THE GREAT OUTDOORS — A favorite summer trail covered in snow refreshes both body and soul. The same holds true for my hiking companions, but for my dogs, the conditions mean simple preparation against the elements: booties and a jacket.
Here are some resources to help keep your furry friends warm and protected this winter.
Booties and other protective gels
Booties for your puppies or Bag Balm or Vaseline gel applied to the pads of their feet can help protect and prevent snow build up in the webs of their feet. Booties are a tricky thing to use with your dog if they've never had them on before. Test them out in the house or in the yard first. Let your dog get used to them before going for a long outing.
The booties must be very securely snugged up to your pet's ankles and legs or they will flip off. As I learned from personal experience, trying to find booties in deep snow can take all day.
One sure way I know my dogs’ feet are cold is when they start to hold up a paw while standing still. That's a good indicator that it's time to turn around and head for a warm car and a warm snack.
My dogs have short hair so I bring fleece or fleece-lined jackets to keep them warm. Dogs will usually generate enough body heat to keep them comfortable during an outing, but on a full day snow venture, the jacket helps keep them dry too.
Another trick we learned for keeping our dogs warm is a neck gaiter. A thick fleece gaiter around their neck seems to hold in body heat. It is less intrusive when bounding through frosty brush too. Be sure to take the neck gaiters off at the end of the hike, though. These fabric neck gaiters will likely get wet as the snow melts when everyone starts to warm up in the car on the ride home.
Bring extra water
Dehydration is as much a concern in winter as it is during summer months. Even though your dogs may grab a mouthful of snow or drink from an ice-free stream, it's important to bring water for them.
Make sure you have good traction
While you should make sure your animals are taken care of during a cold, winter outing, you should also make sure you are adequately prepared for the conditions. Dogs have 16 points to grip snow and ice with their four feet that each have four sharp claws per foot. I have taken a page from their trekking manual and found inexpensive spikes I can easily put on and take off of my hiking boots.
Some boot manufacturers boast about anti-slip rubber on their boots for better traction in below zero temperatures. I have tried some of those boots, but I have tried attachable traction systems with better results.
A strong rubber strap surrounds the base of your boot which keeps the metal wires on the Yaktrax or the microspikes firmly next to the sole of your boot. The microspikes have long metal teeth connected to a chain grid which snugs up to your boot. These stainless steel or tungsten teeth bite deep into the snow and ice for firm traction as you cross uneven hilly terrain. They are easy to put on and take off while on the trail.
Whichever traction device you choose, be sure to dry them out after each outing. The rubber and metal will last much longer if you do.
So grab your trekking poles and crampons and get out there to enjoy the fresh air with your furry friends.