Is Your Dog Cut Out to Snowshoe?
It’s time for snow angels, snowball fights, and to pull your winter gear out of storage.
Winter can be a real struggle for some, yet beloved by others. Find a way to work with the elements instead of fighting against them. Stimulate your inner play with activities such as sledding, skiing, snowboarding, or simply walking in the still of the winter wonderland.
Snowshoeing is a great way to make peace with winter. And just as you love to hike in the summer with your favorite furry hiking partner, this leads to the question: “Is my dog cut out to snowshoe?” Below are a few critical things to consider before heading into the tundra with your canine.
Fitness Level and Overall Health
You might think, “Well, he/she can walk and that’s all we’re doing…” but you’d be wrong. Hiking in the snow requires about double the effort it does in normal conditions. Both you and your pup are burning many more calories just to keep hypothermia at bay. Also, the friction offered by the snow requires much more effort than a summer hike. This is why a checkup is recommended so that your veterinarian can make sure your dog is up to the task.
Protect Their Feet
Did you know that dogs regulate their temperature via glands located in their feet? This means that if the ground is either extremely hot or cold it can rapidly affect the inner temperature of your pup. This is also a dog’s most vulnerable spot for frostbite. Plus, if ice gets stuck between the pads in the paw they can get sores in addition to frostbite. Some dogs are naturally more adaptable to cold weather, like Huskies for example. They have the warm coat and are bred for the snow. Regardless of breed, however, you need to trim the fur between the foot pads and rub on a protecting balm, or better yet, outfit your pup with dog booties.
Keeping Them Warm
Your dog may or may not be bred for the winter. Depending on the amount of fur they have, it may be necessary to equip them with a coat. An insulated dog jacket can also provide a place to put a collapsible drinking bowl and some treats to help Fido get through his hike. Some smaller dogs, like chihuahuas, will likely still be cold. So, if you really want them to come along, think about wrapping them like a burrito in a thick blanket and carrying them close to your body via a baby wrap. Puppies and elderly dogs are the most prone to hypothermia.
Keep Them Hydrated
Oftentimes, dogs don’t seek out enough water when it’s cold like they do when it’s hot. Take breaks often, and make sure you have a safe water source that’s not frozen along your hike. When in doubt, pack in water for your dog and a collapsible bowl. If they are stubborn water drinkers, one hack that usually does the trick is adding a bit of no-sodium chicken stock or a tablespoon of dehydrated Honest Kitchen to the water to entice them to drink. It also provides them with some electrolytes and nutrition to complete the hike.
Know When Enough is Enough
When hiking in the heat of summer or the chill of winter always monitor your pet. There have been way too many unnecessary pet fatalities based on overheating, hypothermia, or overexertion. Your pup may have to work their way out of the chest-high snow with every step. That requires an insane amount of exertion. While each dog is different, common signs of exhaustion include: slowing their pace, lagging behind the group, refusing to walk, and lying down immediately with each break. If they show signs that they’ve had enough then you need to turn around and get them home (even if you didn’t get to see the frozen waterfall you were hiking toward).
Dog-Friendly Winter Trails
Before you set out for a snowshoeing adventure, make certain your trail choice is dog-friendly. Groomed snow park trails and Nordic ski areas are great places to get out with your pup since they are cleared of dangerous hazards, but they may not be allowed on all trails. Your favorite dog-friendly summer trails also make great winter options but watch out for unsafe conditions like snowmobiling on your trail.
Lastly, always have an emergency exit plan. A way to carry them out, an emergency contact if you’re not back by a certain time, etc. Safe adventuring!