HIKING WITH DOGS: WINTER SAFETY LOOKING AHEAD
We love to get outside all year round, and we live in Indiana–it gets cold! and dark! and snowy!
It is almost 90 degrees out at the time I am writing this so a winter storm might seem refreshing! Probably not so much if you hadn’t thought about this now and we’re not prepared. I live in Indiana, there is an expression we use here, if you don’t like the weather, stick around 5 minutes, it will change!
I highly doubt we will see any freezing temps for a couple of months yet but when we do, we could experience an ice storm overnight that closes schools, and then snow on top of the ice. It can be horrible for driving but this kind of weather makes me want to bundle up, throw a coat and boots on me and the pups, and hit the trails!
Because they will be quiet! We’ll have the place to ourselves! Everything is so pretty coated in a dusting of ice and snow it really is beautiful!
Of course, when you’re hiking in the winter, you need to take some extra steps and precautions that you wouldn’t in, say, spring. I compiled our top tips, the things we do each time, but please know that this is situation and weather-dependent. Use caution. Be safe. Always default to common sense. This list isn’t exhaustive–just the bare-bones basics–so I’d love to hear what you’d add to it in the comments!
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5 WINTER SAFETY TIPS FOR HIKING WITH DOGS
Dress for the weather.
Obviously, right? You pile on your boots, wool socks, coat, hat, gloves, the works! You might even own a suite of technical fabrics designed with the cold in mind. But what about your dog?
Winter weather is vicious on your dog’s paws, especially if you traverse rugged terrain that’s wet or frozen. While not all dogs will tolerate boots, most can learn to wear them with practice (and treats and praise). Cooper and Cora wear these if it is really cold out. Yes, they’re pricey, but they’ve last years and hundreds of miles, and their paws are protected from the elements. The same goes for a jacket or sweater: You know your dog and your dog’s comfort level. If you have an inside dog, they are less acclimated to the elements and we’ve learned over the years he hikes better and has more stamina if he’s bundled up. When I was younger, I had a shepherd (Buster) that was outside all the time and he never needed anything. Know your dog, and know the conditions you’re going to be hiking in–but always err on the side of caution.
Drink plenty of water.
It’s easy to remember to hydrate in the summer. You’re hot and sweating buckets. In the winter, sweat often makes you feel colder, and the air seems drier, so it’s easier to forget to hydrate. However, it’s vital for you and your pup. Always pack plenty of water for both of you. If your dog carries a pack, he can stow his own on one side and yours on the other. This is the pack Cooper and Cora wear. They comfortably fit a water bottle on either side, and we have a collapsible water dish for them, and room for some extra bags for clean up.
Mornings are dark. Afternoons are dark. These short winter days, combined with often-overcast, gray skies and precipitation make visibility tough. Both you and your dog should wear reflective or neon gear no matter what time of day you head out. Low visibility can cause trouble, particularly if you live somewhere where people hunt in the winter. Even if you aren’t in a hunting area, though, bright colors and reflective wear are simple safety steps that don’t take any extra effort but can prevent big problems. Bonus: Stash a flashlight or headlamp in your pack as an extra safety measure.
Of course, if you’re in a leash-required park, you’re a responsible dog owner so obviously, your dog is leashed. (Right?!) However, even if you’re in an area where off-leash is OK, winter isn’t a safe time for your dog to dash off. Why? Well, one really big reason is frozen water might appear solid to your dog but crack as soon as he gets out on the ice. So dangerous. Another reason is that sound travels differently in the winter, especially in snow-covered terrain, and you and your pup can get separated much more easily. Finally, if your dog tends to sniff out animals, lots are in hibernation or dormancy and don’t appreciate being disturbed. It could even kill them. Keep your pup on a leash all winter long!
Hike a trail you know.
This is a recommendation someone made to me at a trade show when we were talking winter hiking gear, and it made so much sense: If you’ve never hiked an area before, winter isn’t the time to try it out. Snow covers the trail. Many, even in maintained parks, aren’t broken during the winter months. Markers might be obscured or down. It’s harder to find your way in the depths of winter. Now, if you’re considering a park that’s well-managed year-round, go for it. Or, at least, ask the park rangers if it’s a good time to try a trail. But, err on the side of safety and stick with trails, parks, and climbs you’re familiar with during the winter months.
Other than that, have fun! Hiking with your dog in the winter can be fun and rewarding. Everything is quiet. The terrain looks totally fresh and clean blanketed in snow. You can usually push a little longer and farther than if you’re in the beating-down sun. If you have reactive or curious pups like mine, you almost always have the trails to yourself, which is so awesome!
Get outside! Have fun! Be safe!
Hikers: What would you add to this list? Do you get out in the winter? Or do you like to hibernate, too? Does your dog perform well in the cold? Or is your pup a nap-fireside dog?
Please leave a comment or ask any questions below!
If you have an amazing picture of your coolest dog on the planet out in the snow, please fill out the form here and upload it. I will post it in the gallery!