Dogs and snowshoes go together like peanut butter and jam! Snowshoeing is a great workout for you and your pet. Exploring the winter landscape with a faithful dog at your side is a great way to strengthen your bond, but before you hit the trails with your furry friend, there are a few things to consider:
Let’s start with the most obvious question: is this something your dog is going to enjoy? Dogs most suited to snowshoeing adventures are dogs that are able to handle the cold, have long legs, and fur that doesn’t collect ice balls. Your dog should be in good health, and not overweight. Snowshoeing is a real workout, and obese dogs simply may not be able to handle it.
Not all dogs are cut out for a snowy adventure; some will be happiest staying at home.
Are dogs welcome on the trails?
Know before you go. Some spaces are dog friendly and some are not. The way to keep the dog friendly ones we have, are to follow the rules. Make sure that you bring Fido to places that will welcome him. Call ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
Taking care of your dog’s feet will mean you will both have a good time out there. You have a few options when it comes to canine foot care. For dogs with longer hair, have a groomer trim up the hair around the foot, and in between the toes. If you are attempting to do this yourself, go slow, and use the proper tools. It’s all too easy to accidentally nick the webbing between the toes. Ouch!
You may also look into wax for your dog’s paws. There are many brands of paw wax, which you can buy at a pet store or through a mushing supply company. The wax serves to keep the feet conditioned, helping to prevent cracks. The wax also stops ice balls from forming between the toes.
Boots are another option. A proper fitting boot needs to stay on, and allow the dog to spread their toes to grip as they walk. A boot with a hole is worse than no boot at all as ice will form in the boot against the dog’s skin. If you opt for booties, stop often and do regular inspections.
Hands-free, is simply the way to be! Regardless of how well-behaved your dog is, if you are on public land, you will need a leash. Not only does a leash ensure the safety of your dog and any wildlife you may encounter, it also puts other trail users at ease, who may not be comfortable around off leash dogs. When we snowshoe on public land, I enjoy using a trekking belt. It goes around my waist and attaches to the dogs, leaving my hands free to manage my poles and camera.
Pack out the poop
A backpack or Indiana Jones style satchel is a great way to pack out the dog poop. Be sure to double bag it, just in case. Even better would be train your dog to go to the bathroom before you hit the trail. This is especially true if space in your pack is limited or you have multiple dogs.
Remember, if your dog goes on the trail, you got to stoop and scoop, it’s not cool to bend and pretend.
Snowshoes give you a considerable edge in the deep stuff. An edge your dog may not have! In powder, Bowser is going to have to work harder to keep up. Keep this in mind, and monitor your dog’s energy level. It’s going to be no fun to have to carry your dog out. So if your dog is new to snowshoeing, start slow and build up his/her stamina.
Pack a snack
Your dog is going to be burning plenty of calories and maybe even getting dehydrated. Pack a snack, or some baited water (think of a doggie soup) for them to replenish their energy. Look for a snack high in both fat and protein to give your dog the energy he needs right away, and aid in his muscle recovery.
My dogs love a little bit of beef fat, melted in a thermos of warm water. It’s an easy to carry snack, which gives them an energy boost and keeps them hydrated. When it’s really cold out, I carry the thermos upside down, so the lid doesn’t freeze on.
Foods such as peanut butter and fish have the added benefit of giving your dog dietary zinc, which will help with his coat, and paws.
Does your dog need clothes?
I am not one to judge, if your dog is happiest in a sweater and boots, that’s alright with me! Before you head out on a long trip, take some romps through the park with your dog in all his gear. It’s important your dog be used to wearing his new outfit and if there happens to be any wardrobe malfunctions, you find out closer to home.
Not all coats are created equal, and there is not one size fits all option! Simply put, some coats and boots are designed to appeal more to a human, than be useful for a dog. If you opt for a coat, check that no snow is building up against the dog’s skin. Use a coat that is suited to the conditions that your dog is going to be in.
Happy trails to you and your dog!
Kevin Roberts has been snowshoeing with dogs his entire life. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada with his husband, and their pack of snow-loving mutts.