Tips for Hiking with Your Dog in the Snow: Interview with a Vermont Dog Walker

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about hiking with your dog in the winter. I realized that, being from coastal California, I had a lot more tips for rainy days than for snow - so I asked an expert to help fill in the gaps! 

Tammy Egan lives in Essex, Vermont and is the owner of Fourpawsitivity. Tammy offers two hour off-leash group trail adventures (Called "Dog Camp") for dogs in Vermont year round, in all weather. We’ve connected online in the past year and it’s been so fun to expand my network of dog walking colleagues to the East Coast! 

Tammy and I chatted about her background, the path that led her to a career working with dogs, and how she keeps everyone safe and happy during the snowy Vermont winters. I hope you find some helpful tips for winter outings, and enjoy this glimpse into the life of an awesome Vermont dog walker. Happy reading!

Thank you for talking with us Tammy! Tell us a little about what you do and your background. 

I am the proud founder of Fourpawsitivity LLC. Currently, I do off leash hiking adventures and training support for my clients.

I am the mother of an almost 15 year old and a 12 year old. I am also the spouse of a retired (after over 21 years) Army combat/special forces soldier. 

I obtained a BS in Psychology as I have always been interested in cognitive learning and behavior. Since duty stations changed frequently, so did my jobs and even career paths. I have worked in large corporations in human resources and quality engineering, as an office manager for a chiropractor, and an adult/youth coach for crossfit and weightlifting. I’ve always worked in a helping profession in some way. 

In my youth, my dad worked with the Army and then later with the Police Department training dogs. I watched him work with our own dogs (German Shepards) and was mesmerized by how he was able to get them to be so obedient. Even more so, how much these dogs loved working for him. He had a trust with our dogs that I wanted to be a part of. 

As an adult, I notice the tools trainers use, but I never noticed any of these things on our dogs as a child. I have asked him about this prior to adopting my own personal dogs and our chat could be a whole other conversation. In short, no tools were necessary except for an open field with no distractions, a ball, a few treats in his jeans pocket, and lots of patience.

Ever since I was about 8 years old, I volunteered walking dogs for people I knew, since I just loved every aspect of connecting with animals. As I got my own personal dogs, I would continue this, only getting more creative as I developed confidence in my relationship with each dog. We would often go on off leash trail hikes/runs. I would recruit my friends and neighbors that also had their own dog and it became more and more regular each place I lived. 

 My husband retired from the Army in 2019 and his first civilian job brought us to Essex, Vermont. Neither of us had ever lived in Vermont. Once I moved here, I met this super cool friend who told me I should do off leash hikes for work. I laughed as there was NO WAY this was an actual job. I considered it but doubted my confidence. Eventually, with a lot of encouragement, I started borrowing dogs from friends and just started doing it. I realized this new hobby was actually becoming a thing. From there, I decided to LLC and it grew from there!

After a month or two, I decided the off leash hiking adventures were awesome but I was constantly wanting to do better. Not just for me and for the client, but also for the dogs! I met my mentor, Mary Tracy, and she introduced me to local certified dog trainers and behavior consultants that supported my same desire to improve the relationship between the dog and the handler. From there, I began an apprenticeship for about 6 months through Dogs Rock Vermont (a local training and behavior center) working under owner Laurie Lawless. I was then offered a position working with the dogs in their care and teaching classes to dog owners. This fall, I began a certification of Applied Animal Behavior through the University of Washington. 

Bridging these relationships has greatly improved my aptitude, confidence, and overall knowledge base working with animals. 

Tell us more about your business, Fourpawsitivity.  

I offer 2 hour off leash adventure hikes on private land for dogs Monday through Friday. I do “Puppy Camp” on Saturday mornings with transport to and from the dogs’ homes. I also offer training support to my clients. Vermont is a very dog friendly place - everyone has a dog. In my experience, many Vermonters adopt through rescues, which is great, and it also means that owners often need extra support to help their dog to thrive.  

What's the winter weather like where you are? Do you hike in all weather, or are there certain weather events where you would cancel an outing? 

Winter weather varies in Vermont, but you can bet there will be snow throughout the latter part of the fall and into early spring. Temperatures can be very cold at times! Outings with the dogs are canceled if transport could be difficult or if temperatures are too cold for the dogs. I have a large van with many dog beds. However, sometimes the weather can be dangerous for a dog if out for more than 10-15 minutes. In those cases, I cancel. I always give the clients notice and if the weather isn't awful, I will do let outs for the dog(s).

Where do you hike?

When I started (4 dogs or less), I used public land to include parks with hiking trails and fields. However, once my numbers grew, it became the only responsible thing to do to find private land with approval from the land owners.

How do you make sure the pups stay warm? 

