So you are all set to go snowshoeing with your small dog? You’re bought the right gear and clothing for you and your dog, picked the right snowshoes and are raring to go? Not so fast. There might be something else you need to do first.
I had originally planned to talk about this subject at the beginning of the series but the burning questions seemed to be about gear and snowshoes. Not everyone reading this series is new to hiking in the mountains. Starting the series talking about the equipment you need was something that was useful for both the active and previously inactive folks.
Now I am backing up and talking about a very important piece of the puzzle for the previously non-active – conditioning.
Snowshoeing takes a lot more energy than normal hiking, especially since small dogs often have to hop through the deeper snow. It takes a lot of work but it is worth it. It is so much fun that you almost forget that you are exercising.
This is what it kind of energy Chester exerts when he hikes through the snow.
If you and your dog snowshoe regularly you can expect to see great improvement in your aerobic fitness and leg strength. Endurance will increase for both you and your dog and you will gain more confidence. Your general wellbeing will also improve. There is something relaxing and grounding about being out in the woods with just you, your dog and your own two feet.
If this is your first time venturing off of the couch into the outdoors you will need to do a little physical conditioning before you head out on your first adventure. You will need to start small before you go big.
You can physically prepare for snowshoeing by joining a coaching program like Couch to Peak™ or do it on your own. If you want to do it on your own, I would start out with three or four short walks a week on flat ground. You can then increase the distance of those walks and add in some hilly terrain. After that, you can progress to adding in snowshoe treks.
For your first snowshoe adventure, it is best to stick to groomed trails where dogs are allowed or to popular hiking trails where the path has already been stomped and hardened by the people before you. You will have fun without over exerting yourself. The goal is to make the trip just a little shorter and easier than you think you can handle so it will always be fun for you and your dog so you want to do it again.
Once you start hiking in the snow, follow the same sort of progression you did with walking. Start with flat, short treks and work up to rolling or hilly longer snowshoe trips. Somewhere along the way you can start venturing out on trails that have soft fluffy snow.
Keep in mind that when you move to deeper snow you may have to move back in your training program a bit. If you were hiking 4 miles no problem on packed snow, you may want to aim for 2 or three in deep snow.
One last quick note about your dog going out in the cold:
I know I have a lot of Dachshund friends that claim their dog won’t go outside in the cold or rain. Even Chester and Gretel balk sometimes when I open the door for them to go potty. Always bundle your dog up. I would err on the side of making them too warm. Once they learn that you guys are going for a walk and that is all there is to it, most dogs will make the best of it and learn to enjoy the walks. Most dogs, even those who resist at first, enjoy a romp in the snow once they walk for a bit and warm up.
Once you are physically ready to snowshoe, the sky is the limit. The more you go, the easier and more enjoyable it will be.
The final posts in this series will cover things like where to find the best trails and snow safety. I will also highlight some of our favorite snowshoeing trails and weekend trips.