Like their owners, some dogs just love running through snow. However, dogs are not great at realising when danger is close, or what the consequences might be when they joyfully play in the powder. So it is up to us dog owners to take a little more care and to do what is best for our dog’s long term welfare, rather than just short term enjoyment.
Route choice is the first consideration, and it is important not only to consider the route itself but what options are available if the weather changes or your dog just is no longer enjoying the walk. This means a sensible route plan that includes options to escape the intended route and beat a retreat to easier ground or even a pub with a log fire! It is very difficult estimating how any dog will cope with snow and ice, but this is even more of a challenge in the hills when no one can predict the snow conditions accurately.
Every year dogs wander onto ponds and rivers and break through the ice and drown themselves, or their owners when trying to rescue them. This is partly because dogs are easily disoriented when they are walking on white ground or through white mist, but also because they often run across frozen ponds to reach water if they enjoy water. So having a good lead, as well as a training line or extending lead, is essential to allow you to maintain control of your dog.
Dogs are not great at managing their own body temperature and their ability to do this will vary greatly with their size, the amount of running they do, and the weather and snow conditions. They may need some help to stay warm, particularly if the conditions change during the walk. So even if your dog does not wear a dog coat throughout a walk, having one ready to throw on may make the difference between your dog enjoying the walk or you having to beat a retreat earlier than expected. Dedicated dog products such as the Ruffwear K9 Overcoat are a good option for owners to stash in their rucksack and deploy as necessary during winter walks.
A common problem for dogs is when snow sticks to their hair. This can be prevented from happening on their bodies by fitting a dog coat, but it may still stick around their face so you need to be prepared to brush this off or turn back if it becomes a problem. Snow also sticks to the hair between the toes of dog paws very easily, and this can be managed by checking paws and brushing out the snow. But also it is worth trimming back the hair between the toes to help prevent the snow clinging to this area. On some walks you may also follow paths that have been gritted and this can cut paws or just irritate the dog, so it is important to brush this off. In extreme cases you can fit doggy boots such as Ruffwear Grip Rex boots.
In winter, finding water to drink can be challenge so always take extra water as you cannot rely on streams being accessible for your dog. So that means packing water in your rucksack for your dog to drink as needed. Of course, you could just time your walk so you stop off at a pub where food and drink is readily available. But not all pubs welcome dogs, so you may end up having to leave the dog outside or in the car. Remember in cold conditions, hypothermia can occur after just a few minutes in freezing temperatures and can kill. Due to their smaller size, our pets are even more at risk than we are, so if a pub does not accept dogs you may just have to keep walking. If you have a car, and have driven to the pub, then again it is better to stay with the dog in the car than leave it on its own where it may get cold. Of course, if the pub does accept dogs then there is probably no better place for you and your four legged pal to end a winter walk than beside a cosy fire!
Graham Thompson is the Technical Editor of Trail Magazine. He also an Msc in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling and is a Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist and he is on the Animal Behaviour & Training Council Register of Clinical Animal Behaviourists.