Dog-Gone Cold Riding
In addition to some things you need to remember for yourself, there are a few important things to keep in mind when riding with your furry friend these colder months. There isn’t a lot you need to do that’s out of the ordinary, but I promise it will make things easier for the both of you! As with people, one of the most important spots is the contact point, so:
Make sure you keep the hair on the feet trimmed! With longer hair like this, dogs will have problems with ice and snow building up and making problems. You can buy a fancy pair of clippers to keep everything trimmed, but honestly it’s much easier and cheaper just to use a pair of safety scissors (you’re also less likely to have your dog freaking out about the giant, buzzing metal blades under their paws).
I have also seen people swear that a product called “Musher’s Secret” is a god-send when it comes to snow dogs that can’t/won’t handle boots. I have yet to try it, so I don’t want to offer any commentary on its efficacy. Basically, it’s a waxy goop that you glob onto your dog’s feet before you go outside to keep snow/ice from accumulating, and to keep the salt off the paws. I’m planning on picking some up the next time I buy food, so hopefully I’ll be able to shed a little insight in a month or two!
Can we take a moment here, to reflect on how difficult it is to take pictures of dog feet that look halfway decent? Even Ziggy is looking at me like I’m a creep right now.
The next issue is traction. Now, as any of us that have found patches of ice know, there’s pretty much no sure-fire way to keep yourself from slipping. For most dogs, it probably won’t be too much of an issue. Mine, on the other hand, has the sort of personality where one moment of sliding will lead to a lifelong fear of whatever he slipped on (there are parts of our kitchen he still won’t walk through). If yours is like that, it might be worth dealing with longer nails for the icy season. I’m lucky enough to live somewhere where ice isn’t a huge concern while riding, but I would much rather deal with occasional scratches than a dog terrified of biking with me.
The other option, for both traction and warmth, is a nice pair of dogboots. I haven’t had Ziggy out in his since the summer time (they were originally bought because, after an hour’s ride in Bend, his feet were incredibly sore), but I do know people up here that bought boots explicitly for winter reasons. The ones you can see there definitely aren’t “cold weather” boots (like these, for example, from Ruffwear: http://www.ruffwear.com/Barkn-Boots-Polar-Trex?sc=2&category=11), and I honestly don’t know how they would perform in snow, but they did a great job protecting his feet from the lava rock and hot asphalt, so it’s probably worth considering a pair at the very least. The added advantage of boots is that they will protect your dog’s feet from road surfaces as well – one of the biggest warnings you see in the winter time is about salted roads, and how damaging they can be to your dog’s feet.
The other concern is one of temperature – not all dogs are winter dogs, so don’t expect their coat to be all they need. Pay particular attention if you have a smaller, single-coated breed (Vizsla, for instance). The signs to look out for are pretty much the same as with people: they begin with shivering (which can sometimes be mistaken for the excited quivering that you sometimes get – a good indicator is “full body shake = cold”, but dogs are different so that may not hold true), then usually progress through the typical distress signs**, and wind up at a sort of slow-moving lethargy. You never (Never) want to let them get cold to the point of lethargic, because that’s the “immediately pick that dog up and haul ass to the closest warm/dry place possible” signal, an act that would be quite difficult to do on a bike. My guy has a pretty thick double coat (and between university and my job I’m not really in good enough shape to pull any extreme expeditions), so I don’t have a jacket for him. Most Spitze (Akita, Malimute, Husky, etc) should also handle the cold relatively well, BUT that doesn’t mean you can assume they will be fine! Also remember that the smaller your dog is, the quicker it’s going to get cold, even if you’ve been going hard the whole time!
Stay safe out there, Lifers! Don’t forget that your dog isn’t the snow-borne Timber wolf of days past, and in all likelihood isn’t a sled dog either. That doesn’t mean that you can’t bring them on cold rides, though! Just remember to stay safe, and to keep your animals safe!
**There are quite a few different lists of “distress signals”, primarily because dogs (like people) have various methods of expression. My dog pins his ears like an angry horse when he gets scared, but my parents’ gives the “whale eye” and flops her tongue out. Know your dog, know what they’re telling you. If your dog is new/young enough that you aren’t sure what their signs are, they probably shouldn’t be out on the trails with you.