Written by Tim Falk
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/21/2021, edited: 05/21/2021
Baby, it’s cold outside — but that doesn’t mean you and your dog can’t go on a hiking adventure. With the bracing cold air, stunning scenery, and maybe even some snow to frolic in, cold-weather hiking is a wonderful outdoor activity that you and your pup can enjoy together.
But if you’re planning a winter trek with your dog, there are a few things you should know before setting out. Keep reading for our simple tips on how to stay safe (and have a fantastic time) when you go cold-weather hiking with a dog.
Before you and your dog head off into the wilderness, book your pup in for a checkup with your vet. The vet will be able to let you know whether your pooch is fit and ready to hit the trails, or whether there are any health issues (or other factors such as their age) that mean they should stay home.
It’s always important to check the current conditions before venturing out onto the trail. This will help you work out whether it’s safe for you and your dog to take a hike, or whether you might be better off waiting a day or two for the weather to improve.
You’ll also need to consider the conditions in relation to what your dog can handle. While some thick-coated breeds like Siberian Huskies feel right at home in the frosty weather, others simply aren’t built to handle extreme conditions. If you’re in any doubt about what your dog can handle, ask your vet for advice.
Next, think about what steps you can take to provide some protection and a little extra comfort for your pet during your cold-weather adventure. A warm doggy jacket is a great starting point to help keep the winter chill at bay, while a pair of cute hiking booties will help protect paw pads from damage. There are even special goggles that can provide eye protection for your pooch, so shop around to find everything your pup needs.
Finally, if it’s a longer hike in extreme cold, take along some sort of insulated pad or bed for your dog to sit or lie on when you stop for a break.
Now it’s time to think about where exactly you and your dog will go hiking. The most important requirement is that you choose a dog-friendly trail, so check the fine print to make sure dogs are allowed where you’re planning on going.
But you’ll also need to plan out a specific route that you and your dog can tackle. Look for something that’s easily achievable with your fitness level, and one that doesn’t have any major hazards (like loose or slippery terrain) that could cause trouble for your dog.
In many cases, you may also find that it’s a lot easier to choose a trail with minimal traffic. This means fewer distractions and will make it easier for you and your dog to just immerse yourselves in the beauty of nature.
And if you study your route in advance, you’ll be much less likely to get lost out on the trail.
The next factor you need to consider when hiking with a dog in winter is how to stay safe out on the trail. Before leaving home, let someone know where you’re going, study the trail route, and be sure to take your phone with you.
Make sure to always stick to the marked trail — wandering off track disturbs the natural environment, exposes your dog to potential hazards, and increases the risk of getting lost.
It’s also safest to keep your dog on a leash at all times. Even if off-leash dogs are allowed, keeping them on a lead ensures that they stay right by your side and won’t get into any trouble.
Finally, keep your eyes peeled for any hazards while you walk. This could be anything from wildlife to poison ivy, a fast-flowing river, or even an avalanche, so there’s plenty to watch out for.
Even though it’s cold, your pup will still need plenty of fresh water to help them stay hydrated. Make sure you carry enough water for yourself and for your dog, and take regular drink breaks along the way.
You’ll also need to make sure your pup’s nutritional needs are taken care of. If they’re tackling a long hike in steep terrain, not to mention trying to stay warm when the weather is freezing, they may need a few extra calories to help keep their energy levels up. Pack some nutrient-rich treats as trail snacks. Ask your vet if you’re unsure about how proper nutrition can help your dog perform at their best.
Don’t assume that your pup’s gorgeous furry coat is enough to keep the freezing winter weather at bay. Just like us, dogs can suffer from hypothermia, so it’s important that you can recognize the warning signs.
Pale or blue gums
If you notice any of these symptoms, warm your dog up with blankets and coats immediately, and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
The last important thing you need to remember when winter hiking with your dog is not to ask too much of your pet. Hiking is meant to be a fun and stimulating way to enjoy the outdoors, and while it’s also a great form of exercise, make sure not to push your dog too hard.
So take things at a steady pace and monitor your dog closely for any signs that they’re starting to struggle. And if they need a break, why not stop for a while and just enjoy your beautiful surroundings?
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