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Top 10 Safety Tips: Winter Hiking With Your Dog – Comprehensive Guide


February 2, 2018

There are always more safety precautions to take when doing sports or hiking with your dog in the winter time. Here is the only comprehensive guide you need for cold weather, winter safety and winter hiking with your dog.

As always, make sure your dog is updated on his vaccinations and healthy enough to go hiking before heading out. Consult your vet to make sure your dog can be outside for a long hike. Remember, puppies and older dogs can’t always regulate their temperatures well.

We do update our guides periodically, so please save this article and refer back to it when you need to. We also update articles with the latest and greatest picks of best products or links to other guides that may help you.

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission (at no cost to you) for our endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services marked with an *. The main purpose of this article is to provide you with hiking and safety tips. We will only provide links to truly great products we think our visitors would appreciate learning more about.




1 Choose Dog Friendly Trail Carefully

To start with, you should pick a trail that is dog friendly. Snow should be pretty well packed down and at least a depth your dog will be comfortable walking through. Your dog will be exerting too much energy if they have to wade through thick, fluffy snow and prone to exhaustion quickly. Mushy snow or very wet, cold conditions don’t make the most comfortable hike for you or your dog. Stay indoors if it is sleeting, hailing, or there are severe thunderstorms in the forecast.

Plan to go a distance you and your dog are already comfortable with. Now is not the time to challenge yourself by going faster or longer. Winter conditions make snow hiking and winter hiking more difficult and colder! You may want to limit your hikes to anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. If you go longer than that, try to break your trip up and find a place to stop and warm up before heading out again.

Hunting season occurs during the fall and winter. If you are hiking where hunting is allowed, put an orange reflective vest* or orange bandana on your dog so that they are more visible. You might need something else for yourself if you have a dark coat.

Sometimes, even when you plan out going somewhere conditions just are not what they seem to be. Have a backup plan in place if you can’t hike in your chosen trail. It’s always a good idea to pack some toys in the car and perhaps a long leash to get some playtime in with your dog if you can’t go hiking.

If you do night hiking, make sure you choose a wide, well-marked trail and go with a human buddy and bring a communication device. You should also bring proper lighting, including adding an LED dog collar* on your dog that you can slip on over your dog’s existing collar when needed.

Of course, you can use Pawtivity’s search banner to find the best dog friendly trails by location (city, state), destination, or activity with all the information you need to get the door fast with your dog.


2 Have Good Recall

Having good recall on your dog is always a good safety measure in any situation. Train your dog to follow verbal and even non-verbal cues to come back to you. It may also be smart to train your dog to come back to you at the sound of a specific whistle. While dogs do have great hearing, whistles* are a life saver if your dog goes off at distances of greater than 200 yards which is the distance of about half a lap on a track. You’ll be glad to have a good whistle if you get lost, especially if the whistle is audible to both humans and dogs and can cut through other noise.

To make it easier to see your dog, dress him up in bright colors that you can spot at a distance. Some great colors are orange, green, pink, or red. You can always pack a bandana in your first aid kit put on your dog when you need it.

You may need to train your dog to also not react to distractions such as other hikers, runners, skiers, bikers, snowboarders, or snowmobiles depending on where you go. It’s best if your dog knows commands such as “leave it”, “stay”, and “sit” among others and practice impulse control. It may help just to allow your dog to sniff items they are likely to encounter on your hike.


3 Stay Warm and Dry

Huskies love the cold weather but not all dogs have a thick double coat or long hair to give them protection. If your dog has a single coat and short hair, they will need to wear a coat outside to keep them warm. Never shave your dog in winter, instead trim their hair.

Protect your dog in cold weather. Most dogs will need some type of insulated coat to stay warm in cold temperatures. We like coats that cover the belly and allow for easy access to your dog’s collar or harness. Coats can either come with an insulating layer* or you can get a separate fleece lining* or waterproof shell* for your dog to layer together. We like the versatility of having a separate insulating layer from the outer coat so you can use one layer without the other, if needed. If you get hot, you can always take a layer off.

The best fabrics for winter will be those that are waterproof, insulating, and that dry quickly. Wool, fleece and synthetic fabrics are great choices of fabric. Consider layering with a base layer, an insulating layer, and an outer waterproof layer. You’ll ultimately need to experiment around to find out what layers work the best for you and your dog. It greatly depends on many factors including your activity level. If your dog gets wet, dry them off with a towel or change them into dry clothing.

Stay away from cotton. As soon as cotton gets wet, it pretty much stays wet leaving you and your dog prone to hyperthermia and avoidable misery.

If you use boots on your dog, make sure that you get boots that are completely waterproof and ones with some sort of velcro or strap to help keep the boot on and water or snow out.


