more of your heat if you wear some type of head covering. Stocking caps are good, or baseball caps if you have a hooded coat or sweatshirt. Polar fleece hoods (neck gaiters) are available that you can wear with any type of outerwear, and have many options including one that allows the bottom of the hood to pull up over your nose and mouth, leaving only your eyes exposed.
Earmuffs -- Cover your ears, if you aren't wearing a hood or hat/cap that already does. Ears are very vulnerable, and you won't be comfortable if your ears are cold. Be aware though, that your hearing may be affected when your ears are covered.
Rainwear -- Remember when the only options we had for rainwear were the big ponchos that threatened to make you airborne if the wind came up, or scared the dog and sheep as they flapped about? Things have changed, my friend! We have a wide variety of quality rainwear from which to choose. No longer do we have to wear the plastic outfits that become instantly unbearable if the rain stops and the sun pops out. Breathable, comfortable rainwear is now on the market. You won't even know you're wearing rainwear.
Hopefully, you have most of these items on hand. If not, you can always hand this article to a friend or family member while mentioning that Christmas is not far away.
Happy Herding, and stay warm!