How to Snowshoe with a Dog
Click click…clack. I look up. Nina is already high on the scramble of boulders and perched up on a ledge watching me struggle. Come ONNNNN mom!!! She says with her eyes. I take a deep breath, dig deep and carefully make my way up the last push to the alpine lake. By the time I reach where she was stationed, she’s long gone. I call out to her. A set of ears and a button nose peep over the top ledge. “Nina stay!” She stays put wagging her tail happily as I slog my way to the top of the rocks.
As I finally clear the boulders and begin to rip my spikes off Nina does a happy dance and starts rolling furiously across the patches of snow. She’s happy to be outside enjoying the great white wonderland. Seeing her joy brings a warmth to my heart. I look up at the beautiful lake snuggled against the steep couliors of the 13,000′ peaks surrounding me. Life is perfect. This is why I snowshoe with a dog.
What to Pack
Just like the 10 Essentials for us, dogs have essential items too. In the winter this means you’ll need a couple of extra items. Whether you carry it or your dog caries it is up to you. Nina is older (about 9 years old) so we retired her doggy pack a couple of years ago.
This stuff is a MUST HAVE for anyone looking to take their pooch out into the outdoors. It really doesn’t matter the season. Be sure to dip their paws in it to avoid having snow ball up on their feet. You can even apply it on their legs and undercarriage to prevent icicles and snow from building up on their fur.
You shouldn’t venture into the backcountry in the winter without some type of emergency shelter. I carry the Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy. It’s compact, light, doesn’t break the bank, and would be a life saver if something where to happen. Emergencies are no fun for anyone. However you’ll not only need to account for yourself, but your fury pal as well. If I had to, the two of us could squeeze into my bivvy. When picking a bivvy make sure it’ll have enough room for you and your dog to stay warm. In an emergency you’ll be thankful for each other’s body heat.
Similar to people dogs need extra layers too. I recently purchased a dog jacket specifically for snow travel for Nina. I actually never thought I would ever purchase a jacket for my dog, but after watching her trudge through snow up to her chest in 40 mph winds with blowing snow I invested in a little protection. She uses the Roughwear Cloud Chaser. She naturally loves the cold so the Roughwear Powder Hound would be too warm for her. If your dog has shorter hair or problems with the cold, definitely invest in the heavier jacket.
Function over fashion rules for snowshoeing with a dog. Look for something that is all synthetic (absolutely NO cotton), waterproof or snow shedding, and provides substantial undercarriage coverage. Roughwear offered just that. Think about what it would be like to drag your bare chest through the snow for several hours. BRRRRR! Doesn’t sound good does it? Invest in a good jacket for your pooch if you plan on being out all day and your dog isn’t a breed that is built for snow.
I also pack some toddler socks from my dog foot care kit, dog booties, and an extra layer for myself that can double as some protection for my dog should something happen. For example, I have an extra fleecy neck gator that I bring with me. Nina has used this to protect her ears and face when there’s lots of low blowing snow. If I tried to put it on her in the house, she’d protest, but she loves the warmth when we are out in the wind!
You bring extra food for yourself, so don’t forget about your pooch. Similar to what you would pack, avoid foods that would freeze and would feel like chewing on a rock. This can crack teeth and cause one nasty vet bill or an infection. When you take a break, give your best friend some pup-friendly treats. You’re both working really hard out there!
Other Items to consider
- A dog-specific first aid kit. This should include gauze, athletic tape, a tick key (although you don’t need this in the winter), Pepto (dogs can have half doses of Pepto if they have a bad stomach), and Neosporin. Talk to you vet about any other items they would suggest for snowshoeing with a dog.
- Always bring a water bowl and extra water. I’ve noticed Nina mostly just eats the snow, but it’s still a good idea to have water. Make sure your dog is staying hydrated.
- A light for the collar – in case you are still heading back while it’s dark.
- Booties. To be honest, I’m not a proponent of dog-specific shoes. They can ruin a dog’s feet and rip off their claws. Very painful. If you are going to be traveling over ice or hard packed snow in super cold temps, do as the dog sledders do and invest in some booties specific to sled dogs. It allows their feet to move more freely than shoes and they breathe, so your dog doesn’t overheat.
- A leash. If your dog isn’t verbally very well trained or there are going to be lots of people around always leash your pet. Never let your dog get out ahead of you to where you can’t see them on the trail.
How to Travel
Snowshoeing with a dog isn’t the same as hiking with a dog. Usually, when out and about Nina loves to break trail. However, in the snow things are different. Often times dogs are going to be post-holing or sinking into the snow making travel difficult. When you see this happening, make your fury pal walk behind you. This isn’t natural for most dogs and can take some getting used to. Nina quickly realized this was the path of least resistance and quickly learned to follow suit.
The trickiest part to getting a dog to travel behind you is the fact that your feet are a little larger than normal. Dogs don’t understand the extension of shoes with a tail. Nina’s been kicked by the back end of my snowshoes plenty (unintentionally, obviously), but she figures out how to hang back pretty quick.
This tactic is great if you notice your dog is exhausted and you need to head back or if you’re the one making fresh tracks.
Watch the Temperature
Unless your dog is a breed snow specific expect your 4-legged love to get cold before you. It’s a good idea to know what that point is before going out and reaching it. Make an extra effort to avoid being out after or before the sun is up. Shade and lack of sun quickly freezes the ground and this can burn your dog’s feet. If you find yourself in a tough situation, try re-applying Musher’s Secret or applying those awesome fleece booties. The last thing you want is your dog to have his or her paws freeze and suddenly walking becomes difficult.
For example, I know that when the temperature hits 15 degrees or lower, Nina is not going to last long outside. Walk your dog close to home in all sorts of winter conditions (even if you don’t want to) so you know how they do when the temperatures plummet.
Know the Limits
Often times you are going to outlast your pup while snowshoeing with your dog. It’s very common. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out. Start with lower milage, lesser difficulty trails. Slowly ramp up to something more difficult. Snow travel is more difficult and it’s significantly more difficult for your dog. Your dog doesn’t have snowshoes and a heavy layering system. They tire much quicker. Be aware and always be willing to turn back if your dog just isn’t feeling it.
My dog is 9 years old. She still summits mountains, stomps through snow, and climbs seemingly impossible boulders. She’s an active lady and loves to be out and about in the snow. But this doesn’t means she’s always feeling it. I know when she’s had enough and we turn back.
Learn the warning signs for your dog and turn around if you notice them.
Getting out in the snow with your best 4-legged pal is endless fun! Do you have any tips for snowshoeing with a dog? What are your experiences? I’d love to hear them! Comment below.