Winter is upon us. Time to gear up and get out. It’s true that not every dog will be as enthusiastic about leaving the warm comforts of home for the great white abyss, but many dogs revel in snowy adventures. The following tips will help get you prepared:
- Happy Feet
Just as a skier will tell you about the importance of keeping your feet dry, paws are a top concern with dogs on any winter expedition. Even walking in residential neighborhoods can cut up paws without protection.Dog booties are a great way to help keep your “FirstMate’s” feet in good condition. Even if your dog doesn’t normally need them, they’re important for extra-cold days and deep snow. Practice at home before hitting the trails, as most dogs don’t readily accept wearing them. With a little training most dogs will forget they even have them on.Musher’s wax is another good option. It protects paws and prevents snow balls from forming. For dogs with feathering it can be applied all the way up their legs. Just remember to wait to get to the trail head before putting it on—greasy paw prints all over your car have been known to dampen spirits. Even with booties and wax, make a habit of regularly checking your dog’s paws, clearing them of ice and checking for cuts or tenderness.
- Bundle Up
Jackets aren’t just for style. For almost all breeds, this is an important piece of gear to keep them comfortable and dry. There are lots of options of every size and color to choose from. Make sure to pick something that’s waterproof, has good coverage, and doesn’t rub and is designed for active wear. Depending on your how easily your dog gets cold, you may need to get a jacket with insulation.
Though most dogs will consume a decent amount of snow on the trail, this is not an adequate method of hydration. Carry plenty of water and a portable bowl for your dog and take the time to offer it often. Make sure to keep your water insulated to prevent freezing on your hike.Packing some snacks for your dog to keep their energy up is also recommended. High calorie, easy to eat treats are best.
- Crash Pad
Pack a blanket or pad for your dog to rest on during breaks for longer expeditions. Several companies even make lightweight, packable dog beds. You want your dog to have a warm, comfortable spot to rest when you stop on the trail, and most dogs will get too cold lying in the snow.
- Share the Trail
Dogs should be trained to ignore and stay out of the way of all other trail traffic. You might come across other people and dogs, skiers, snowmobiles or fat tire bikes. Not only is it good trail etiquette to train your dog to ignore all traffic, it’s a safety measure for all parties involved. A dog that charges out in front of a skier can cause injuries to both dog and unsuspecting skiers. Adhere to leash laws and make sure your dog is reliable before you let them off leash.
- Trail Hazards
Dogs are not able to identify hazards and can run into trouble if you do not keep them under control. Be vigilant for obstructed lakes and streams and keep your dog on the trail. Avalanche runoff zones are sometimes a few meters off the trail and need to be avoided. Take an avalanche course, know how to travel safely in snowy mountain terrain, and keep your dog close and under control.
- Have a Plan B
It can be difficult to predict conditions in the mountains. The weather changes quickly at altitude, and what initially seemed like a nice day can turn into frigid temps and ominous skies. If the weather changes, sometimes your plan has to change as well. Play it safe. Have a backup plan—something shorter, lower, drier, more protected. Sometimes this means scrapping an expedition altogether. Know your dog, observe them carefully, and always be willing to turn around.
Winter adventures can be a tremendously rewarding experience for you and your dog. If you’re lucky enough to have a powderhound, hopefully these tips can help you explore the backcountry safely and comfortably.