When the snow starts falling and the promise of fresh powder fills the land, you may want to grab your favorite four-legged adventure pal and head outside.
By all means, you should.
But before diving paws first into cold weather activities, make sure you’re well-equipped and knowledgeable on the ways that winter weather can affect your dog.
Gear up before you head out
Chances are your gear load increases during the winter. The same should be true for your pup. While dogs may not need extra baselayers and an 800 fill down jacket, they can benefit greatly from a little extra cold-weather gear. As with your own packing list, your pup’s gear needs will differ depending on whether you’re simply going for a romp in snow-covered woods or heading out into the backcountry for some winter camping.
Canine Kit: The Everyday Explorer
- Waterproof collar and leash: If you own a dog, you’re probably all too familiar with the smell of a wet collar and leash. Banish the stench for good by switching over to a leash/collar made with coated webbing, such as Ruffwear’s Headwater Collar and Leash.
- Quick drying towel: When you’re playing around in the snow and ice, a quick drying towel comes in handy for everything from wiping down paws to giving your pup a place to sit during breaks.
- Collapsible, packable dog bowl and extra food and water: It’s always good to pack some snacks when you’re heading out for an adventure. During the winter, keep a thermos of warm water on hand when possible to stave off early stages of hypothermia.
Canine Kit: The Overnight Adventurer
- Insulated dog jacket: Whether a canine winter coat belongs in the “everyday” or “overnight” gear category depends largely on your dog’s natural insulation (or lack thereof). Short-haired pups will benefit from a wearing a jacket every time they go outside whereas burlier breeds might only need added coverage during overnights or when the sun goes down. Either way, having added protection against the cold available for your dog is always a good idea.
- Dog Pack: Keep your dog’s outdoor essentials on hand and your own pack weight down by fitting your dog with the Ruffwear Palisades or Approach packs.
- Portable Bed and Blanket: Let’s put it this way, do you want your 70 pound pooch in your sleeping bag with you? We didn’t think so.
Watch out for Hypothermia
Just because your pup has a furry coat doesn’t mean it can’t get cold. Keep an eye out for signs of hypothermia, including the following:
- Low pulse
- Dilated pupils
- A stupor-like state
- Shallow, slow breathing
If your dog displays these signs, move them to a sheltered spot, wrap them in blankets, and give them warm water until you can seek veterinary assistance.
Check for Ice Accumulation
There are few things more enjoyable for a dog owner than watching your furry friend joyfully leap through piles of fresh, fluffy white snow. But all that snow-filled ecstasy can quickly turn painful when ice accumulation comes into play. If you’ve ever been out with your dog in the winter and noticed them suddenly limping, there’s a good chance ice may have formed between their paws. If your outing is more of the neighborhood stroll sort, another culprit could be the salt used to melt ice on driveways, roads, and sidewalks.
To combat both of these problems, give dog boots a try.
If your pup starts shaking its paws, taking high steps, and flailing about (aka. “the dog boot dance”), don’t be concerned. Give your dog some time to get used to the boots. Remember the first time you put on a pair of ski boots and tried to walk around? Well, now imagine if you’d never even worn a shoe before…
To help your dog adjust, quickly engage them in an enjoyable activity with the boots on. Toss their favorite ball, take them out on their favorite trail, let them play with their prized toy. Go for a few short walks before you venture out for a day-long hike and make sure you’ve got the boots properly fitted.
If for some reason your dog just isn’t taking to boots, give Mushers Wax a go. This is a dense wax that will form a breathable bond with your dog’s paws and provide protection from snow and ice.
Take a few test runs
Perhaps quite literally. Go for a run with your dog on a blustery day, take a short walk through the snow around your house. Anything to test out how they react to snow, ice, wind, and cold temperatures.
It’s easy to assume that just because dogs are animals that they’re naturally comfortable in a variety of outdoor environments. But just like humans, some dogs need a little convincing at first before they discover the joys of playing outside in winter weather.