Winter is here, and that means it is time to break out your winter sports gear!
One of the best winter activities is snowshoeing. It invites the relaxation and wonder of hiking with the solitude of a winter landscape.
If you are someone that often hikes with your dog, and wants to introduce them to the joys of hiking in winter, then there are a few things you should know before you go.
Here are our top 5 tips for a fun, safe snowshoeing adventure with your dog.
1. Know if Dogs are Allowed on the Trails
Many of the same trail etiquette rules apply to your dog when you take them snowshoeing as when you take them hiking.
Of those trail rules, the first one is that you need to know if dogs are even allowed in the area you want to snowshoe.
If you aren’t snowshoeing on an official trail, then this likely isn’t an issue, but if you choose a trail, then find out rules regarding dogs.
If it isn’t on the park or area website, call ahead to be sure dogs are allowed.
If they are permitted, next find out if they must be leashed or not as you would while hiking, clean up after your dog on the trail.
Just because there is snow on the ground does not negate the fact that dog poop is a potential environmental hazard and pollutant.
2. Plan Your Distance According to Your Dog
All dog breeds vary in size and fitness levels.
Similarly, your dog’s age and general health will be different than of another dog.
If you often take your dog hiking, then your dog is likely fit enough to perform the rigors of snowshoeing.
Keep in mind that running through the snow can be very fun for your dog, but it does take a bit more work than walking on a trail or sidewalk.
Most small dog breeds will struggle to go long distances in the snow, so plan to bring a dog carrier with you if you want to snowshoe a few miles or more.
If you’re unsure if your dog is ready for snowshoeing this winter season, then schedule a check-up with your veterinarian.
Not only will they tell you a general fitness assessment for your dog, but they can also give you some safety tips and guidelines for your dog when outside this winter.
3. Keep Your Pup Warm and Their Paws Protected
Some dogs are bred to play in the snow. Their coats are designed to keep them warm.
Not all dog breeds are prepared for long walks in the cold, wet snow, though.
To protect them, invest in a winter jacket and some boots for them to wear when snowshoeing.
Even winter dog breeds can benefit from snow boots.
If you tend to go on frequent, long walks in the winter, all dogs will get used to boots. Boots are meant to protect their paws from snow and ice.
Although many dogs will manage the cold feeling on their paws, if they are running and playing, the cold combined with sharp ice can easily cut their paws.
Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, snow, and ice can lead to frostbite on your dog’s paw pads.
If your dog isn’t wearing boots, make sure the fur around their paws and in between the toes is trimmed. This prevents snow and ice from building up as they run through the snow.
When a dog isn’t wearing boots, then paw wax can add some protection as well. It will not be as effective as snow boots, but it will help keep their paws moisturized and prevents them from cracking.
4. Bring water for your dog
It is easy for us to forget to drink water when it is cold outside, so we also often forget that our dogs should also drink water.
Be sure to pack enough water for you and your pup when you are out snowshoeing.
Many dogs enjoy the freedom to run and play in the snow, but they exert a lot of energy doing so.
You may need to remind them to take breaks and to get a drink of water, especially if they are a breed that is easily overstimulated and distracted.
Some dog breeds will run until you tell them to stop, despite the fact that they are tired and exhausted.
Depending on the length of the hike, bring a treat for your dog as well.
Just as we often stop for a snack on the trail, your dog will benefit from a little extra energy from a treat or two. Treats can also be helpful if you are training your dog on trail etiquette and will improve recall.
5. Know the Signs of Exhaustion and Hypothermia
All dogs are susceptible to both exhaustion and hypothermia.
Puppies and older dogs are at a higher risk for both, which is why it is important to know the signs so you can recognize when your dog has had enough of the cold and needs a break to warm up.
Signs of exhaustion in dogs:
- Excessive panting
- Frequent yawning
- Hyperactivity and intermittent lying down
- Excessive thirst
- Forgets commands or is less responsive
- General lethargy
- Walking slowly with head hanging low
Signs of hypothermia in dogs:
- Strong shivering
- Slowed breathing
- Low heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Pale or gray gums
- Stumbling or lack of coordination
- General lethargy or collapse
Some signs of exhaustion and hypothermia will overlap, but it is important to know that either is a possibility.
If you begin to notice your dog is getting lethargic. Take a break and assess if it is time for you to return home.
If you suspect hypothermia in your dog, check for dilated pupils, which means it is quite severe.
Sometimes, dogs will overlook their health to keep up with their human and stay loyal to their companions. So, it is up to you to ensure they are staying safe and healthy when on the trail.
Get your dog off of the trail and on the way to the veterinarian as soon as you think they are experiencing hypothermia.
Treat them similar to how you would treat a human with hypothermia, wrap them in blankets, and remove any wet clothing.
Mild hypothermia cases can be solved with these warming techniques until shivering stops, but more severe cases will need medical attention.
One of the best winter activities is snowshoeing and it is even better when you can share the experience with man's best friend.
Just don't forget our 5 tips to make sure it is a fun and safe snowshoeing experience for all.
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