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21 Winter Hiking with Dogs Tips To Adventure With Your Pup! 

Did you know that winter hiking with dogs can be just as amazing as in summer? 

That’s right! If you’re like me, you would take your fur baby everywhere you could. The change in season does not mean you and your dog need to miss out on adventures together.

The weather will have its own challenges but you can safely enjoy the great outdoors with your pooch with the right precautions and preparations in place. 

Whether you’re on a road trip with your woofy or just moved to a new area with great hiking trails or have gotten a new pup to share your adventurous life with, WWB writer and dog-mama Isabel will share with you 21 winter hiking with dogs tips to protect you and your best friend on the snowy trail.

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Loriane Magnenat via Unsplash

21 Winter Hiking With Dogs Essential Tips 

1. Schedule A Vet Check-Up 

2. Prepare And Update Your Dog’s ID

3. Research The Trail Route And Park Regulations

4. Plan For the Weather And Trail Conditions

5. Scrub Up On Obedience Training & Trail Etiquette

6. Groom Your Dog Before A Hike

7. Attend A Dog First Aid Class

8. Start A Trail Training Plan

9. Share The Load With Your Dog

10. Harness & Leash Your Dog

11. Keep Warm With Dog Clothing

12. Protect Your Dogs Paws

13. Shield Your Dogs From UV Rays

14. Prepare For Accidents

15. Take Regular Breaks In Comfort

16. Keep Your Dog Hydrated

17. Refuel With Food And Treats

18. Clean Up Your Dog’s Waste

19. Be Flexible And Have A Plan B

20. Have A Post-Hike Routine

21. Rest And Recover

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1. Schedule A Vet Check-Up

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Shironosov via iStock

The first tip for hiking with dogs in winter is to make sure your best friend is in good physical health.

Despite hibernation season, parasites still roam around in winter

Scheduling a vet visit before a hike will reduce the risk of your fur baby catching a nasty bug.

1. Conduct a Full Physical Examination

If it is your first-time winter hiking with your dogs, consult your veterinarian on your dog’s age, breed and fitness level with your hiking plans.

 A dog’s physical characteristics such as its body length, leg height, coat texture and length will be affected more during winter. 

The best hiking dog breeds for the cold have thick coats, high energy levels, strong stamina and good recall skills. Siberian Huskies, Great Pyrenees and Norwegian Elkhound are examples of good hiking dogs. 

Dogs hiking in snow need more energy to stay warm and navigate in snow and wet conditions. Generally, puppies and old dogs are not recommended on winter hikes, unless they are carried in a Dog Backpack. 

2. Get Your Dog’s Immune System Ready

Keep up-to-date with your dog’s core and additional protective vaccinations (Rabies, Distemper and Parvo, Leptospirosis and Lyme). 

Shield your dogs from unwanted bugs with heartworm medication (taken monthly) and flea and tick prevention treatments (applied a week before your trip). 

Once your dog has been vaccinated, make sure you get your dog’s rabies tag from your vet. 

If you are road tripping with Fido, I always recommend contacting the local rabies consultation services and checking each state’s rabies vaccinations laws.

3. Keep A Digital Record Of Your Dog’s Vaccination Certifications

Scan and keep a digital copy of your dog vaccination certificates on your mobile phone and store it in the Photos app for emergencies. Don’t save it on the cloud as you may not have any cell phone service in the outdoors.

2. Prepare And Update Your Dog’s ID

Having the right identification for your dog is vital. It can help reunite your and your fur baby in the event you both get separated. You can do this in several ways:

1. Rabies Tag

In the United States, it is compulsory by law for dogs to wear rabies tags. 

The rabies tag has your dog’s tag number and a scannable QR code that stores your personal details. 

You can register and update your information online, making it easy for strangers to find your contact number and return your missing dog.

2. Dog Tag / Collar ID

In areas where a rabies tag is not legally required, a traditional dog tag or dog collar with an ID plate are good options. 

Engrave your dog’s name, your phone number, your city and his medical needs on it.

 If your details change, ensure you replace old tags or plates with new ones. Alternatively, you can get modern tags with QR codes too!

3. Microchip

This is the easiest and most permanent form of identification that is implanted under your dog’s skin between the shoulder blades. 

