Winter is a wonderful time of year to hike with your dog; no bugs, fewer people, crisp air, but there are some challenges when hiking with our dogs in the Winter like extreme cold, snow and ice. So before hitting the trails, take some time to prepare.
The level of preparation depends on your dog’s breed. A small hairless dog will have greater needs than big, furry dogs who thrive in the colder weather. Age and health of the dog play a role as well. Older dogs, like my Trail Dog, Tatum often have arthritis and can become increasingly stiff sore as the miles increase. Puppies bone structures are not fully formed, therefore a long hike in the snow maybe too much for them and affect their joints & bones later in life.
Lets face it, as beautiful as it may be hiking through a Winter Wonderland, it can also be very very chilly. As humans, we know how important it is to bundle in the cold temps. This is just as important for your dog, especially the small hairless type. Fleece dog coats, down vests, and sweaters make a great extra layer for many dogs.
My winter hiking trips are often done in Yaktraks & snow shoes to protect my feet and provide traction in snow and ice. Dog booties may be a solution for some breeds, but more often than not the booties fall off or the dog refuses to have his/her paws confined in such footwear. Since slipping and sliding on ice can damage dog’s ligaments, it’s best to avoid larges areas of ice altogether if possible.
Before hiking in snow, check your dog’s paws, particularly if you have a dog with longer hair. Snow and ice-balls will cling to their paws. To deter this from happening, make sure their nails and the fur between the paws are trimmed to minimize the accumulation of snow. Applying a thick coat of paw balm, like Mushers Secret (our fav) will protect the paws nicely. You can also spray the paws with a light application of olive oil or cooking spray.
Be extra careful when hiking your dog off-leash in the winter. Dogs will lose their keen sense of smell in extreme cold or snow and ultimately get lost. It’s best to visit areas your dog knows well or will respond to recall commands easily. Finally, stay away from lakes, ponds and other bodies of water that freeze up. Besides the slipperiness of the ice, if the water is not completely frozen they could fall in requiring a dangerous recovery.
Enjoy your winter hiking adventures!