On a recent wintery run with my pup River it occured to me that in the past three winters I've been running with my pup, I've learned a lot about how to keep my dog and myself happy and healthy on our winter runs. So I wanted to share what I've learned!
Rule #1: Listen to your dog
I've only ever had River turn away from a run one time and it was about 4 degrees that day. Most days, if dressed appropriately, River is more than happy to get out of the house and get some exercise. So if he doesn't look happy and isn't bounding on ahead of me I know something is wrong. Don't push it. Your dog should be enjoying this as much (or more in River's case) than you. If they don't look like they're having a good time, take them for a quick walk and then let them be a couch potato while you enjoy a solitary run.
Rule #2: Make sure you are equipped first
Don't make the mistake I did in the photo above. Make sure you can stay in control and balanced on your feet when running with your dogs. Wool socks over your shoes (as I am using in the photo) should be a last resort. I highly recommend using traction devices if you think you might encounter ice, especially when running with your dog on a leash. The last thing your dog wants to do is hurt you, so make sure you don't go flying when your pup gets over-excited by a squirrel sighting. I recommend: Icetrekkers Diamond Grip Traction Devices, but YakTrax are also a very popular brand.
Rule #3: Beware of salt!
If you are running anywhere that may have been salted make sure that clean both your dog's paws and your traction devices after each run!!!
I can't stress how important this is for the health of your dog. Ingesting salt can be poisonous to your dog so please always wash their paws!
If possible, avoid areas that have or may have been salted altogether (many times River and I run on the grass instead of the sidewalk during the winter to avoid salt).
You can also coat your pup's paws with Musher's Secret Wax before leaving for your run to help protect their pads, but again, make sure to wash off everything after your run!
This would also be a good time to try some dog booties. Here at Whyld River we are trying to develop some lighter weight booties that will be more comfortable on your pup's paws, but Ruffwear does make some dog booties. If you purchase them through REI you can try them on your pup's paws and return them within a year if they don't work. I've also heard good things about Muttluks, a Canadian brand that specializes in dog booties. This would be a good way to protect your dog's paws if you have to run somewhere where there is a lot of salt. If your dog doesn't do well with the booties and you have to run around a lot of salt, I would suggest bringing your dog less frequently on your runs.
Rule #4: Protect your pup
Keeping your pup warm:
Some dogs are just made for the snow, my dog River on the other hand starts shivering when the temperature drops below 40. If your pup is like mine and deoesn't have thick fur to protect them from the cold I'd highly recommend getting them a fleece. One that River and I have really had good luck with is RC Pets Fleece Pullover. The one he is wearing in the picture is by Gold Paws and can be found here, but it's thinner than the one by RC Pets, so it should be worn for short trips or slightly warmer temperatures.
As my dog likes to bound through the woods on our trail runs I would also recommend a lightweight rain coat to keep the fleece dry if there is thick snow or they are leaping and bounding through the underbrush à la River. Our favorite is the RC Pets Packable Rain Jacket. (Note: Use caution when unsnapping the rain jacket when it is wet, we recently had a snap pull loose from the wet fabric.)
Throughout your run if you notice a change in your pups behavior, make sure they aren't shivering. If they are, it might be time to turn around and warm up!
If you are in more extreme weather or going snowshoeing with your pup we recommend looking into Hurtta's collection of snow gear for your pup.
If you are running somewhere where there is salt, please see Rule #3 recommendations. However, salt is not the only danger to a dog's paws when running in the winter. A dog's pads can crack from the cold and snow can get packed in between their paw pads. I highly recommend using Musher's Secret Wax on your dog's paws before going out in snow or ice. It will help to protect their pads from snow, ice, and even salt (although it is meant more exclusively for snow and ice). This is a great product and a great alternative to booties if your dog does this when you try to make him/her wear dog booties:
(Note: Many dogs do take some time to adjust to their boots, but do just fine... maybe not the pup in this video though ;D... if you are interested in recommendations for dog booties please see Rule #3 in this blog post)
After your run:
Make sure to have towels and a fresh fleece available for your pup after your run. They may be a bit chilled, so it is best to get them dry and warm as quickly as possible.
If you are driving somewhere for your run I highly recommend bringing a towel and an extra fleece with you. On our trail run recently my dog ended up getting pretty chilled after our run so I dried him off, put an extra fleece on him and put him in his DoggyBag. He warmed up in about 5 minutes. Our DoggyBag works great for this because it traps any extra heat your pup is creating and uses it to warm them up quickly! Here's River warming up in the car after our last winter run:
Rule #5: Have a great time!
Wintery weather shouldn't stop you and your pup from having a great time and getting some exercise outdoors! Hopefully these tips helped!
If I've missed anything or if you have any other suggestions, please leave me a note in the comments! I'm always learning and open to feedback!
Also, if you have any suggestions for dog booties as we begin product development - we'd love to talk to you! River and I haven't used them ourselves so if you use them and think there could be improvements, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to leave me a comment or contact me using the form under "Contact Us - Questions and Comments" and let me know what you would like to see change in how dog booties are made.
Hope to hear from you and happy trails!
<3 Rachel & River