Each microchip contains a unique identification number that is registered to a company. Vets and shelters can easily scan the chip for the number and browse the company database for your contact details.

Microchips are designed to last a lifetime and the best part is you don’t need power or batteries to use them. Just update your contact information regularly with your local vet. Easy right?!

Right before your hike, take a few photos of your dog with their gear. This is helpful during group searches for your lost dog.

3. Research Trail Routes And Park Regulations

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Lukas Talab via Picjumbo

Yay! Your dog passed the health check, now it is time to find a safe dog-friendly trail.

1. Consider The Distance, Trail Difficulty And Elevation Gain

Firstly, figure out how far you want to hike, then factor in the trail difficulty and elevation gain (the total amount of climbing) of any trails you are considering. 

Less-fit dogs may struggle with steep slopes or high elevation gain, while rugged rocky terrain can be challenging for pups and less agile dogs to navigate.

Still unsure if your planned hike is difficult? 

Check out this awesome Hike Difficulty Calculator by Dennis Stillwell, an avid hiker who runs Northwest Hiker blog.

2. Research The Park Rules

Before your visit, check individual park regulations to see if dogs are allowed. 

Sadly, not all do. The AllTrails app and United States National Park Service are great to find dog-friendly trails.

Know and follow the leash laws. Most places require your dog to be leashed at all times but the acceptable leash length may vary according to each park and state. 

To avoid unnecessary worry and fines, check out this list of leash laws by state.

3. Be Aware of Wildlife And Poisonous Plants In The Area

Despite being descendants of wolves, parks are not designed for our domesticated canines. Nature is home to native plants and animals and it is crucial to respect their ecosystem.

Avoid wildlife if possible. A dog’s presence and scent can stress or scare them. 

Respect nesting areas, mating and hibernation seasons to avoid interrupting their natural order.

Dawn and dusk tend to be active animal hours, so plan your hikes well to prevent a run-in with a bear. I recommend calling the park to check what predators have been in the area and where they have been sighted.

Orvis, the outdoor apparel brand, has a great guide on what you should do in a bear encounter with your dog.

4. Study the hiking route

Print a map of the area and familiarise yourself with your chosen trail. Mark water sources, shade areas, potential hazards and recent predator sightings along your route. 

Having a physical copy of the map can save both your lives, especially in areas with no cellphone service or when your battery depletes. Put it in a plastic sleeve to protect your map from moisture damage.

Once everything is mapped out, tell a loved one about your planned route before hitting the trail.

5. Find The Closest Vets To Your Trail

Knowing the closest emergency veterinary hospital can be indispensable. 

Prepare a list of the closest vets in the surrounding areas and save their contact number, location and opening hours before your trip.

You can also save locations on Google Business for faster access.

4. Plan For Weather And Trail Conditions

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Josefka via Pixabay

Aside from the drop in temperature, take into account other winter conditions like chilling winds, sudden precipitations and avalanches. 

To avoid winter hazards, here are four factors to consider when winter hiking with dogs:

1. Check The Weather Forecast

Mother nature can be unpredictable. A light breeze at low altitudes can turn into harsh winds the higher you climb. Stay informed on the latest weather updates and anticipate changes to your plan.

Hiking with dogs in cold weather can affect the duration of your hike. 

For temperatures above freezing, a 30 to 45-minute hike is good. 

There are some hikers who go for 2 to 4-hour winter hikes with their fit dogs. Always check with your vet before doing this and always monitor your dog during your hike.

For temperatures below freezing, go for a short 10 to 15-minute walk. Generally, a dog should not be walked if the temperature drops below 10°C, as they will not be able to cope with the extreme cold and could get hypothermia.

A good gauge is if you are feeling uncomfortable from the cold chances are, your dog will be too!

2. Check For Good Visibility

The winter months tend to have fewer daylight hours, so plan your time accordingly. 

Look up the sunrise and sunset times to prevent getting stuck in the dark during your hike.

It is best to hit the trail on a clear day. 

Snow and fog can reduce visibility which is dangerous for you and your dog. If you get surrounded by thick fog, here is a great guide on how to navigate in low visibility.

3. Check Trail Conditions

Conditions vary day to day, so it is important to be aware of the latest trail updates.

