Winter Trail Tips for Hiking With Your Dog

Wintertime is one of my favorite times of year for hiking! Quieter trails, cooler weather, and, if you're lucky, the beauty of snow! Here in coastal California, we don't get snow (except an occasional dusting on the local peaks) but we do get rain, fog, wind, and lots of greenery during the winter months. Wintertime is my favorite season for hiking with the High Tail Hikes pups - and the dogs love it too! The trails are quieter, the air is cool, lots of grass to munch on, no foxtails, plenty of interesting smells, and water galore! Here, we focus on tips for hiking with your dog in the winter months, including some safety tips. For more tips about hiking with your dog, read our blog post here

Hiking in the Rain 

Just like us, some dogs love romping in the rain while others prefer staying cozied up and dry. On rainy days, we try to time our hikes to take place between rain showers - but if that's not possible - we suit up and head out! Sometimes having a few dog buddies, finding a trail with lots of trees to provide cover, or bringing along high value snacks can help a more reluctant pup get into the groove in the rain (and sometimes not, in which case it's best to keep the walk short). Many of the smaller dogs in our hiking groups wear rain coats - there are a million styles to choose from, so I recommend visiting your local brick and mortar pet store and trying on a few to see what fits. Some of our pups also wear a fleece or other insulating layer below the raincoat to help stay warm and somewhat clean. 

Monty rocking the rainy day layers - Photo by High Tail Hikes

A couple of rainy day pro tips - put your treats in a plastic zip loc bag so you don't end up with a soggy, crumbly mess in your fanny pack or pockets. I always have our pups drag a leash or long line on rainy days - the bright colors make it easier to see everybody, especially when visibility is lower due to fog or mist. Bonus - after the hike I simply wipe the leashes and lines down to remove debris and they're good to go! No stinky, moldy, or dirt encrusted leashes to deal with. Make sure to keep towels in your car so you can dry off your pups after. I always take off rain jackets, towel off the dogs, make sure they're cozy in their crates, and crank the heat in the car on the way home to help everyone warm up. 

A few safety considerations - creek and puddle season can mean an increased risk of exposure to giardia, a parasite that can cause GI issues and runny stools, or even leptospirosis. While puddle splashing is a blast, try to avoid older, gross looking puddles, standing water, or any water body in a highly traveled area - they're more likely to be contaminated. Puddles fresh from an overnight rain or flowing water are less of a concern. If your dog does contract giardia, do not hike with them until symptoms have cleared and your vet gives the okay, as the parasite is highly contagious.

Respect your local watershed. Please heed local park rules around creeks - here in the East Bay, many creeks are protected for salmon spawning and to prevent erosion, and dogs aren't allowed. And of course, please always bag and carry out your dog's poop. During the rainy season, it's even more likely to be washed into waterways.  

Here in California during the rainy season, a lot of mushrooms grow in the forest, including some that can be harmful or fatal to dogs. The death cap in particular can be fatal if ingested. Dogs are usually not interested in eating mushrooms. However, it's important that you keep a close eye on your pup, and if you do see them ingest any mushroom, err on the side of caution and take them to the vet immediately, along with a sample of the mushroom if possible. This is another great reason to work on a strong recall cue and to use a long line while hiking. 

Another visitor that comes with increased rain are ticks. Make sure that your dog is up to date on their flea/tick meds, and do a thorough tick check right after hiking and again after getting home. Ticks like to burrow in crevices like the ears, groin, and armpits. If you do find a tick imbedded in your dog, use a pair of fine point tweezers or a tick removal tool, grasp as far down on the tick as possible, and pull upwards, gently and steadily to remove as much of the tick as you can. Clean the area with alcohol and watch for any signs of infection. It's best to keep the tick in alcohol for a few days to show your vet in case infection or any worrying symptoms do occur. 

Hiking in the Cold - Snow and Ice 

When I lived in western Montana during grad school, I worked for a local dog daycare that offered 3 hour off leash adventure hikes. We hiked on National Forest land in all weather, over ice and through snow, and the dogs absolutely loved it! So much great visual input, interesting textures and smells, and the sheer JOY of romping through fresh snow! There are a few important considerations, though. Dogs have less body mass relative to their surface area than humans, so they get cold more quickly than us, and hypothermia can be a concern. Layering can be important, especially for short haired and/or small dogs. Jessica Williams is a blogger who hikes year round with her two daschunds, Summit and Gretel, in Washington state. She offers tons of great tips for hiking with your pups in the winter, including base layer, coat, backpack recommendations for small dogs. Check out some of her posts here and here. Jillian Turner runs Ivy's League Dog Camp in Vermont, where she takes pups on Adventure Hikes in all weather. Turner says that booties or paw wax can be a good idea to help keep snow from sticking to dogs' feet. After a snow hike, I inspect my dog's paws for any encrusted snow chunks that could cause irritation. And don't forget hydration - make sure your dog is drinking plenty of water during and after a snowy hike. 

Finally, make sure that you're layered up yourself as well, wearing waterproof boots, and prepared for any weather condition. In Montana, I often wore YakTrax to avoid slipping on icy patches. Check the weather before you head out, and if you're hiking in hilly terrain, or doing any backcountry skiing, of course check the avalanche forecast and make sure that you're staying safe. Always let someone else know where you're headed if you and your pups are hiking alone. Know your route and have a map and compass and/or GPS device - it's easier to get lost when snow is obscuring the trail! It's best to start small and work your way up to longer outdoor adventures. Make it a positive experience and your dog will be excited to venture out again!

Happy snow pups - photo by Ivy's League Dog Camp 

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