Many of my best days in the hills have been in winter and so it’s hard to resist the lure of a clear blue sky and the prospect of firm snow underfoot. But winter is not always the best time to take dogs onto the hills, and it is always very much a considered decision if I take my dogs out in the depths of winter.
Some dogs really do love snow and I’ve certainly had great days walking over firm snow and playing in powder with all of my dogs. But sometimes dogs and winter are not a good mix, and extra precautions are needed.
The problems begin with the size of the dog. Big dogs are not good at radiating heat, while small dogs are not good at conserving heat. The result is that in winter, big dogs are generally going to be more comfortable compared to smaller dogs. But it is also depends how active your dog is.
Being active generates heat, so a more active dog will be warmer. However if the dog is very large and well insulated this can mean that it overheats in warm conditions, which is why it is not recommended to train sled dogs in the warm. A smaller dog would not overheat so easily, but its little legs would mean it would be rather slow, which is one reason why a Chihuahua is not used to pull sleds!
So if you have a dog that is active, then it is going to be warm. However the reality is that dogs tend not to run around all day on a winter walk. In part this is because they are often on lead, and even if they are off lead they may end up spending a lot of time waiting for their owners to catch up. Older dogs may not have the energy to run around, while some small dogs find it taxing enough just negotiating the terrain. If dogs are moving slow, or standing around, then only the bigger dogs are going to stay warm.
The type of coat the dog has will also affect how warm it is. Dogs remove excess heat from their surface like a radiator, with dilated veins running under the skin. If the surface is covered in hair then it is much harder to lose heat this way, and the bigger the dog is, the more heat it will be retaining anyway. The result is a big hairy dog will be warmer than any dog with less hair, while small dogs will short hair will be the coldest of all.
So like the average hairless human, large dogs with short hair and all small dogs will benefit from being active in the snow to stay warm, if their owners can allow them that freedom. But if they are not being active then they will need a jacket to stay warm.
Dedicated dog products such as the Ruffwear K9 Overcoat (£70) are a good option for dogs, and they can be stashed in your rucksack alongside your own jacket. So when you stop for a brew to take in the winter mountain view, don’t forget to put your dog’s coat on when you put your own duvet on. Then you’ll both be warm and cosy and have a great day in the mountains this winter.
Cover photo: Roger Hiley, loweswatercam.co.uk