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WINTER ADVENTURES WITH DOGS- COLD DAYS OUT WITH HUW AND FINN

Braving the cold with your canine companion... By Huw James
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Let’s face it, not everyone loves the cold. And not everyone does equally well in it. “Freezing” to some people may be 10 degrees, to others, -10. Some owners will drag their dogs out in rain, wind and snow and are certain that they love it. Winter is a tough time of year, the weather conditions become harsh and unforgiving so to keep warm the key is to layer-up.

When you’re cold yourself it can sometimes be all too easy to forget to make sure your dog is comfortable too. To make things easier, here are some helpful pointers to consider when taking your dog walking in winter.

Winter Walking

Some dogs love a winter walk more than others. Some are designed to tolerate the cold much better than others, knowing which just comes down to a bit of common sense. Included in the best dog breeds for cold weather are those you’d imagine; Huskies, Mountain Dogs and Shepherd Dogs. Not so well suited are dogs like Pugs, Pointers and Vizslas. There are just a few examples, but you can draw from these a few ideas to help prepare a dog for a winter walk:

  • Fur: Just like layering for hill walkers, dogs will have a bit of that going on too. Their layering may be made up of fat, skin and fur, but not all dogs have equal amounts. If your dog has longer fur, odds are they’ll do a little better in the cold. Some dogs have a shorter ‘double-fur’ system like the Husky!
  • Leg Length: Short legs in deep snow bring the obvious pitfalls, it also means that on long days out they have to work harder to keep up. Everyone has to work harder in winter conditions on the hills and sometimes size does matter!
  • Stamina: Working dogs are obviously bred for long days and harsh conditions. Some dogs can seemingly run for days, others would prefer not to. Knowing the limits of your dog is just as essential as knowing your own.
  • Temperament: Every dog has a personality. Many breeds will have specific traits, however, most important on a winter walk is obedience. Walking in winter environments is sometimes more challenging, especially if it’s slippery or you have crampons on. What you really want from your dog is for it not to pull you off the mountain!

Before You Set Off...

Before you head out there are a few things you can do to make your dog’s experience more enjoyable, it comes down to the items you pack and how you prepare yourself for the trail.

Start off by giving your furry friend the once over, making sure they’re fit and healthy for the walk. Pay attention to their feet as these will get the most exposure to the cold, as the thermal image below shows their feet can get lose a lot of heat in winter conditions.

Dog with cold paws in winter

If your dog has particularly long fur, you could consider trimming the fur between the pads, just back to the paw line, to make sure there isn’t a build-up of ice or snow that clings to it. At the same time, you could trim your dog’s nails to give them better traction on slippery surfaces where their pads do all the gripping. You could consider trimming a bit of fur under the belly line too if you’re going to be in deep snow, but only if there may be a big build-up of snow clinging to it.

To get around some of these issues you may consider buying some outdoor gear for your dog. Dog Boots have come a long way and now take many forms. Essentially the boot needs to offer grip and keep your dog’s paws protected against snow build up and snow melt chemicals. Dog boots like the Ruffwear Summit Trex offer protection from more than just the cold.

A good layering system could also be helpful if your dog has short fur. The Ruffwear Quinzee under the more waterproof Sun Shower Rain Jacket has been a good system for a few years now, though there are a lot of other options available including fleeces and soft shell styles. Bags such as the Palisades help you keep all your dog’s toys and water handy and get them producing more warmth.

On the Trails

Whether it’s a big mountain trail or a walk in the local park, winter walking always requires a bit more attention. In more urban areas, the big thing to look out for is the grit and snow melt chemicals, some can potentially irritate the paws of your dog.  A nice luke-warm dip in some water with a little dog shampoo will make sure the chemicals don’t cause any harm, or you can use a dog boot.

On crisp winters days, the air can be quite dry so dogs will need more water on these days than normal. A collapsible bowl with some luke-warm water will give your dog some extra warmth, keep them hydrated and away from eating snow. Dogs do eat snow which isn’t too harmful in small quantities, but dehydrated dogs could eat a lot, bringing their core temperature down and leaving burns in their mouth.  To keep them warm while you rest, a mat or pad to lie on is ideal for keeping them off the snow.

If it’s snowing heavily while you’re out, it’s probably best to keep your dog on a leash and keep a close eye on them as snow can be very disorientating for dogs as well as humans. Just like modern day ski and alpine gear, a bright dog jacket can help identify your dog from a distance.

The same snow drifts can also hide dog waste. Keeping a close eye on your dog means you can see where they’ve been to the toilet and allows you to clean up after them. Contrary to popular belief, snow does not degrade dog waste.

Lastly, when you’ve got your dog close, check to see if they are visibly shivering or place a hand on their body to see if you can feel it.

Here’s a summary of tips and a checklist to make sure you’ve got everything covered before you head out…

Before you leave, consider the following...

  • Trimming your dog’s paw hair and nails
  • Microchipping your dog
  • Getting a name tag with your phone number on
  • Additional warm layers
  • Potential footwear
  • Leaving towels by the door for when you return

When you're back...

  • Wash your dog’s paws in luke warm water
  • Check for any scrapes or cold burns picked up during the walk
  • Remove as much snow and ice clinging on to their coat as possible
  • Give them fresh food and fresh water
  • Keep an eye on your dog and check to see they are warming up sufficiently

Dog Winter Gear...

Posted By

Huw James

Huw is a scientist, adventurer, photographer, film maker, and ambassador for Ruffwear. He spends most of his life in the outdoors or trying to get into the outdoors. He’s a climber, mountaineer, runner and everything in between. He spends a lot of time travelling around the world to new and sometimes very old places. Find out more at www.huwjames.com.