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Embrace The Chill: 4 Transformative Tips For Hiking With Dogs In Winter

Gatsby Running in winter

When temperatures start to drop and the beautiful fall-colored trees turn to a drab brown, many dog owners feel that the hiking season is over.

Hiking with dogs in winter requires more preparation and thought, but it’s the perfect way to engage your dog and keep them happy and entertained in the cooler months.

Today, we will cover everything you need to know about hiking with dogs in winter. From choosing the right gear to keeping your dog safe and understanding how your dog reacts to the cold, we’ll cover it all!

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1. The Adventure of Hiking with Dogs in Winter

There’s something very unique about a winter hike. It’s the slowest hiking season of the year, so you often have the trail to yourself.

The usually bustling forest is absent of its cadence of songbirds and nagging squirrels. Instead, you trudge through the snow with only you and your dog’s footsteps as company.

Winter hiking with dogs is an exciting opportunity to bond with your dog and immerse yourself in the quiet nature around you.

Pawd and Jarrod Hiking in the snow.

Training Opportunities

Hiking with dogs in winter lets you experience some solitude on your walk. Trails that are usually busy are empty, and even the sounds of nearby traffic slow down.

This is a fantastic opportunity to work on training with your dog, such as off-leash training and recall. Since the trails are less busy, you are less likely to encounter things that will distract your dog.

Take the opportunity to solidify some of your training so that your dog will be ready when Spring rolls around, and the trails fill up once more.

Beauty

Some ice on a branch after a storm.

Every season has its own unique beauty. Spring brings gorgeous blooming flowers, summer is full of life and warmth, and fall provides the stunning colors we all know and love.

Winter, though cold and dark, brings its charm with snow-covered evergreens and hanging icicles, and let’s not forget how excited some dogs get to bound through the snow! (I know mine does!).

Mental Health Benefits

Let’s face it: we all move a little slower in winter. It’s cold, dark, and dreary. Deciding to hike with your pup in the winter provides motivation to get outside, move around, and soak in the views.

As a bonus, hiking outside in the winter can boost your mental health! An article from the Scandinavian Journal of Work found that people who worked outside for at least 2 hours per day experienced better mood scores than those who worked indoors.

If you’re like me and suffer from SAD or other mood difficulties during the winter, hiking with your dog can have a positive impact on your brain!

Another benefit of hiking with a dog is the protection. If you hike alone or are petite, a dog can be a form of safety while hiking on less populated trails. You can read more about protection on the trails here.

A New Challenge

Hiking with dogs in snow will test your physical and mental toughness every step of the way. Not only do you have to worry about usual hurdles like the length of the trail, but there are a few added challenges in the winter to be aware of:

  • Less daylight: Starting a hike in the afternoon is a risk because there is less daylight. In the winter, the sun sets early, and darkness settles quickly.
  • Cold: Another winter challenge is the cold. Layering is vital in the winter. Getting too hot in your clothing is just as dangerous as being too cold!
  • New dangers: Winter brings new hazards to look out for while hiking. Tree wells, changing weather, ice, and avalanches are just a few.
  • Desperate wildlife: If the winter weather is bad enough, some wildlife may become desperate for food and approach you and your dog. Our guide on what to do if you see a wild animal on a hike can help you handle these situations.

No challenge is too hard to overcome, but knowing them will make your winter wonderland hikes safer and easier to navigate.

2. Preparing Your Dog for Winter Hiking

Imagine all the preparation you do to go outside in the winter – putting on heavy socks, waterproof boots, layers, gloves, hats, and maybe even goggles if the wind is high.

The same concept should go for your dog. They need proper protection from the cold and a slow introduction to ensure they can hike in the cold. 

some of the gear we use for hiking with dogs in winter.

Choosing The Right Gear

There are many facets to hiking with dogs in winter. Proper gear is just one piece of the puzzle, though an important one!