Every dog is different based on their coat and genetic makeup. I work with dogs from huskies and shepherds to bulldogs and pitbulls. I even have a 200 pound Irish wolfhound mix! I consider the individual dog and the owner's discretion. A good rule of thumb is if the back of my hand is cold or hot when touching the ground, that's how it feels to the dog. On cold days, it is important to take frequent breaks back to the van. We work on little training exercises or I have the dogs relax while I reapply paw wax and do a quick health check of feet, nose, and tips of ears. I work on cooperative care with the dogs during this time and give them lots of pets and squishes.  

What about jackets, coats, or other gear for the pups?

I frequently suggest dog booties to clients. Booties can also protect against cuts from ice or branches hidden under the snow. Any dog that has short fur or curly haired needs to consider a fleece lined waterproof jacket, or a fleece layer under a coat. For doodles or other curly haired pups, I highly encourage a coat or a one piece body suit that can help prevent snow from collecting and balling up in their fur. K9 top coat for bodysuits or Hurtta for winter coats are great. 

Pups in their winter coats

Do you use paw wax? How do you decide if this is something a dog needs? 

Paw wax is never a bad idea, although it doesn’t always prevent snow and ice from accumulating in between the toe beans. The wax needs to be applied as frequently as does lotion on us humans. Most curly haired or long haired dogs need dog booties. Dogs with large gaps in between their toe beans, and/or lots of hair on their feet, will benefit the most from booties for longer hikes. If not, you will see the dogs pausing frequently and biting at the ice buildup on their feet. I always recommend keeping nails short and fur trimmed around the feet. Longer toe nails will rip booties easily and/or potentially get caught on things and cause injury. 

Any other notes on gear for the dogs? 

I prefer when owners send their dog with a harness on, just in case they need to be leashed quickly. I supply my own High Tail Hikes long lines and leashes as I do not like keeping track of owner’s equipment. I bring enough leashes for every dog but I don't necessarily need to use them all. What I love about High Tail Hikes leashes and lines is that they are so lightweight and grippy. They don't get muddy or weighed down in the ice and snow. I'll never, ever go back to fabric or nylon leashes. And I tell all my clients that they need to have at least one long line - it doesn't matter what length. They're just so versatile. 

I'm so happy to hear that, thank you Tammy! How do you stay warm yourself - what kinds of layers/gear? 

I wear many layers but often find I overdress even in the coldest of temps. I find waterproof boots necessary and I recently had a friend suggest I add microspikes (I have fallen more times than I can count). I always bring hand warmers in my pockets and wear a hat or fleece headband when it's really cold. My coat is one I am not worried about getting damaged as my clothes get pretty dirty and gross. Snow pants and gloves are great too - although I don't personally wear gloves at all! I am a very tactile person and feel a disconnect when I can't grasp treats or a leash...or pet a dog. Friends that also do this work use ice fishing gloves and swear by them! Oh, and it’s important to wear orange during hunting season here. 

What do you carry with you on the hikes? 

A first aid kit, cell phone, extra dog booties, extra paw wax, treats, water and enough leashes for every dog.

What do you bring with you in your vehicle for a winter outing? 

This is a tough one as I have a Ford Transit van. This van is awesome as it provides the dogs with TONS of space and comfort. However, it’s not great in the snow and ice. I used to drive a Toyota Highlander but I service dogs of ALL sizes (including a 200 lb Irish Wolfhound) so we definitely outgrew that! In the vehicle, I make sure we have plenty of water, blankets, and lots of gas in the tank each morning. I also bring extra booties, paw wax, first aid kits, leashes, flashlights, jackets, and recently cat litter and a small shovel. Always have an emergency contact, info for each dog, a charged cellphone, and a cellphone charger. 

If the van gets stuck in ice patches, I learned that the mats we use under our feet make awesome tread support for the tires. Also, sand and dirt help as well!! 

Taking a break in the van 

Any special hazards to look out for in the winter? 

Road conditions are important to consider, and so is location. Part of the land in one of my spots doubles as a trail for snowmobiles. It is important to be aware of this, and we work on a ton of recall and staying close as a group to prevent this from becoming an issue. Sometimes when there is heavy snow and ice, we need to be aware of falling tree limbs. I stay very vigilant during the hikes so I can anticipate anything dangerous. Slipping through ice is another hazard, so being aware of the waterways and avoiding those are very important. The brush and fallen trees are icy so being aware of areas where a dog could cut him/herself is also important. 

How do the pups like the snow? 

Watching the dogs in the snow is amazing and one of the coolest experiences ever! Have you ever seen a pug running through snow? It's pretty epic.

Snow Puppies!!!

Thank you so much for sharing with us Tammy! Use code 

FOURPAWSITIVITY10 for 10% off any High Tail Hikes order. 

 

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