Winter Walking With Dogs In Snow – Snow Can Hurt!

It’s been really cold here for about 2 weeks and we’ve had snow!  Yippee!  We don’t get a huge amount of snow in this area because it’s coastal.  That normally keeps temperatures up.  But we have snow and I’m very pleased, because it makes the hills look beautiful.  But the boys don’t like having cold feet so much.

I wanted to explain why you need to be careful with your winter walking with dogs in snow.

This weekend my partner Robin was here and we decided to go for a walk in the hills with the dogs.  So we got all kitted out in our cold weather gear (dog coats included) and set off into Eskdale.  Around the coat there was almost no snow, but as we headed inland it got steadily deeper.  Not a problem for the old Landrover, or for us!  Having moved to Cumbria in March I’d never be in anything other than a 4×4 now.

We had planned to do one of my favourite walks which is a circuit of 3 tarns (small lakes) - Blea Tarn, Burnmoor Tarn and Eel Tarn from a village called Boot.  In all about 8 miles in the middle fells with superb views of the really big stuff.  So we set off in bright blue skies and with stunning white coated peaks all around.  We were the first people to walk some of that route since the last snowfall.  Beautiful.

All was going well to begin with, until we got about halfway to Burnmoor Tarn.  As we headed inland towards the hills the snow got deeper and deeper until in places it was about 6 inches deep.  But that wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that the snowfall had been wet snow which had frozen solid overnight.  So the powder snow underneath had an icy crust which we were punching through every time we put a foot down.

This ice started to graze and then cut the dogs’ feet and legs.  Kylah and Arwen were better because they are lighter.  But the boys were scraping their feet and legs on the hard crust with every step.  They started to leave blood spots behind.  So we had to decided not to do the path across the hillside to Eel Tarn, because their poor feet would have been cut to ribbons.  It was disappointing but we had to think of them first. 

Of course our feet and legs were nicely protected by our tough walking boots.  So we’d never even considered that the snow might damage the dogs.

And the snow depth was taking it out of them too.  It takes a lot longer to cover the distance and a lot more effort when you’re raising your feet 6 inches each time.  When we got down to the Boot Inn for a drink, the dogs just flaked on the floor.  I would say they were out cold but actually there was a roaring fire in there so they were out warm instead!

So there are three important points here:

  • I never considered that snow could hurt.  But it does.  When a dog’s feet punch through a hard snow crust into the soft snow below, they are totally unprotected from the sharpness.  All the dogs had numerous small cuts on their feet and legs, which have since healed, but it was a valuable lesson that I won’t forget.  So I won’t be taking them up the hills again in snow unless it’s fresh powder.
  • It always takes a lot longer to cover the ground in snow and a lot more effort.  So only start out for a long walk if you know you can make it in daylight, or have some alternative routes just in case, and
  • make sure that in very cold temperatures, and especially in the hills, your dog is properly kitted out with a warm coat.  The weather can turn nasty quickly and it doesn’t take much for many dogs to get hypothermia in wind and snow.

You can buy dog boots for snowy climates, but in this case I don’t know if they would have gone up high enough to protect the dogs’ legs from the hard snow crust.  I don’t think so.

So be careful when winter walking with your dogs in the snow, and make sure you’re not putting them at risk.  And if you’re not, have fun and enjoy it!

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One Response to “Winter Walking With Dogs In Snow – Snow Can Hurt!”

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