4 Pack Smart

Cold weather requires that you bring more than you typically would need on a warm season hike. You’ll be carrying more weight than normal, so you will want to park smart. This means choosing items that are lightweight but effective, like you are going backpacking. You don’t want to be weighed down carrying extra items.

If your dog is not a “winter” dog and needs to bundle up in a bunch of gear, you may want to leave the dog backpack at home or give them less to carry. Don’t stress them out or have them exert more energy than they need.

Don’t forget that cold conditions may make your food or treats turn hard. If you are tired and hungry, you want something edible and satisfying! Bring items that stay soft when it’s cold. You can always try to put your food in the refrigerator or freezer for a short period of time to see how it turns your food or treats.


5 Pack with Safety In Mind

The most important thing to pack is water. Don’t rely on your dog to start panting as a cue to when they need water. Offer water to your dog frequently and let them sip a little at a time to prevent bloating, water intoxication, and cramping. The same rule applies to you. Ensure proper hydration by drinking water before your hike.

How much water you bring depends on where you go, what you do, and how long you hike. As a general rule for a moderate 1 hour hike, plan to bring 32 oz. of water for yourself and more for your dog. Considering that a dog needs about an ounce of water per pound weight, a 30 pound dog would need about the same amount as you. It never hurts to bring more water than you need.

A very important, but often overlooked consideration is what type of water bottle* to bring. If you are hiking in below freezing temperatures, your water may freeze. Choose a bottle or water bladder with a wide-mouth and fill it with warm water. To keep water from freezing when you are outside, keep it close to your body. If you need to stop for an extended period of time, you can actually bury your water bottle and use the snow as an insulator. We don’t really recommend water bladders in freezing temperatures. The right water bottle is much more reliable.

The second most important thing to pack is a first aid kit. We consider the essentials for hiking year-round to include: first aid cheat sheet, gauze, bandages, tape, ice pack or ziplock bag you can throw snow in, tweezers or tick remover, antibiotic ointment for humans and dogs, alcohol wipes, gloves, scissors, tongue depressor, wax paw protection, comb, extra leash, rag or disposable pet wipes, and the nearest open vet phone number. We have yet to find a compact essentials first aid kit for humans and dogs that we love. There are many kits out there, but they are bulky in our opinion if you need just the essentials. Pack your own essentials.

Depending on where you go, you may also want to bring some survival gear with you. For the winter, additional items you may need include: extra clothing, towel, lightweight insulated blanket*, waterproof insulated mat* that is puncture proof, fire-building tools, lighting, whistle*, extra water and food, emergency shelter*, collapsible bowl, signaling device, ice axe*, bright bandana and paracord. We actually were blown away by this all-in-one first aid kit* perfect for any emergency. You’ll still have to pack up dog-specific items, food and water, but they do give you tools to go fishing! Links provided with an * are affiliate links but we wouldn’t recommend them unless we really thought they were a top-notch safety item. We have picked out some of the best of the best compact choices for you.

If you are hiking at high altitudes or out a lot in snow, over time it may cause some damage to your dog’s eyes. They will also need to be alert and see well, especially if you are running, skiing, snowboarding, or biking with your dog. Rex Specs* makes a pair of goggles that may help your dog’s eyes.

Need some hiking survival tips? Consider getting a book to read up on skills that may one day save your life. Some books you may consider include: 1) Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival* and 2) Survival Hacks: Over 200 Ways to Use Everyday Items for Wilderness Survival*.


6 Protecting Dog Paws In Winter

To protect your dog’s paws, invest in some great waterproof boots or use a wax to help prevent buildup of snow and ice between your dog’s toes. You will also want paw protection to guard against chemicals and salt that may be on the ground and that may be toxic to your dog.

If you are putting your dog in boots, have them wear them inside the house first so that they get used to walking in them. Give them some treats and praise so they associate the boots with a reward. Then, go for a few trips around the neighborhood and give them some more treats. Pretty soon, they may be going to their boots rather than their leash when you tell them it’s time to go out on a hike!

Trim fuzz between the paw pads so that it is even with the surface of their paw. Otherwise, it’s easy for snow and ice to get packed up between the paw pads which is actually painful for a dog. When you are out on a hike, periodically remove any snow and ice between your dog’s paw pads and check for bloody paws.

When you get home from a hike, wash your dog’s paws. You can either dip your dog’s paws in a cup of warm water or use a spray bottle to remove debris. Follow up with a good towel drying and a thin layer of wax or moisturizer like Mushers Secret* to protect to keep their paw pads from getting too dry. We absolutely love Musher’s Secret for any dog, but especially if your dog just can’t get used to booties.

