Winter in Maine can be a fun time of year for hiking and sightseeing with your dog. However, it can also be potentially dangerous for your furry friend if you venture out unprepared. Following these six simple but important safety tips for winter adventuring can mean the difference between an exciting afternoon of snowy sightseeing and an unfortunate accident. After all, you can never be too careful!
1. Plan Ahead
Perhaps the most important safety precaution you can take when preparing for a winter hike is to plan ahead. Check the weather for any upcoming snow, rain or hail before you leave and be aware of any temperature changes that you might encounter. Plan on the area or trail you want to hike, snowshoe or ski and make sure that you know it well. Have a backpack packed with all the essentials including food, water, a first aid kit, your cellphone, an extra blanket, and any and all gear you might need for both you and your pup. And, in case something changes along the way or you need to turn around, have a Plan B!
2. Protect the Paws
Just like your feet should be kept bundled and warm when out in the snow, so too should your dog’s! Long periods spent in snow and ice can cause problems for your dog’s paws including cracking, blistering, bleeding and freezing. If left unprotected, your poor dog’s toes can even accumulate snow clumps which can cause sores and be very painful for your pup. Rock salt can also cause problems to your dog’s paws as the salt can cut his skin or irritate already existing sores. To help with this, dress your dog in winter booties that go up at least to his knees and are built for rough terrain. If you find that your friend just can’t tolerate them, try applying some paw balm to your dog’s pads before you leave. We recommend Musher’s Secret if you plan on being out for awhile!
3. Keep ’em Warm
Unless your dog is a breed that was built for intense winter climates (we’re talking Siberian Huskies and Tibetan Mastiffs), then odds are he will get cold during your adventures. Dogs are just as susceptible to hypothermia, frost-bite, and other winter ailments and it’s important to make sure they are kept cozy and warm before taking them out into freezing temperatures. Depending on the size, coat length, and age of your dog, something as light as a fleece might suffice in keeping him warm, but be aware that he might need something heavier. It may seem silly, but jackets, boots, hats and scarves are all accessories that can be bought for your specific type of dog and they actually do help for those long, winter hikes. Bringing along a blanket is a good idea too!
*Check out our chart on the right to learn all the symptoms and signs of hypothermia in your dog
4. Hydrate and Snack
Hiking through high snow or trekking through a winter terrain can be exhausting for your dog, especially if you’re out longer than a couple of hours. If you plan on spending an entire afternoon or evening out adventuring with your best furry friend, make sure you bring along enough snacks and plenty of water to get you both by. You might notice your dog chomping down on snow or bits of ice as you go along, but keep in mind that this is not an alternative to clean, drinking water. It’s important to take moments throughout the day where you both can rest and fill your stomachs with some high-protein snacks and fresh water. You might want to bring along a portable drinking bowl for your friend as well since drinking from a bottle can be tedious for most dogs. And as with all forms of strenuous exercise, watch out for signs of exhaustion and dehydration in your dog!
5. Study Up on Safety
Before heading out for any kind of hike with your dog it’s important to know the basics of canine safety and first-aid. The colder months can cause unexpected problems for your pup like slipping on ice, falling through snow or, in extreme conditions, succumbing to hypothermia. If your dog were to ever become injured during an adventure you’d definitely want a basic first-aid kit with you and you’ll want to know how to use it. We recommend packing at least some alcohol wipes, a pair of tweezers, Benadryl, some Band-Aids or gauze pads, medical tape, and antibacterial ointment. And, to prevent your pup from becoming injured in the first place, it’s important to always keep a close eye on him and discourage any reckless behavior like walking onto frozen ponds, climbing slippery rocks, or getting too far ahead of you on the trails. You can never be too careful!
6. Be Aware of General Winter Hazards
While snow, ice and freezing temperatures might seem like obvious dangers to watch out for while hiking during winter, it’s also important to be aware of some possible unexpected hazards you and your dog might encounter. Making sure that your pup is comfortable around skiers, snowshoers and loud, fast-moving snowmobiles is definitely a plus as you never know when you might encounter someone partaking in a sport. Also, keep in mind that paths and hiking trails during winter can look very different than they do during warmer months as deep snow can cover or hide certain markers. You don’t want to get lost with your dog as the sun begins to set! And speaking of the sun, remember that it sets sooner in the winter and nighttime can come quickly and suddenly, especially if you’re too distracted having fun. Even if you’re hiking during the day it’s never a bad idea to pack a flashlight!
If heading out prepared, winter can be an amazing time of year to go hiking with your dog as the snowy scenery can really make for a beautiful and picturesque adventure. Just make sure you’re following all the safety precautions and be ready with a fun Plan B if it proves to be too dangerous. Otherwise, happy adventuring friends!