Here are some of the essential gear we recommend for dogs in winter:

  • Jacket: We’re not talking about a stylish sweater. We mean a waterproof, insulated jacket that covers their back and belly to protect them from snow accumulation. These can get pricey, but it’s worth it if you plan to take your dog outside in the winter. We use Frisco Heavy Weight Quilted Hybrid Coat with Sherpa Lining.
  • Booties: Not only do dog boots protect your dog’s paws from the cold, but they also protect against snow-melt salt, frostbite, and snowball accumulation in the fine hairs between their pads. Check out the Polar Trex Winter Dog Boots.
  • Paw wax: If your dog doesn’t seem to like booties, paw wax is an alternative that can help protect their paws from winter conditions. Musher’s Secret Paw Protection works great!
  • Reflective gear or lights: Winter is always a bit darker than the summer, not to mention the sun goes down much earlier. Reflective gear and flashing lights can help you see your pup better on early morning or evening hikes.
  • Water: You always remember water in the hot summer months, but hydration might slip our minds in winter. Bring plenty of water on the hike to keep your furry friend hydrated. A bowl helps, like the Bivy Collapsible Dog Bowl.
  • Rescue Gear: We always recommend bringing a first aid kit and rescue sling on every hike, regardless of the season. If your dog gets hurt, you need a way to carry them back to the car. Fido Pro Airlift Emergency Resuce Sling in Medium (20 to 45lbs), Large (45 to 70lbs), or Extra Large (70 to 150lbs).

    Discover the intricacies of the Fido Pro Emergency Sling and our impressions of this remarkable product.
  • Dog Sleeping Bag: If you plan to camp overnight in the winter, keep your dog warm with a dog sleeping bag or something similar that will keep them toasty throughout the night.

Always train your dog to wear the gear before heading out on a hike. Check out our article on dog hiking gear essentials for a more detailed gear list. Checking out gear reviews is a great way to ensure you get the best equipment for your pup.

Fido Pro Airlift rescue dog sling.

Determining If Your Dog Can Hike In Winter

Some dogs are more suited for winter hikes than others. For example, a husky is meant for cold weather, while a chihuahua is not. Knowing their tolerance for cold is vital, no matter what winter activity you do with your dog, from cross country skiing to snowshoeing. 

That said, even if your hiking dog isn’t a well-known winter breed, they can still enjoy outdoor adventures in the cold months, especially if suited in the proper gear!

Here are some factors to consider when determining if your dog can withstand the cold:

CharacteristicDescription
SizeLarger dogs often fare better in the cold than smaller ones. Their larger body mass can help them retain heat more effectively. However, smaller dogs can still enjoy winter hikes with proper gear and precautions.
BreedSome breeds are naturally built for cold weather. Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Saint Bernards, for example, have a history of thriving in snowy, icy conditions.
Coat Length and TypeDogs with longer, thicker coats are typically more comfortable in the cold. Double-coated breeds, like the Newfoundland or Samoyed, have an extra layer of insulation against winter weather.
AgeYounger, active dogs may handle the cold better than older dogs or puppies. Senior dogs may struggle with joint issues in the cold, and puppies don’t regulate their body temperature as well. Always check with your vet before taking them on a winter hike.
HealthDogs in good health will fare better in cold conditions. Dogs with certain health issues, like arthritis or heart disease, might have a harder time with the physical demands and colder temperatures.

Proper Training

We’re not exactly talking about ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’ Winter training is all about introducing your dog to winter weather slowly. If your dog has lived in Florida its whole life and you suddenly move to Alberta, there needs to be an adjustment period.

If your furry sidekick has never hiked in winter, start with a short hike and gradually increase the distance.

Now, onto the more ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ side of training, ensure your dog is trained to identify and avoid winter hazards. Don’t let your dog walk on frozen water; avoid tree wells in deep snow.

3. Safety Tips For Hiking With Dogs In Winter

No matter what time of year it is, there are always dangers lurking in the shadows when you hike with your dog. Winter can be especially treacherous due to the icy and cold conditions.

Check out our pet adventure tips article for more information on keeping your pets safe while hiking and climbing.

Pawd taking a picture at Arthur Lake.

Signs Of Cold Stress In Dogs

There’s no specific temperature that is ‘too cold’ for dogs because every dog is different. Understanding the signs of hypothermia and cold stress in dogs is essential to determine how well your pup tolerates the cold.

Here are some signs of cold stress and hypothermia in dogs, starting with the least severe symptoms at the bottom and the ‘take them to a vet immediately’ signs at the top.

Your dog needs to come inside as soon as they show signs of hypothermia or cold stress. Please don’t wait, bring them in!

Hydration

Water might not seem as important in the winter because it’s cold, but rest assured, your pup needs it! Winter air can be dry, and combined with exercise, can make your dog pretty thirsty.

Be sure to pack plenty of water for you and your canine companion.

Daylight Savings

We touched on this earlier, but it’s worth repeating. The sun sets early in the winter, so plan ahead and ensure you are off the trail by the time it gets dark.

