Snowshoeing is a fun way to enjoy the silence of winter while hitting some of your favorite summer trails. Summer trails become a whole new experience. A blanket of snow even makes trekking an abandoned logging road interesting. And snowshoeing with dogs is the best. Even small dogs can do it!
Many people are surprised to know that taking your small dog on a snowshoe trip is possible. It DOES take special consideration though. You usually have to plan for trips that are a bit shorter because small dogs get cold and tired in the snow faster than big dogs. Our first snowshoe trip of the year was almost 5 miles though and I was done at that point… so that doesn’t mean little dogs can’t keep up with the big dogs and humans.
By following these 9 tips, you can help make sure your small dog has a good experience in the snow and stays safe.
1) Make sure your dog is fit and healthy enough to make the trip. This is important for any dog but it’s especially important for small dogs. Bounding through the snow takes a lot of energy. Small dogs that are ready for snowshoeing have been told they are in “good health” by their vet and are used to walking or hiking regularly. Start your snowshoeing adventures small – 1 to 3 miles – to make sure your dog can handle it and then work your way up to longer ones.
2) Walk on a firm surface to make it easier for your small dog and so they can go further. If the snow is hard on top, your small, light dog isn’t likely to sink into the snow very far. The easy way to this is to snowshoe on hard, crusty snow – some place where it hasn’t snowed for a while. You can also go to places where the snow has already been packed down by a snow groomer like a snow park or cross-country ski trails. Be sure to check the regulations first though. Some cross-country ski areas don’t allow snowshoers or dogs on the trails (and even if you are allowed, you are not allowed to walk in the skiers tracks) and some snow parks don’t allow dogs to mingle with snowmobiles for safety reasons.
3) If you find yourself in soft, powdery snow, make your dog their own track to walk in. Ideally, at least two people in your party can walk ahead of the dog. The first person makes depressions in the snow with their snowshoes. The person behind them walks opposite of them (opposite steps) to pack down the snow that the first person didn’t. This will make a decently packed track in the snow that your dog can walk in. Popular summer hiking trails often have a track already made by the first people to visit after a snowfall. Sometimes that first person is you though.
Watch Chester and Gretel zoom through the tracks
4) Bundle them up to keep them warm. Put as thick and warm of a coat on them as you can without restricting their movement or causing chafing. Also be sure it isn’t too big or baggy or their lets could get caught up in it (maybe only an issue for the long and low dogs. Ha, ha). A small dog’s legs will likely get chilly in the snow but they can handle it as long as the core of their body is toasty warm. Make sure the jackets are made of wool or synthetic material too because cotton doesn’t insulate when it’s wet. My favorite winter-clothing setups for Chester and Gretel are either their Cozy Hound Double Fleece Jackets with a neck snood or the Ultimate Warmer Jacket from Hurtta (the jackets they are wearing in these photos).
5) Protect their feet from snowballs and sores. Snow can stick to your dog’s feet and form little balls. These snowballs can cause foot pain and sores. To help reduce the chance that snow will stick to their feet, trim the hair between their pads, apply a paw balm like Musher’s Secret, and check their feet frequently on the trail. Since dogs lose heat through their feet, snow is less likely to stick to them if their body is kept extra warm with a jacket. Dog boots are also an option but they are hard to find for little dogs. Or at least ones that WORK are hard to find for small dogs – most are merely fashion accessories. Some small dogs, like Dachshunds, have twisty little feet so boots don’t fit very well. If you do want to go with boots, check out this article on how to choose the right size so they don’t fall off or restrict natural movement.
6) Bring something for them to stand on during rest breaks. Keeping their feet off of the snow will help them stay warm and prevent frostbite. Add a small blanket and it will give them a snuggly little nest to lounge in while you make your hot chocolate. We don’t take any snowshoe trip without our Ruffwear Highlands Bed and Rumpl Puffy Blanket.
7) Bring something warm for them to drink. Your pups will enjoy something warm to drink on the trail too. Just like with people, it will warm their tummy and increase their core body temperature. You can bring a thermos from home with warmed no-sodium, no-spices chicken or beef broth or warm some up with the same camp stove you brought to make your hot chocolate (PLEASE make sure you clean the pot first since chocolate is toxic to dogs).
8) Pick them up now and then if they need it. Although we should be proud that our small dogs “can do it” too, there is no shame in picking them up from time to time. Well, I do sometimes feel secretly judged (because who brings a spoiled “purse dog” on a trail right?) but whatever. Picking your dog up gives them a breather and a moment to warm up. Most will want right back down to keep chasing and sniffing smells but it’s an easy way to give them a quick break without stopping.
9) You will need to bring a bigger backpack to fit all of the extra stuff for your small dog. Big dogs can wear backpacks and carry some of their own things. Even if your small dog has his or her own backpack, the chance is that most of the stuff you need to bring in the winter won’t fit in there. I’ve resigned myself to being Chester and Gretel’s Sherpa. I’ve found that a 40 L pack is the perfect size for us – holds all of the stuff but is not unnecessarily big. My favorite for winter is the Osprey Kode 42 ski-snowboard pack because I can strap my snowshoes to it if we need to walk a bit before hitting snow.
Have you tried snowshoeing with your small dog? Do you have any tips to add?