(Words and Photos: Rafa Godoi)
Winter adventures with your dog can be fun and joyful just like any other adventure. It makes trips even more enjoyable and it's important to bring them along on the journey, but that may leave you asking, ”What gear should you bring on winter adventures with your dog?” Whether you’re in snow, rain, dry, cold, or even in extreme temperatures, it is important to keep your dog mentally and physically active. Exploring with your furry friend already takes a good deal of preparation, but winter adventures put an extra spin on it.
Dogs and Winter Adventures
Getting to know your dog’s breed and general health is fundamental for picking the right outdoor gear for them. Just like humans have gear to keep us warm and comfortable in frigid temperatures, so do dogs! This will not only keep your furry friend safe, but will make adventuring in a winter wonderland enjoyable and pleasant.
Not all breeds are suited for outdoor adventures in the winter. Even dogs with thick coats are subject to frostbite or hypothermia. It’s important to pick the right dog-friendly adventures suitable for you and your furry friend. Just remember that new temperatures mean new safety precautions for your pup. A good and simple rule of thumb is “if you are cold, your dog probably will be cold too”. Staying warm while having fun is the key to a successful snowy adventure.
Before getting out into a winter wonderland, call your vet and ask about your dog’s medical history and breed specific needs, especially the non-arctic ones. Arctic breeds, such as Huskies, Samoyeds, and Malamutes do well in winter because they have an undercoat cover, thick fur, robust circulatory systems, and thick fat deposits under their paw pads, which naturally is a huge advantage in frigid temperatures. Other breeds have these similar characteristics, but to a lesser degree. Knowing your dog’s breed, assessing your dog’s general health and performance, along with the proper gear will lead you to pick the perfect dog-friendly adventure.
My puppy Bondi is an Australian Labradoodle, a highly intelligent and friendly mix of the Poodle, Labrador, English Cocker Spaniel, and American Cocker Spaniel, which I call a “hot, fun, clumsy mess” (I know, I love her but the truth has to be said). With their soft fur, these living teddy bears are sure to bring a smile to anyone's face. However, when it comes to snow and cold temperatures, Bondi’s breed isn’t a great fit. Bondi’s soft fur coat requires a lot of attention and care. When wet, it gets matted easily and retains lots of water, dragging their body temperature to a very low point. This means winter adventures require extra attention and planning, but that does not stop us from getting after our snowy, wet adventures.
The below advice on gear will help you keep your dog safe, comfy and ready for whatever winter throws your way. Be prepared for your next winter outing with your furry friend by making sure you pack these gear essentials.
Gear Essential #1: Snow Boots
Just like Bondi and many other pups, it is necessary to take steps to prevent snowballing fur. This is what happens when it is cold and your dog's paws heat up and melt the snow. It can refreeze around the hair between their toes and make it uncomfortable for them. To prevent this from happening, keep their fur trimmed around the paws and toes or invest in a pair of snow boots for your dog to help create a barrier from the snow. We love our Ruffwear PolarTrex boots to keep Bondi's feet dry and ice-free. Keep your dog’s nails trimmed to prevent them from ripping their gear and yours. An alternative option is to rub your dog’s paws with some type of “musher’s wax” to help keep snow from sticking to their paws. These paw waxes are also formulated to be nontoxic should a dog lick the wax off. Honestly, I have never tried this as Bondi’s fur will not handle it well and would just increase the matting, but I have heard from a few friends who have used it and all have said it was very helpful.
Gear Essential #2: Dog Jacket
Your dog’s fur and undercoat serve as a nice base layer, but your dog's age may impact how they feel about the cold weather. Their body compiles core warmth over extremity warmth, so taking steps to maintain a healthy level of overall warmth will aid the paws too. Basically, the same things you do to keep yourself warm on winter outings will also help your dog. If the temperature is sufficiently cold, consider adding a sweater or dog jacket as an outer layer, especially for non-arctic breeds. Bondi in particular does not hold her core temperature well and has a harder time staying warm. We have to add two layers in order to stabilize her body warmth level. Yeah, she is a high maintenance pup.
Gear Essential #3: Quick-Drying Microfiber Towels
Your dog’s body temperature will drop significantly if their fur is wet, so it is crucial to at least try to keep it dry. Keep towels handy to dry off your dog after any excursions in the snow or exposure to rain in cold temperatures. I love these quick-drying microfiber towels. Their ultra-versatile, absorbent, and superfast-drying performance make them great for any activity with your pup.
Gear Essential #4: Collapsible Bowls
Keep your dog moving. Activity generates heat, so a moving dog is generally a warmer dog. Lots of dogs are snow maniacs and love to go nonstop. The cold temperatures can give them an extra burst of energy. In many cases, they will outplay or push themselves to the point dehydration and exhaustion. Just because it is cold doesn't mean your dog won't get thirsty. Eating snow is not enough to keep your dog hydrated, so do not skip out on that extra water bottle in your pack. With Bondi, we feed her dehydrated food, and it helps to add on additional water on the food so she gets extra hydration without noticing. Plus pack extra yummy food and snacks. Dogs can burn a lot of energy in cold weather and use a lot of energy keeping warm. Do not forget collapsable bowls. Ultralight, collapsible, and waterproof is the way to go.
Gear Essential #5: Adventure Blanket
If you don't see your dog taking breaks on their own, help them out by putting them back on leash for a short bit of time or giving them something calm to do. And of course, they deserve an extra treat to compensate for the high amount of calories burnt. This break is a great time to check on their paw pads, remove ice and snow accumulation, and adjust their boots or apply more musher’s wax. When you do rest, look for a sheltered area away from breezes so that the windchill does not become a concern. Having an insulated sitting pad and a blanket can also help to bring that extra coziness for the adventure.
Gear Essential #6: Earth Friendly Pack Out Bags
Last but not least, pack in and pack out. There is nothing more disturbing and disrespectful than dog owners not picking up after their dogs. Make sure to bring extra Earth Friendly Pack Out Bags. Please do not leave the picked up bags on the side of trails. Most likely you will misplace it and forget on your way back. This also prevents wildlife from being attracted by the bag’s scent. Leave No Trace. Do not bury waste bags or wipes (even those that are biodegradable). Always pack out bags to minimize the impact on the environment and the spread of disease.
Precautions on Winter Adventures with Your Dog
Watch out for salt, antifreeze, and chemical deicers your dog might pick up from parking lots, sidewalks, or streets. When you get home from an adventure, washing their paws can remove any residues.
Keep your eye out for any signs of hypothermia (source Dr. Bill Rosolowsky). Curling up, reluctance to move, and shivering are all signs that your dog is struggling with the cold. If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to curtail the trip and head back to a warm place. Small dogs tend to be more susceptible to the effects of cold, so you should carry your dog back to warmth if they are small enough to do so. When all else fails, a good snuggle is in order. Remember body heat has miraculous warming qualities!
Exploring with your furry friend in the winter will put a spin on it, but it does take a good deal of preparation. However, adventuring with your dog in the winter is a special experience to have with them and all of the preparation is worth it in the long run. The extra time and effort of taking good care of your furry friend and keeping them happy and healthy will be awarded with many smiles and memories. A happy pup is a happy life. Isn’t that what they say?
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