Going out into wet weather? Look also at our list additional first aid items to prevent and treat blisters, read: Tips for Hiking In The Rain: Staying Dry to Paw / Foot Care.


7 Steer Clear of Ice

Stay clear of water sources and any shiny areas that may be ice. Dogs can slip just as easily as humans. If your dog is off-leash, call them back if they get too close to a water source. Even if one portion of the lake seems to be solid, it may not be consistently solid throughout. It’s probably best to leave your dog on leash when there is frozen water nearby.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you dog has gone under a partially-frozen lake, call for help immediately. Wait until help arrives and remember the path where your dog entered the water. It may give a clue to rescuers on which way to go to save your dog. When your dog is out of the water, follow instructions given you by rescuers and keep your dog warm. Call your vet for more instructions.

If your dog is within arms-reach of you and in shallow water, make sure you have a strong footing on solid ground or someone who can hold you back. Do not touch the water or ice. Throw your dog something long and soft that he can bite, like your waterproof mat, and pull him to shore. Keep him warm and call your vet. We are not a certified veterinarian or safety specialist so you may ultimately consult an expert for information on what to do in an emergency situation.


8 Take Time To Savor Winter Beauty And Play

You’ve done a lot of preparation for a winter hike, so don’t forget to enjoy the serene beauty that comes with a winter landscape. When you are taking a break, soak in how great it is to be out with your dog enjoying nature. Take some time to have some fun and play in the snow with your dog.

Some activities that you can do with your dog include: Snow Diving, Build a Snowdog, or play Snowball Catch.

Don’t forget to capture some photos of your dog! Sign up for an account on Pawtivity so you can categorize all of your special moments with your dog by what you do and where you go.


9 Signs To Watch Out For

Please note that we are not a certified vet, so any recommendations listed are only suggestions that you may do for your pet. Please consult your vet for more information.

Bloody Paws – Wash your dog’s paw and inspect for any injury. Remove any debris that may be the cause of the injury. Follow up by applying balm or wax on your dog’s paws. To stop bleeding, apply pressure on the area and follow up with a call to your vet to see if you need to have your dog looked at. You can also wrap your dog’s paw in a bandage if you are still out hiking.

Refusal To Walk, Whining – Your dog may just be telling you that he wants to go home. Listen to your dog. It’s not worth it to have to carry him home if he just doesn’t want to be outside.

Slight Shivering – Your dog needs extra warmth or warm water. Add an insulated layer to your dog’s coat. Lay out a mat and cover your dog in an insulated blanket. Give him some warm water and food. Rest up and warm up before you continue your hike. Otherwise, it may be time to head home.

Lagging Behind – Chances are there is something wrong with your dog. Check your dog’s paws and give your dog water to avoid exhaustion or dehydration. Rest up and slowly go back to your car.

Constant Shivering, Dilated Pupils, Slow and Irregular Breathing, Stiff Muscles, Pale Gums – Stop immediately, rest, and keep your dog warm. Your dog may be getting hypothermia. If symptoms are severe, you may have to wrap them in a blanket and carry them back to the car and see the vet as soon as possible.

Dry Nose and Mouth, Poor Skin Elasticity, Discolored Gums, Lethargy – Your dog may be dehydrated. Giving your dog more water may make them vomit. You could try to give him some ice instead. Consult your vet immediately.

Discoloration of Any Body Parts, Waxy Skin, Blisters – This may be a sign of frostbite. You will want to wrap your dog in a blanket and head home immediately. When you get home, warm the area with wrapped hot water bottles or warm towels. Call your vet for more information on what to do next.


10 Winter Dog Care At Home

With winter also comes dry, itchy skin. Keeping your house well humidified during the winter. Coconut oil is a natural way to moisturize your dog’s paws and skin. Various salves are also on the market to help sooth dryness. If your dog has really dry skin, consult your vet. You may also need give your dog less frequent baths, change your shampoo, or make sure the water is not so hot.

Mushers Secret*, or another similar balm can be used on a daily basis to keep your dog’s paws well-conditioned.

Make sure that your dog is sleeping in a warm area in your house and has proper bedding. You can also give your dog a blanket to snuggle in.

Dogs need to eat more when it’s cold outside to stay warm. Your dog should always have access to fresh water at all times – inside or outside.


Is there a great dog-friendly activity or event missing from our list? Contact us so we can share it with the community!

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Related Pawtivity / Event: Hiking
Activities: Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Skiing, Snowboarding, Biking, Winter – Sports

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About the Author

Life is an endless journey with a dog at your side. Find your next dog friendly adventure on Pawtivity!  We are a community that inspires and captures the stories of our dogs.

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