If there’s one thing explorers all know, it’s that adventuring just isn’t the same unless you can bring your best friend along. Oftentimes, people believe that just because the temperature dips, they need to leave Fido at home. Not true! Many dog breeds such as German Shepherds, Akitas and Alaskan Malamutes are built for the cold weather. Even so, your dog doesn’t need to be bred for the cold to enjoy a day on the trails. Many other dog breeds like Labradors, Border Collies and Bull Terriers can enjoy extended outdoor time with you on your favorite trek, assuming you take the right precautions.
Before beginning our list of winter do’s and don’ts, there are some general precautions you should take when hiking with your pet. Start by making sure your dog is up-to-date on all its vaccinations and attach your dog’s rabies tag to its collar so that it’s visible. Then, clearly tag your animal with your name, phone number and address, and make sure the microchip information is up-to-date. Consider winterizing your dog's paws before you head out as well. Finally, if your dog is currently on any preventative medicines (i.e., for fleas, ticks or heartworms), make sure there are no wounds that could become infected.
- Pick Your Trail Wisely
- Choosing a dog-friendly trail is important all year long, not just in the winter. But, with winter weather comes additional safety measures that should be taken. Some winter trails are just not appropriate for dogs, even if it’s a dog friendly trail.
What are the trail conditions like? How much (if any) snow is on the trail? Is your dog large enough to hike a trail with snow? Will the trail become dangerous for your pal if it begins to snow? Or if the snow begins to melt? These are all questions that you should ask before embarking on your hike- but following some basic winter weather pet care tips can help.
Deep or powdery snow may cause your dog to sink, at which point your adventure will become less of a hike and more of an exercise in acrobatics as your dog begins jumping vigorously in an effort to move through the snow. This becomes exhausting for your pet and can increase the likelihood of your dog sustaining an injury. Find trails where your dog can find some solid footing.
Are you confident your pet can hike the trail from start to finish? Stick to trails you are confident you and your dog can make it through, and also make sure that it’s possible to take a break if needed. When in doubt, take a practice run. This is a good idea, especially if your pup is a newby to winter hiking. Practice hikes help to train your dog and get them used to moving through ice, snow and water for extended periods of time.
When heading outside in the cold weather, there are tons of items that are marketed to pets. However, only a handful should be considered essentials.
For us, these items aren’t optional. One of the coolest parts about hiking in the winter is allowing your dog off-leash. There are fewer people on the trails and it’s a good time to let Fido roam a bit. Make sure you practice the “Come” command at home before trying this in the Great Outdoors. For pets who aren’t used to being off leash, accidents (or squirrels) can happen. When they do, dogs run wild. Make it easy to locate your pet in stark winter landscapes by using a brightly colored leash/collar combo. Highlighter colors like orange, pink and green stand out best.
Unless you’re just heading to the mailbox, this is another non-negotiable step in your plan. Just like a human, your pup will get hungry and thirsty on a winter hike. Keep this in mind when considering the size of your dog and the length of your hike. They will be burning more calories by romping through snow and keeping their internal temperature regulated--keep water and treats handy on your hikes.
Depending upon your dog breed and the temperature/precipitation of your hiking destination, dog booties or a jacket may or may not be optional. Booties and boots will help your pet stay mobile by keeping snow and ice from accumulating on their paws and causing cracking and a jacket will help short haired, single-coated breeds better handle biting winds and extended outdoor time.
Breaks allow you to check your pet and yourself for any signs of fatigue, illness or injury. Be sure to check your dog’s paws and coat, as well. When it’s wet out, dogs will lick their paws to remove snow or ice, which inadvertently causes more snow and ice to stick to the now warm and wet spots.
If your pet isn’t wearing boots, remove any ice from between his toes and towel his feet dry before beginning again. It’s also a good idea to check your dog’s coat for frozen furry patches. Look for snow chunks on places most likely to come into contact with the snow--the underbelly, tail, ears and feet.
Spring, summer, winter or fall, be sure to keep a first aid kit for you pet and yourself. Most of what you need for your pet will be found in your own kit. A styptic pencil will stop most minor cuts from bleeding quickly, and dog-specific aspirin is formulated so it will stifle pain without giving your pet stomach ulcers.
- A pet first aid book that will have basic pet first aid instructions, info for the nearest emergency vet, poison control, your regular veterinarian’s phone number and a copy of shot records.
- Self-cling bandages
- Gauze pads
- Ice pack
- Antibiotic ointment
Now that you know the basics of safe wintertime hiking with your dog, you can go tear up some trails without worrying too much about the snowfall and ice getting in your way. Just keep all these things in mind, and always remember that safety is the single most important element of any outdoor trek, no matter what time of year it is. Happy hiking!