Trail conditions can change quickly too, so it is important to learn how to navigate hazardous conditions. Fresh powdery snow can melt into a slippery ice path or fallen trees can block a trail after a storm. 

Trailforks is a great app and site on all things hiking. You can submit reports on trails, update trail information and share trail photos and videos.

4. Be Cautious of Avalanches And Waterbodies

Dogs are not aware of winter hazards like humans. 

It is vital to stay alert to trail hazards, frozen lakes can crack, steep drop-offs can be hidden under thick snow and avalanche territory can just be a few meters away. Keep your dog leashed and close and steer them to safer terrain. 

For more peace of mind, learn about Avalanche Safety and take an avalanche course to learn how to identify avalanche red flags and self-rescue.

You will feel more confident in handling hazardous situations. 

5. Scrub Up On Obedience Training & Trail Etiquette

We all want to have a well-trained hiking dog to be proud of.

During your hike, you and your dog will encounter other hikers, dogs, snowboarders, skiers and wildlife. 

Before venturing out, ensure your dog responds to the basic commands like “Come”, “Let’s Go”, “Sit”, “Stay”, “Leave It” and “Heel”.

Always maintain control of your dog at all times to avoid unpleasant encounters with other visitors and animals.

Keep your dog on a leash, heeling close to you and step off the trail to allow others to pass first. If you have a more anxious and reactive dog, consider hiking during non-peak hours.

You can also grab this awesome book, “The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs: Trail-Tested Tips and Expert Advice for Canine Adventures”, by Jen Sotolongo, founder of the adventure dog blog, Long Haul Trekkers.

6. Groom Your Dog Before A Hike

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Dageldog via iStock

Excess fur and long nails can be a nuisance for your dog when hiking.

Snowballs can clump onto your dog’s coat and paw making it uncomfortable for them to maneuver. 

Do not pull or let them chew the clumps as it can be painful. Before your hike, trim the fur on your dog’s paws, tail and belly and clip your dog’s nails.

7. Attend A Dog First Aid Class

Being prepared for the unexpected is crucial when you and your dog are in remote locations. 

Accidents can happen so having the right skills can increase your dog’s chance of survival. 

Sign up for a Wilderness First Aid for Dogs course to learn how to recognise, manage and prevent medical emergencies from worsening. 

8. Start A Trail Training Plan

Jumpstarting your dog into hiking can be harmful to their joints, paws and overall health.

Understand your dog’s level of fitness before hitting the road. 

Start with short hikes in the woods in summer and autumn first so he/she acclimatises to hiking, then slowly increase the duration to build up stamina. Know their limits and always monitor their energy levels.

9. Share The Load With Your Dog

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Halie West via Unsplash

If you do not want to carry all the dog hiking essentials yourself, a dog saddle backpack can help lighten your load.

Train your dog ahead of time so they get used to wearing it.

Don’t guess the weight. Start with 5 to 10 percent of your dog’s body weight, then increase to a maximum of 25 percent of their weight. So if your dog’s weight is 40 lbs, then his backpack weight should be no more than 10 lbs.

Pick a bright coloured, water-resistant, durable and breathable pack with proper padding that fits well. Add a waterproof cover to your dog winter hiking gear list for wetter days.

For safety, find packs with reflective stripes and always tuck in dangling straps to avoid getting caught in a tree.

10. Harness & Leash Your Dog

Many parks do not allow dogs to roam freely, so having a bright sturdy leash is essential. 

I love using a hands-free leash with a waist attachment when hiking with my dog. It eases the worry of the leash slipping through gloves. 

Avoid retractable leashes as they cause serious injury to you and your dog.

Secure your leash to a dog harness instead of a collar. 

It will not choke or strain your dog’s neck. This will leave your dog’s neck free to wear a safety LED collar when visibility is low. Always pick bright fluorescent colours with reflective stripes.

Attach a bear bell to your dog’s harness as the sound can help with search and rescue missions. GPS trackers are not advisable, especially in remote areas with limited cellular service.

11. Keep Warm With Dog Clothing

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Lagodina via iStock

Leaner dog breeds need more protection to stay warm during winter. It is important to get the right fit when wearing extra layers, especially when winter hiking with dogs.  

