Just because the ground is covered in white, doesn’t mean Fido needs to stay inside. Enjoy the great outdoors this winter by snowshoeing with your dog on some of your favorite winter trails. Here are three ways to get the most out of winter hiking with your pup this season.

Keep Safety in Mind

First and foremost, it is important to understand the complexities of winter travel. Understanding weather and snowpack are essential for winter travel. Use resources like CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) and NOAA to make informed decisions regarding winter conditions.

Since trails are often snowed over, it’s important to use a GPS to navigate. Often times, people head off trail, creating their own confusing network of footprints. Stay on track with a GPS and always bring a map and compass as backup.

Even a simple day hike in winter require a few extra items. It’s always a good idea to carry extra food, layers, and an emergency shelter such as a lightweight emergency bivvy. For longer or more difficult trails, bringing a stove to melt snow for water isn’t a bad idea. Although it means extra weight, you won’t be complaining if you get stuck in an unexpected storm!

1. Keep Fido Warm

Snowshoeing with Dog 1 - Meg Atteberry - OutThere Colorado
Getting out with your best furry friend brings joy to both you and your pet. Photo Credit: Meg Atteberry.

Even though your pup may pack extra fluff over winter, it’s important to ensure that your dog has extra layers just like you. Consider investing in a useful doggy jacket. Selecting the right jacket for Fido shouldn’t be a matter of fashion, but one of function. Be sure the jacket is made of synthetic material aimed at repelling water and protecting from wind. Ample undercarriage protection is essential, as dogs often end up post holing through snowdrifts and grow icicles on their underside.

Protect your pooch’s paws from snow and ice buildup. This is especially essential for dogs with long fur, or in extremely cold temperatures. There are several options available. Invest in several pairs of sled dog booties. These booties are designed to keep feet warm, but also breath. They are generally cheap, but do break down or fall off. Paw wax is another great option to keep ice from balling up in between their toes.

2. Tamper Expectations

Snowshoeing with Dog 2 - Meg Atteberry - OutThere Colorado
Hiking shorter trails ensures both you and your pup won’t bite off more than you can chew. Photo Credit: Meg Atteberry.

Winter travel takes longer and requires more effort than in the summer months. Your pup may tire quicker than normal. Always be prepared to turn around if conditions aren’t right. Success rates on winter hikes are much lower than in the summer, due to the difficulty of travel over snow.

If you or your dog are new to winter activities, consider selecting a trail that has less mileage. A good rule of thumb is to cut your average trail length in half and slowly increase in increments as you gain more experience. Travel is slower in the winter, and it’s more difficult to maneuver. Keep in mind that some dogs just don’t like lower temperatures. Look for signs of exhaustion or discomfort, such as turning around on the trail, limping or favoring a foot, or lagging behind. Be prepared to turn around if your pup isn’t feeling it.

3. Avoid Puppy Post-Holing

Snowshoeing with Dog 3 - Meg Atteberry - OutThere Colorado
To avoid post holing, train your dog to walk behind you on consolidated snow. Photo Credit: Meg Atteberry.

Dogs often like to be out in front, however, in the winter this may mean breaking trail. In the winter, dogs will often post hole. Post holing, or falling through the snowpack, is an extremely exhausting endeavor. Dogs tire quickly, as post holing for them often means trudging through snow up to their chest.

Breaking trail in snowshoes is far less demanding than on bare feet. Plus it helps consolidate the snow, making a path. Train your dog to walk behind you. Your dog will save energy and be able to stay out longer. This may be difficult for dogs that like to be out in front, so bring a buddy along and teach your dog to walk between the two of you. Most dogs quickly realize how much easier it is to be behind you, and will eventually stop attempting to run out in front. You can use treats and a command like “behind” to reward your pup for good behavior.

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These simple steps ensure that you and your adventure pup will be happy on the winter trails. Enjoy the wilderness in a different setting and exercise your best friend at the same time with these tips for snowshoeing with your dog.

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