It’s always a good idea to pack a headlamp as a precaution, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the trail and how long it might take to complete.

Post-Hike Paw Check

Walking in the snow and ice can be harsh on your pup’s paws. When your hike is done, check your dog’s paws thoroughly.

Look for any cuts, cracks in their pads, or ice balls in the fur between their pads. If you find ice, use a warm washcloth (not hot) to wash away the ice.

Know Their Limits

Your dog’s hiking limits may be different from summer to winter. They may be able to go 5 miles in the summer but only 1 or 2 miles in the winter. Make sure you know your dog’s limit in different seasons.

Take your dog’s age and physical condition into consideration as well. Just because your dog leaps and bounds through the snow when they’re young doesn’t necessarily mean they want to do that when they’re a bit grey in the muzzle.

Let your dog go at their own pace and respect their limits. We have a fantastic guide on how to master hiking with your dog here!

4. Common Winter Injuries For Dogs (And How To Treat Them)

Winter hiking with your furry friend can be a beautiful and bonding experience. However, it’s crucial to be aware of the common injuries that can occur during these adventures. 

This isn’t meant to scare you off from hitting the trails but rather to equip you with the knowledge to keep your dog safe and healthy. Let’s dive into some of the most common winter hiking injuries in dogs and how to handle them at home or on the trail.

Robyn and Pawd in the winter at the lake.

Paw Pad Injuries

The most frequent injuries seen while hiking with dogs in winter are cuts and scrapes to your dog’s paw pads. These can be caused by crusty snow, ice, and even road salt.

  • First Aid: Clean the wound gently with warm water and mild soap, then apply an antibiotic ointment. You can bandage the paw, but be sure it’s not too tight. If the wound is deep or doesn’t seem to heal, consult a vet immediately.
  • Prevention: Consider using dog boots or a protective wax to shield your dog’s paws from harsh conditions. Regularly check your dog’s paws for any signs of injury.

Sprains and Strains

Inactivity during the winter months can lead to sprains in dogs. Musculoskeletal injuries such as strains and tears of muscles, joints, tendons, nerves, and spinal discs can also occur.

  • First Aid: Stop and rest if your dog shows signs of pain or limping. Don’t allow your dog to continue walking on an injured limb. Apply a cold compress to the affected area to reduce swelling. Contact your vet as soon as possible.
  • Prevention: Regular exercise and conditioning can help prevent these injuries. Start with shorter hikes and gradually increase the difficulty as your dog’s strength and endurance improve.

Frostbite and Hypothermia

Frostbite and hypothermia can occur if your dog is exposed to cold temperatures for too long. We discussed this earlier, but let’s jump into some at-home first-aid.

  • First Aid: If you suspect frostbite, slowly warm the affected area with warm (not hot) water and seek immediate veterinary care. For hypothermia, wrap your dog in a warm blanket and take them to a vet immediately.
  • Prevention: Limit your dog’s exposure to extreme cold. Use a dog jacket or sweater for extra insulation, especially for short-haired breeds.

Look for jackets that are waterproof and insulated. These will help repel snow and ice and stop the bite of the wind.

Falls and Other Acute Injuries

It’s called ice, and it gets a little slick! Hiking with dogs in cold weather can result in falls, broken bones, and other acute injuries.

  • First Aid: If your dog falls or suffers an impact, keep them still and calm. Don’t try to treat a broken bone yourself. Instead, transport your dog to a vet immediately.
  • Prevention: Keep your dog on a leash and under control, especially in unfamiliar or treacherous terrain. Training your dog to follow commands can also help prevent unexpected incidents.

Knowing how to treat common winter injuries can help you and your dog stay safe while hiking in winter conditions. As the Boy Scouts say – always be prepared!

Wrapping Up Our Wintery Adventure

The dirtbags posing in front of Cuyahoga Valley National Park sign.

Hiking with dogs in winter can be an incredible adventure. It’s quiet, peaceful, and downright gorgeous. With the right gear, knowledge, and preparation, there should be no problems with taking your pup on a winter walk through the woods or mountains.

Remember to provide your pooch with the right gear, take plenty of water, and keep a lookout for signs of hypothermia. After all, our dogs are a member of our family!

Do you love hiking with your dog in the winter? Have any tips we left out? Let us know in the comments below! We love hearing about your adventures!

For more tips and information on hiking with your dog, check out our blog!

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