Bring Buddy to the store when shopping for these dog clothes:

1. Dog Jacket

Find a dog jacket with a hard waterproof and windproof outer shell with a fleece lining for insulation. 

Ensure it is a snug fit and avoid any loose zippers, hooks or tags to prevent it from catching on a branch. 

Choose bright fluorescent colours with reflectors so you can spot them easily.

2. Bodysuit

Add a dog bodysuit to your list of dog winter hiking gear. The extra layer helps retain body heat, prevents snowballs and protects from ticks and other pests.

3. Dog Hoodie

Dog hoodies are great for extra warmth around the ears.

12. Protect Your Dogs Paws

Prolonged exposure to snow and ice can be harsh on your pupper’s paws causing snowballs, cracks and blisters. 

Rub paw wax liberally on the lower legs and in between the paw pads to prevent snow build-ups. Apply it only when you arrive at your location to avoid waxy car seats.

Dog snow boots are the best option when snow hiking with dogs. 

Not only do they keep your dog’s feet warm they can also protect them against cuts from rough and sharp terrain. Before heading out on the trail, get your dog used to wearing them.

Ensure that they are a snug fit and regularly check and adjust them to prevent them from falling off or from snow entering.

13. Shield Your Dog From UV Rays

Did you know that overexposure to UV rays not only hurts humans but dogs too? Snow is highly reflective and can bounce up to 90 percent of UV radiation, especially in bright sunlight at high elevations. 

Prolonged exposure can lead to blindness and damage to your dog’s skin. 

Dog goggles are a great way to protect their eyes from the UV rays and prevent irritation from the blowing snow. The goggle straps around their head and snout, so find one that fits well. Rex Specs have a great tutorial video on finding the proper fit.

Rex Specs fitting and strap adjustments

A dog bodysuit and pet sunscreen are also great at preventing sunburns. Look for UVA and UVB protection and apply it 10 to 15 minutes before your hike.

14. Prepare For Accidents

Of all the winter hiking tips, this is the MOST important one! 

Bring a first aid kit for you and your dog for emergencies. Most items can be used by both of you but you can add a few extras for your pup:

1. Tweezers

2. Multi-tool with scissors

3. Self-adhesive bandages

4. Gauze

5. Adhesive tape (waterproof)

6. Rubber gloves

7. Sterile saline

8. Hydrogen Peroxide

9. Antibiotic ointment

Dog First Aid Extras:

10. Styptic pencil

11. Pet thermometer and sleeves

12. Muzzle

13. Dog first aid book or e-book (preferably outdoor-related)

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Lagodina via iStock

If you hike with your dog regularly, consider a dog backpack carrier instead. This is a great backup as you can carry your dog to safety.

If you hike at higher elevations, add an emergency dog rescue sling to your kit. This will help transport your dog safely and securely from cliffs or helicopters.

15. Take Regular Breaks In Comfort

Hiking in winter with dogs takes more energy, so it is important to know their limits. 

Monitor your dog regularly for any signs of discomfort and take frequent breaks. Pack a lightweight, insulated pad or blanket and find a dry safe spot to rest comfortably.

Remove any snow chunks on their belly, tail, ears and paws. Dry them with a towel and check for cuts and bugs. Re-apply paw wax and sunscreen too. 

At higher elevations, check for any signs of altitude sickness like:

– Lethargy

– Excessive panting, drooling

– Shortness of breath

– Pale gums

– Bleeding from the nose

– Vomiting

16. Keep Your Dog Hydrated

When hiking, always bring extra clean water than what your dog typically consumes. Carry it in an insulated sleeve or wrap it around your dog’s blanket to prevent it from freezing. 

The amount of water your dog needs depends on the weather, level of activity and your dog’s size. According to Emancipet, dogs need to drink 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. Always add more water for longer hikes.

Avoid relying on snow and water bodies for hydration. It can lower their body temperature and may contain fatal waterborne diseases.

To prevent dehydration, here are a few signs to look out for:

– Dry nose and mouth

– Excessive panting

– Decreased skin elasticity. A dehydrated dog’s skin takes longer to return to normal after a pinch test.

17. Refuel With Food And Treats

Your dog will be burning more calories to stay warm and energised on a winter hike. Refuel your dog with nutrient-dense food and treats during your breaks.

