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Winter is the perfect season to explore the great outdoors unencumbered by the summer heat that can cut our adventures in nature short. Many of us already enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and sledding throughout this chilly season, but for dog-lovers in particular, there is a winter sport gaining popularity each year that may pique your interest.
If you’re looking for an activity that allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds—enjoying snowy landscapes and spending time with your dog—then look no further than your new favorite winter activity: snowshoeing with dogs.
Snowshoeing basics for humans
Before you can take your dog snowshoeing, you need to get yourself prepared for this fun and relatively inexpensive snowy workout. Unlike skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing allows you to tackle the same hiking paths or mountain slopes you hiked during summer in their cold-weather state. (At least in places there is winter snow.)
And you don’t need much to get started. Your gear generally includes appropriate winter clothing and footwear (think insulated hiking boots), in addition to the actual snowshoes, and optional poles for added security and balance.
Snowshoes, which you can either rent or buy, come in different activity categories to best fit your fitness level (be it flat frozen lakes, rolling hills, or rocky mountain terrain). They also include bindings that strap directly to your boot, so there is minimal set up required.
REI has a great guide on snowshoeing, covering exactly what to wear, how to handle ascents/descents, and what terrain is appropriate for poles.
Once you get the hang of the snowshoeing technique, which can include a wider stance than typically used for hiking, you’re ready to head out into your local winter wonderland. (Of course, check weather conditions and any alerts for the area you plan on snowshoeing in before you go. Snow brings its own dangers, and you don’t want to get caught in a blizzard, especially with your dog!)
Snowshoeing with your dog
Snowshoeing’s popularity is steadily rising, making it one of the top winter sports in the US. It’s not only a great way to maintain your fitness and stay healthy during the gray days of the colder months, but it’s also a perfect sport that you can do with your furry pal.
Tips for snowshoeing with your dog:
- Double-check the rules and regulations of your destination. This is not only to make sure it’s dog-friendly but to make sure conditions are right for bringing your dog that day, as well as what additional gear you may need.
- Take a moment to consider your pet’s health and fitness level. Snowshoeing with your dog can be fun for both of you, but it is also a rigorous (and cold) activity he or she may not be used to. (Remember, hearts have to work harder to keep us warm and deal with the rigors of breaking a trail through snow. Imagine how hard it could be for your dog.) It’s generally recommended to check in with your vet to make sure your dog is capable of taking on snowy trails for long periods of time.
- Plan the length of your trips accordingly. If you often tackle outdoor adventures and long walks together, it’s likely fine to take on a longer excursion. If you’re both newbies, there’s no shame in easing your way into it and planning a shorter excursion until you both get the hang of it.
- Consider your dog’s breed. Snow cover may be too deep for smaller or short-legged dogs in some areas, so plan ahead for contingencies. (Maybe a dog backpack?) In addition, the exertion and cold may not be a good combination for some brachycephalic breeds such as pugs and French bulldogs. Use your judgment, and ask your vet if you have any doubts.
- Don’t forget to keep your snowshoeing buddy hydrated. Walking fresh powder-covered trails is hard work, and even though your dog may not be exhibiting the same symptoms of exhaustion he does in the summer heat, make sure to pack lots of water and offer it up on regular breaks.
- Think about if your dog needs a coat. If you have a husky, Bernese Mountain dog, or Akita, the cold really won’t phase them. If you have a poodle or beagle, on the other hand, an insulated dog jacket to keep them warm can make a big difference. A highly rated option is the Gooby fleece-lined dog vest.
- Protect those paws from snow and ice. You wouldn’t go barefoot in the snowy mountains, would you? Prolonged exposure to the cold can lead to frostbite or cause sores on a dog’s pads. Make sure the fur between your pal’s pads is trimmed to prevent ice accumulating, and consider fitting them with some waterproof dog booties to further protect and shield from the cold. If your dog can manage without boots, rub some protecting balm onto their pads before you depart, and check paws for damage often throughout your trip. A best-selling paw protector wax is Musher’s Secret.
- Leave only footprints. With snowshoeing becoming more and more popular, many ski resorts and conservation areas (state and national parks) have started catering toward snowshoers, offering mapped trails that provide a safe environment to enjoy. Of course, you want to leave as little of an impact on nature as possible, so you’ll want to take all trash and pet waste with you.
For inspiration on what a dog can do in the snow, check out our video on Jett, an avalanche search and rescue dog at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana:
Staying safe snowshoeing with dogs
Unless you are on a designated hiking path, you will likely be sharing mountain trails with downhill skiers, cross-country skiers, and snowboarders. Backcountry and forest paths could also have snowmobilers enjoying them.
To keep things safe for you and your dog, here are some helpful tips to keep safe while snowshoeing.
Dog snowshoeing safety tips
- Let people know where you are going. No matter if you’re venturing near or far, it’s also always best to bring a GPS (global positioning system) and tell a friend or family member where you and your pet are heading and when you are planning to return home.
- Know before you go. You don’t have to be an expert on the trail you’re exploring, but it’s good to check the weather forecast and get an idea of what to expect once you’re out in the snow.
- Stay aware of your surroundings. In addition to environmental hazards, be conscious of who you are sharing the terrain with, and always practice good trail etiquette. This includes observing the right of way rules on trail systems. For safety reasons skiers usually have the right of way and it’s considered good manners to snowshoe to the side of cross-country ski tracks.
- Prepare for the unexpected. If you’re advanced enough to forge your own way into untouched backcountry, you should consider additional safety tips, like bringing extra water and food supplies for yourself and your dog, an emergency kit, map, and compass. (No matter how far you’re going out, it’s a good idea to have extra water and food just in case the weather turns.)
- Be aware of difficult winter hazards and how to handle them. Avalanche conditions, crossing water hazards, and unforeseen weather changes all become more deadly during winter to both humans and dogs. Pay attention to all signs and alerts at the trailhead, or along the trail if you’re at a resort.
- Know the warning signs. Be aware of the signs of dog hypothermia, as well as how your dog’s energy level is holding up. Walking in snow is hard work, and even usually energetic dogs can become exhausted quickly.
As long as you’re well prepared for your adventure snowshoeing with your dog, including prepping accordingly and bringing along all needed supplies, you’re sure to have a wonderful time together this winter.
Want some more ideas on things to do with your dog this winter? Check out these other expert-approved winter activities for dogs on our blog.