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Snowshoeing with Dogs
Making tracks is another way to enjoy a snowy day
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A winter Sunday in Litchfield, Connecticut. The air snaps crisp and cold beneath a milky gray sky, and here and there, the sun slices through the clouds, casting long shadows and bright splinters over the high hills of Mattatuck State Forest, a rugged expanse literally in our backyard. A nor’easter rolling through New England left behind eight inches of fresh powder, the stuff of snowshoers’ dreams, and it is time to begin our annual ritual of snowshoeing with Maggie and Truman, our happy-go-lucky Labs.

On this day, our canine companions bound ahead as we float along on the snowy surface, picking our way up and down one undulating ridge after another. We seldom share this place with anyone—our Gortex shells and the dogs’ reflective vests are usually the sole bursts of Technicolor in a black-and-white world.

Snowshoeing with dogs? You bet. There are few finer ways to spend a winter day with your best four-legged friends than a trek on snowshoes along your favorite trail or a heart-thumping workout through high-octane terrain. Rare is the canine who doesn’t enjoy a romp in the white stuff, and with a little common sense and cold-weather know-how, those new to the activity can keep their dogs safe and healthy, whether they’re exploring an untrammeled wilderness area, the groomed trails at a touring center, even a snow-covered public golf course.

This ancient form of over-the-snow transportation—Native Americans are said to have used snowshoes more than 3,000 years ago—is one of the fastest-growing winter activities for those who live in or visit the country’s snow belt. And for good reason—as a sport, it doesn’t get much simpler. While snowshoeing might conjure up images of plodding along on tennis-racket-like contraptions, 21st-century equipment combines state-of-the-art design with high-tech materials such as lightweight aluminum, composite plastic, even titanium. If you can walk, goes the adage, you can snowshoe.

But does your pooch have snow-hound potential? “You need to consider whether your dog is healthy to start with,” says Dr. Peter Humphrey of Torrington Animal Hospital in Torrington, Conn. “Heart-related or respiratory problems can have an impact on a dog’s stamina.” Most fit and trim dogs will do fine, he says, but remember, they don’t walk on the snow like you do. “Walking through deep snow is physically demanding,” notes Humphrey, who recommends a shorter-than-usual first outing, since “you may end up with an exhausted pet that you have to carry back.”

And while your canine may be furry, exposure to the elements can lead to problems like frostbite or hypothermia. Puppies and elderly dogs are especially susceptible; watch for shivering, slowed breathing or dilated pupils, signs of a dangerous drop in body temperature. And, unless you have, say, an Akita, Husky or Malamute, breeds who are “dressed” for the cold, your dog might also benefit from the added insulation of a doggy coat. We pack plenty of snacks and water, and examine our Labs’ paws frequently for the ice and snow that can clump between pads. Companies like Ruff Wear and Planet Dog offer canine first-aid kits, protective booties, collapsible food and water bowls, and cold-weather apparel you may want to consider adding to your gear.

At the icebound riverbank, we stop and sip hot cocoa, and as the warmth of this winter staple courses its way to our toes, the dogs make quick work of emptying their water bowls. Then it’s time to be on the move again. Above our heads, snow clings tightly to the hemlocks and the bare branches of sugar maples as we follow crumbling stone walls, relics of long-ago grazing pastures, then cut through thickets of mountain laurel, the hushed quiet broken only by the crunch of our snowshoes, the panting of the dogs and the occasional call of an owl.

If you don’t have access to a wintry wilderness, you and your pal can also coexist happily with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. First, check that the trail system you’re planning to visit is dog-friendly, and, if so, find out what the rules are. Some charge a fee; others allow dogs only in certain areas, or require them to be leashed. Other trail users will judge dogs and owners by your actions, so practice good etiquette, such as picking up after your pooch, keeping him under control and—this is critical—staying out of the way.

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Submitted by Anonymous | November 22 2009 |

Snowshoeing with your dog(s) is a great activity but for a little more excitement add geocaching to the mix. Many geocaches are reachable when snowshoeing. This high tech scavenger hunt doesn't have to be a spring, summer and fall sport. For a list of dog friendly geocaches go to www.dogcacher.com.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 13 2009 |

As an alternative to booties, a 'mushers wax' can be applied to paws (on and in between pads) to prevent snow clumps. This product was designed for sled dogs, but works for everyone. It can be found at many pet stores in a variety of brands. Tried it out for my constantly-clumpy-pawed dog and it works great. No more fussing with booties.
Happy trails!

Submitted by Kyle Hansen | January 5 2010 |

thanks for the good article, I'll be out there on the next snow day.

Submitted by southerner | February 16 2010 |

How would a small dog handle deep snow? Larger dogs exert more energy, but would a small athletic dog be able to bound through deep snow? I'm thinking of Breeds like a Shiba Inu or Australian cattle dog.

Submitted by Nina Wasserman | September 14 2011 |

Would Andi Cantele be interested in being interviewed for exceptionalcanine.com? We are looking for someone with experience snowshoeing with dogs. Thanks.

Submitted by Shelly | March 2 2012 |

This was beautifully written. It painted a picture in my mind that warmed my heart. I was thinking about taking my pooch snowshoeing tomorrow morning...now my mind is set. Thanks for the inspiration.

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