Carefully pick soft treats that don’t freeze at low temperatures and store them securely in a ziplock bag in your pocket to stay warm. Avoid strong-smelling foods that may attract wildlife nearby.

Before leaving home, feed your dog a small meal and pack extra for the trail. Do not give Buddy a large serving to avoid stomach upsets from the car ride or vigorous activity from the hike. 

Use lightweight, collapsible dog bowls to serve food & water. You can choose between silicone or fabric machine washable ones.

18. Clean Up Your Dog’s Waste

News flash! No one likes stepping on poo, even in nature. 

Follow the ‘Leave No Trace Rule’ and always clean up after your dog. 

Bring plenty of poop bags and dispose of the waste properly. Double bag it and carry it in your or your dog’s backpack until you find a trash can.

Check the trail rules beforehand, to see if you can bury your pet’s waste in a 6 to 8-inch hole at least 200 ft away from paths if you run out of bags.

19. Be Flexible And Have A Plan B

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Tadeusz Lakota via Unsplash

Looking out for your and your dog’s safety is your number one priority. Always plan for the unexpected when winter hiking with dogs. Weather and trail conditions can change quickly or your dog may not even be up for a hike in the snow.

Whatever it is, play it safe and switch to plan B, even if you have driven far to the site.

Careless mistakes in winter can lead to serious injury or death. 

Always pay attention to any signs of danger or discomfort to you and your dog. Cut your hike short or ditch it altogether to avoid putting you and your fur baby at risk.

20. Have A Post-Hike Routine

winter hiking with dogs
Image by SolStock via iStock

Right after your hike, immediately take off your dog’s wet clothes and booties. Remove any snowballs and dry them thoroughly with a microfiber towel. Check his/her body for cuts, fleas, and ticks. 

Give them water and reward them with a few treats too. 

Wrap them up in a dog bathrobe to stay warm on your ride home. 

Add a waterproof car hammock to your list of dog hiking essentials to protect your car seats.

21. Relax And Recover

Just like you, your dogs may be sore after a long winter hiking trip. Give him/ her a few days of rest to aid muscle recovery and prevent joint injury. 

Gently massage any sore areas and apply a heat or cold compress to affected areas. Soak their paws in a warm Epsom salt bath to relieve pain and inflammation.

Make sure they drink lots of water as this helps their joints loosen. Have their bowl beside them so they do not have to go too far to drink.

Do not take them hiking on two consecutive days. Allow your dog to physically recover and postpone any further activities until they feel better. 

FAQS

Does My Dog Need Boots For Winter Hiking?

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Ekaterina Kobalnova via iStock

For winter hiking your dogs does need boots but it depends on the cold and trail conditions. If your dog is not cold and has no trouble getting cuts on the icy trail, they are probably fine without them. But for dogs with more sensitive feet, dog boots protect them from salt cuts, de-icers and snowball clumps.

How Long Can Dogs Paws Be In Snow?

Generally how long dogs’ paws can be in snow for is no more than 30 minutes at a time. Always watch out for any signs of discomfort, such as shivering or keeping close to you and appearing like they want to head back home.

Do Dogs Need Shoes In The Snow?

Dogs do need shoes in the snow because they can get frostbite. Your dog’s body constricts blood vessels in its paws to direct blood and heat towards its core, where it protects vital organs. For this reason, it is important to put that pair of dog shoes on your pooch even if there isn’t snow on the ground.

Can I Put Socks On My Dog For Snow?

Yes. You can put socks on your dog for snow but only for a short time. Knit socks can help keep your pup’s paws warm for brief exposure to cold winter conditions. They are less hardy than dog booties and are better suited in a chilly home or when getting your dog to and from the car.

Conclusion

Hitting the open road with your furry sidekick can be the ultimate adventure. Exploring the wilderness together safely creates wonderful memories and deep bonds with you and your dog.

We hope this guide to winter hiking with dogs helps you understand how best to prepare for your hike together, what winter hiking gear your dogs needs and all the safety tips to keep you and your dog protected for your next winter hiking trip!

Remember to always monitor the weather, have regular doggy check-ins and respect your surroundings. It’s time to wax up those paws, new adventures await you and Fido!

winter hiking with dogs
Image by Anastasiia Shavshyna via iStock

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