How to winterize your hiking dog

dog in deep snow

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Seek Proper Terrain

Use well-traveled and groomed trails. Cross-country ski or snowshoe trails are ideal for dogs—call ahead to see if they’re allowed—because packed tracks prevent your pooch from postholing. If you’d rather hike untracked areas, reduce your expected mileage by as much as half (to account for fatigue). Dogs can be difficult to follow, so train them to follow your lead.

Avoid walking near lakes and streams that are frozen. Dogs that wander onto ice less then two inches thick could be swept into the freezing water. Your dog’s safety is at risk when you try to rescue him.

Keep on class II terrain. “Dogs aren’t technical climbers,” says Berger. Avoid inclines or terrain with steep drops, as they are more dangerous when covered by ice.

You should leash your dog. If your dog doesn’t heel within arms reach, keep him leashed, especially in high-traffic snowmobile and skier areas, and in avy terrain where his roaming could trigger a slide.

Protect yourself with this Gear-Up

Prevent heavy ice buildup on your pet’s chest and legs with a coat like the full-coverage Ruff Wear Cloud Chaser ($90). You can measure the jacket’s length and the largest part of the chest. (See below).

The Dog Buff ($12), a eight-inch-long neck gaiter made from polyester microfiber and a reflective stripe, prevents snow and chill buildup on floppy ears or shaggy necks.

A properly fitted pack can allow a dog to carry as much as one-third its body weight. Reduce his load if the snow is soft or he’s postholing excessively. Fit the pack: Adjust the harness so it’s snug across the forelegs (you should be able to fit two fingers between his chest and the straps) and slightly snugger across the belly; weight both sides equally. The pack should fit the same if he’s wearing a jacket, but watch for chafing where straps overlap seams. Try Mountainsmith’s K9 Dog Pack ($75).

You can make your dog more visible at night to help you find him faster. NiteIze Spotli Rechargeable Collar Light ($18), attaches to a collar, so you can see your dog from far away.

Make sure he has a clean and tidy home

Trim. Fur between canines’ toe pads can pack with snowballs and make walking painful. Have your vet or groomer trim the fluff even with your dog’s pads before your trip. Resist the urge to trim on your own; vets have clippers that won’t cut his skin.
Grease. To prevent skin cracks from being caused by dry, cold air, grease your paws. Use a wax-based paw protectant like Musher’s Secret ($16, 2.1 oz.) Or a thin coating with petroleum jelly. Vaseline is a protective coating that can last for up to five hours.

Get your booties on. Booties protect the feet against snow and abrasive ice by measuring the length of your dog’s paws. For your first hike, take the booties off your dog for a short walk. He may need some time to get used to them. Check boots regularly between trips to make sure they are not damaged.

Wipe your feet. After each winter hike, wash your paws. Dogs can inhale antifreeze and parking-lot salts by licking their feet.

A dog plays in deep snow. (Photo by Stacey Montgomery Photography/ )

Avoid Ailments

Joint pain can be exacerbated by low temperatures and exercise. Berger recommends Rimadyl, a canine anti-inflammatory that is specifically designed for pain-prone dogs.

Hypothermia: Pooches can suffer from it, just like humans, especially if fur is wet at temps below 32°F. If he’s shivering, give food and warm him in a sleeping bag. Frost-bite is rare in dogs at temps above -20°F.

Keep a Full Bowl

In calorie-depleting cold, add one or two tablespoons of veggie oil to dry food, or choose a formula with high fat content like Eagle Pack’s Adult Power. Fido should drink at most one ounce per pound of bodyweight per day and have at least three drinking breaks per day. Are you able to camp for 72 hours? Increase your regular portion size by 20%

How to Winterize Your Hiking Dog

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