A hike through a magical snowy landscape is a wonderful experience for two and four-legged friends – if the preparation is right. Because if you go snow touring with your dog, you have to pay attention to a few things.
Stomping for hours through lonely, snow-covered landscapes, breathing in the cool, clear winter air, playing catch with snowflakes, and having a picnic in a windless spot in the sun: hiking is perhaps the best way for dog and owner to escape the gray cities and the dry heating air and winter lethargy to shake off. But it’s only a lot of fun if every step isn’t painfully reminiscent of icy feet and paws and two-legged and four-legged friends don’t want to lie down exhausted in the snow after just two kilometers.
Good preparation is, therefore, a must. “Of course, it always depends on the length of the hike, the area, and the weather conditions,” says Iris Tonet from the “Pfoten Akademie” dog school in Wangen near Olten SO. A three-hour hike through the forest requires less equipment and preparation than a two-day mountain hike. “Basically, you should wear good shoes and warm clothing on all winter tours, protect your dog’s paws and make sure that he doesn’t get cold.”
According to the trainer, who offers various guided hiking tours for dog owners and their four-legged friends, most dogs love snow. But while Nordic breeds such as huskies and dogs with warming undercoats are hardly affected by arctic temperatures, breeds from southern countries as well as small, old and sick dogs often long for a warm home sooner.
Some dogs are not used to the cold and therefore need a snowsuit
You can tell that the dog is freezing by the fact that it is trembling, walks slowly and somewhat clammily, and pulls in the tail. You don’t have to do without a winter excursion, even with dogs that are sensitive to the cold. Specialist shops offer winter coats and suits in various sizes and for different requirements. “Under certain circumstances, such a full-body suit can also make sense if the dog has a long, fine coat in which annoying and painful clumps of snow and ice are constantly forming. Depending on the dog and the snow conditions, it is often enough to trim the fur on the stomach a little,” says Tonet.
There is a danger of ice lumps not only in the fur but especially on the paws. You can prevent this by trimming long fur between the toes and rubbing Vaseline or milking fat on the paws. For sensitive bunions or longer tours, so-called booties offer all-around protection, a kind of “dog shoes” that originally come from the sled dog sport. They also prevent sharp-edged pieces of ice from injuring the paws or road salt from irritating the skin.
Cold consumes. You should think about that when you pack your haversack. “You don’t usually have to adjust the feeding during normal winter walks,” says Tonet. But if you go on strenuous multi-day tours or are out and about in the mountains, you should give your dog food that is particularly high in fat and energy. When in doubt, it is best to discuss the exact rationing with the veterinarian.
If the dog is to come snowshoe trekking through the deep snow or storm the summit loaded with panniers, it not only needs sufficient energy but also the necessary condition. A short hike in the snow is no problem for a healthy, averagely trained dog, but for long or difficult hikes, adequate training is required in advance. “You should never overtax the dog because then the risk of injury increases and he loses the fun. On the way, you should pay close attention to signs of exhaustion and, if necessary, take a break or turn back,” says Tonet. Hikes through the deep snow are very strenuous, especially for heavy and small dogs, and you should avoid this altogether if you have four-legged friends with joint problems or animals that are not yet fully grown. “But when you’re out and about with snowshoes, dogs learn very quickly to follow the tracks, which is easier then.”
Moderate route planning is a must so that dog and owner don’t get exhausted halfway. Not only because of the difficult hiking conditions but also because of the early onset of darkness, you can usually cover far fewer kilometers per day in winter than in summer. Since it is easy to lose your bearings in the snow and in poor visibility conditions, you definitely need a hiking map, compass, and flashlight.
In winter it is particularly important to ensure that wild animals have their peace
Dogs are usually much safer on slippery floors than we are. However, they shouldn’t be allowed to run around on slippery ice – slipping can result in ligament strains and other injuries. “If there is heavy ice, you should postpone a planned hike or take a different route,” says Tonet. «I had to do that several times last winter with my tour through the Teufelsschlucht. Actually, the route is not particularly difficult, but when bridges, stairs, and narrow paths are icy, it is simply too dangerous for humans and dogs.»
Avalanches are even more threatening than black ice. If you go into the mountains with your dog in winter, you should either choose special snowshoe routes that are protected against avalanches or check the avalanche bulletin before starting the tour. Snow slabs can be triggered even when the danger of avalanches is low. In the corresponding areas, the dogs should therefore not jump around freely, but walk in front of or behind you on a leash. Since life-threatening situations can quickly arise in the mountains due to weather changes and drops in temperature, less experienced summiteers, whether with or without a dog, are best advised to join a mountain guide.
When hiking in the cold season, however, you should not only pay attention to your own safety but also that of your four-legged companion. Nature also requires special consideration. At the top of the winter hiking, etiquette for dog owners is not to scare wild animals. Because rock ptarmigans and other animals have to be careful with their reserves in the cold season. Stress and strenuous escapes are associated with large losses of energy and, in the worst case, can mean death. Dogs should therefore be kept on a leash in the forest and near protected areas and sanctuaries.