Hiking with dogs in winter requires extra care

Winter hiking with dogs is a great way to explore the outdoors. But you do have to watch our for your canine companion.

An exact number is hard to pin down. But know this: whatever the figure is, it’s a big one.

Americans love their dogs, seemingly more than ever.

According to statista.com, there were 89.7 million pet dogs across the country in 2017. That’s up from 68 million as recently as 2000.

Idahoans are especially crazy for canines. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2017-18 survey of pet ownership says 58 percent of households there contain a pet dog. That’s tops in the nation.

At least 50 percent of homes in the next four states in the rankings – Montana, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia – all have dogs, though.

And people are treating their canine friends better than ever, too.

The American Pet Products Association each year surveys pet owners to track trends. The 2017-18 version found that the “humanization of pets” – i.e. treating them like people – is a growing thing.

“Millenials (Gen Y), in particular, are taking the humanization of their pets to the next level,” the report said.

They’re increasingly likely to take their dog to day care, go to a pet-friendly restaurant, include their dog when running errands, buy them designer items and even throw them parties complete with gifts, the report said.

So, obviously, lots of people have dogs, and love them dearly.

That care should extend to the woods.

Dogs make great hiking companions, all the year round. Of course, there are things you have to consider when taking them out any time, from whether dogs are permitted on particular trails to whether they need to be on a leash to the rules for cleaning up after them.

But winter, with its snow and ice and cold, brings special challenges, especially if your hike will cover some miles.

For starters, think about the weather.

There’s a reason people invented snowshoes, after all. Trudging through deep snow without them is exhausting.

So consider snow from your dog’s perspective. If it’s deep enough, relative to your dog’s height, that he or she is constantly leaping to move, a shorter trip is better than a long one.

Take care with their feet, too.

Dogs that are outside on rough terrain all the time develop thick, tough, callous pads on their feet. They can handle worse conditions than a dog with more tender soles.

With those pets – or dogs with long hair on their paws, which will collect snow and ice that forms into hard, painful balls eventually – booties might be in order.

Chances are your dog won’t feel comfortable in them at first. And even after he gets used to them, he’ll likely lose them on occasion, requiring you to carry spares in your pack.

But they make it possible for most dogs to travel longer in worse weather.

Alternately, you could make your own pad wax to protect their feet.

Pack a small blanket, too.

When you stop to take breaks along the trail, chances are you sit on your pack or a heat seat or something else to keep your behind out of the cold snow. Have something – it need not be big – for your dog to relax on, too.

If your dog is a short-haired breed, consider buying it a jacket or sweater.

Be aware, though, that if you go that route you need to monitor the dog and the sweater. A wet sweater is likely worse than none at all and can promote hypothermia. Conversely, if it’s too warm, it can cause overheating.

Keep your dog’s engine running, as well.

Just like you pack snacks and water for yourself, the dog needs energy boosts and hydration, too. So add a collapsible bowl to your pack so your dog can have a drink, and pack snacks. If there’s a chance they’ll freeze and become too hard to chew, carry them in a pocket, where body heat will keep them pliable.

Then, get out there and have some fun.

After all, if you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably got a lot tied up in your canine companion. Some estimates put the total spent per dog at $1,285 annually.

But there’s a return on that emotional and financial investment.

“Pets continue to be an important part of their owners lives, providing companionship and love, relieving stress and offering a host of other health benefits,” the Pet Products Association report said.

Winter is no reason not to take advantage of all that.


Bob Frye is the Everybody Adventures editor. Reach him at (412) 216-0193 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at EverybodyAdventures.com.