Even though snowshoeing is touted to be "as easy as walking", it really is more complicated than strapping on snowshoes and heading off with your pooch. Winter environments are harsher, so it's important to prepare your dog for the journey and know how to keep them safe on the trail.
Follow these seven essential rules to ensure a good time is had by all.
1. Get a Pre-trip Checkup
Walking in snow -- especially deep, powdery snow -- is more physically demanding than a jog around the block or even most hikes. During a checkup, a veterinarian will make sure your dog is fit and healthy enough for a cold and rigorous activity like snowshoeing.
2. Verify the Trails are Dog Friendly
Groomed snow park trails and Nordic ski areas are a great places to get out with your pup. Hiking trails that are dog-friendly in the summer are also a good option. Be sure to check the rules and regulations before you go though. Not all of them allow dogs. There may be cases where winter use of the trail -- like snowmobiling -- make it unsafe for dogs in the winter.
3. Keep Them Warm
Depending on your dog's breed and the amount of fur they have, it may be necessary for them to wear a coat. Something like a Ruffwear insulated dog jacket will keep them warm and protect them from the elements. Keep in mind that a jacket might not be enough for some dogs, especially smaller ones. The adventure may be more pleasant if you bring a blanket to cover them up during breaks when they are not generating as much body heat.
4. Protect Their Feet
A dog's feet is one of the first places they can get frostbite. They can also develop sores from walking on cold, rough snow or from snowballs and ice stuck between their paw pads. Keeping their body extra warm is the first step to preventing these issues. Dogs sweat through their feet so, if their body is warm, heat radiating from their paws may help keep them warm and snow-free. Sometimes that is not enough though. Trimming the fur between the foot pads, rubbing on a protectant balm like Musher's Secret, or dog boots can also be helpful in protecting their feet. If your dog is not wearing boots, be sure to check their feet often.
5. Keep Them Hydrated
In the summer, a dog is usually panting and they are more likely to drink when they are thirsty. The signs that your dog may be overheating are not always there, and they may not be as willing to drink, in colder temperatures. It's up to you to make sure your dog is drinking plenty of water. Offer them water frequently and consider adding a bit of no-sodium chicken stock or dog sports drink to the water may entice them to drink.
6. Watch for Signs of Exhaustion
Hiking in the snow can be very taxing for a dog. Their feet may sink down a couple of inches in the snow, or they may be up to their chest in it in powdery snow, which means they expend more energy lifting their legs. You don't want to perform an emergency evacuation for your pup because they collapsed from exhaustion. Each dog is different so get to know the signs your dog gives when they are getting too tired. Getting slower and lagging behind the group are usually the first signs followed by refusing to walk further and collapsing.
7. Know the Signs of Hypothermia
Puppies and elderly dogs are especially susceptible to hypothermia. If sustained, low body temperature may lead to several complications and even become fatal. Signs of a dangerous drop in body temperature are strong shivering, slowed breathing, and dilated pupils. These signs may be followed by lethargy and frostbite. If your dog is showing any of these signs, it's important to warm them up by covering them with warm blankets, giving them warm liquids if available, and getting them home to see their veterinarian.
Being active with your dog in the outdoors is a great way for you and your pooch to bond and build a stronger relationship. If you keep your dog's best interests in mind during your snowshoeing trips, they are likely to want to go again. Following these seven important rules will help ensure that your adventure is enjoyable and worry-free.
How do you keep your dog safe when you snowshoe together?