One of the most rewarding parts of having an Adventure Dog is bringing your canine along to share in the fun. We get great satisfaction of watching our “Bear” enjoy and explore nature which compelled us to do some research on his winter travels with us into the deep freeze of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
So let’s look into what makes our canine friends able to be with us year-round outside. We will begin by looking at the variables that affect how these great animals respond and adapt to the cold and snow.
- Size – Small dogs have their size working against them due to the fact that they have a larger surface area to volume ratio. What this means is that they have more skin in comparison to their internals. Having this ratio causes them to loose heat faster and become colder quicker than a larger dog under the same conditions.
- Weight – This one may seem pretty straight forward…the more treats that our best friend has eaten and not burned off results in more insulation he will have. So unfortunately, the chunky mutt wins this one as they will stay warmer longer than their lean, mean, fighting machine counter parts. BUT DO NOT go and fatten up Fido so he can go winter camping with you….the long term health risks from a dog being overweight far exceeds the positive effects of having your dog at it’s healthy weight.
- Age and Health – Just like us, our age and health condition will determine how long our furry friends will be able to keep their internal furnace pumping out heat to stay safely warm. Very young puppies and old timers will not be able to maintain the proper internal temperatures for as long as healthy dogs in their prime.
- Coat color – On a nice, bright, sunny day, dark colored dogs will soak up plenty of heat energy from the sun and thus, keep them warmer than a lighter colored dog would be.
- Conditioning – Dogs that live their lives with central air in the summer and a nice toasty fireplace in winter will have a much harder time adjusting to extreme temperatures than dogs that spend a great deal of their lives outside. For example, most police dogs, even though they go home with their handlers at night, will have a nice quality kennel in the outdoors. This is to help the dog always be ready, no matter what the current temperatures may be, as he adjusts to the current climate.
Now let’s take a look at what other environment conditions will effect how your dog handles winter, other than just what the thermometer reads
- Wind chill – We all know there is nothing worse than when a cold breeze blows up inside a coat. It pulls the heat right out! The same is true for your dog’s coat; when the wind is blowing and the windchill drops, it pulls the heat out that is being held in the fur coat, allowing the ability to insulate and protect against cold temperatures to be gone in an instant.
- Wet – Another one we all understand too well is the horrible combination of wet and cold. A dog playing in the snow or out in a steady rain which may cause the fur to become soaked which will quickly chill the dog much faster than a dry dog.
- Cloud cover – Just as we explored with coat color, the sun is going to keep your dog much warmer than on a cloudy day.
Now an important part that cannot be skipped. How do we recognize when there is a problem and what to watch for….
Recognize problems: If your pup whines, shivers, seems anxious, slows down, stops moving, or seems weak, get him back inside quickly because those are some of the signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect and may not be fully noticeable until a few days after the damage has been done. If you suspect hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
While you are walking, watch for your dog to start limping as that may be signs of snow or ice build up between the pads or toes. (See picture below) Keeping hair on paws and around pads trimmed closely will also help minimize ice and snow buildup
Along with the knowledge of the factors that are going to affect your Adventure Dog on that cold January hike, let’s explore how we can help a dog stay warm so he is excited to explore and camp.
Walking and Hiking
- Food- or”Fuel” is just that…fuel to keep his internal heater roaring. As long as there is food in his stomach, there is going to be the heat of digestion being created which will rewarm the body along with replacement calories needed for the ones used during activity to keep the heating cycle continuing.
- Clothing-There are some great jackets and sweaters out there that you can put on your pup. This will help keep the wind from blowing the heat out of his fur and cooling the body down faster. Look for non-cotton outer-wear as this will help prevent the negative effects of dampness of cotton.
- Booties- Now this is one that you should not just run to the pet store and pop a pair of boots on your dog and leave. Boots are a great option and really help keep the build-up of snow and ice out from between the paws. These will require practice at home to find the right pair of boots that will fit and stay on your dog As he walks. The time consuming part of this (and the oh-so-funny part) is watching them grow comfortable with wearing them. Since boots are the most unnatural feeling in the world for dogs, they work great but require time and practice.
- Goggles- Here is where our mistake was…Bear handled the cold like a champ but the wind-driven snow turned Turned his poor face into an icicle. This is what made us shorten our day as it looked so painful and uncomfortable for him. Just like buying boots for your dog, there are multiple brands of googles available. (Rex Specs being the professional-grade line.). BUT once again, practice at home is necessary because as much as googles will make him last longer on an adventure, he is not going to feel natural with them on.
Camping / Staying in one location
- Bring a ball or toy that you can throw if you are not going to be traveling for a while so you can help reheat your pup by tossing the ball for a bit to get the blood moving and warm him up throughout.
- As always, just like at home, provide choices because you never know what your dog will need that day or how he will feel. We have had our Adventure Dog all bundled up in a tent as we thought he was cold, only to have him move off his amazing blanket-nest to lay directly on the cold tent floor. We tried to move him back to the blankets (as Gear Dad always knows best) but he gave us nothing but attitude and at over 100 Lbs, he was not moving! (Who is in charge?)
- Set up your dog with a base-camp area either inside or outside the tent But make sure the area provides shelter from the elements. Start with protecting him from the heat that can be lost to the ground. Put down a closed-cell foam mat with an aluminum reflective pad underneath to help reflect the heat back up at the pup. Then on top of those, put down your dog’s bed or other great camping mats now available for Adventure Dogs. Feel free to keep the layers coming and add a down-filled blanket or a synthetic-filled one, (once again staying away from cotton). To cover up your furry friend, Try a wool blanket as they keep cold air out well or whatever your dog likes to curl up in. Just like us, it is all about layering…layers of breathable moisture-wicking materials. Our best friend, Bear, has his own gear tub in our gear room! Inside is his sleep system, harnesses, folding food / water bowls, and coats. How cool is that to have a dog with his own set of gear!
Keep Dogs Dry
- The same goes for a dog as a human…when we start adventuring in the cold environments, wetness becomes dangerous. If your dog charges into a river or just decides to take a plunge into a lake, you have a problem because wetness will certainly lead to cold and freezing, which can then lead to hypothermia. Pack a towel with you so you can dry him off if this happens. (Some puddles just look too good not to roll in.) As much as you trust your faithful companion, if you are traveling or camping near water in freezing tempatures or miles away from a quick exit, we highly recommend keeping your friend on a leash. A wet dog, miles or even hours away from a warm building or car, can become a problem really fast. If you should find yourself with a soaked pup, be prepared to dry him and keep him warm. Bring extra towels, build a warming fire, or pile on the blankets to help keep Fido warm.
Reheat and repeat
- As we mentioned before, a dog’s stomach is his heater as their efficient metabolism does a great job keeping him warm; however, exerting a lot of energy while keeping up with you outside, will leave them feeling cold fast. Make sure in your backpack you pack a freezer bag full of his or her food. (Be sure to stay on his regular feeding schedule and add extra food to account for calories burned for traveling and staying warm.) Also, be sure and pack enough water for your dog to stay hydrated (hydration helps in aiding circulation to get the warm blood to the extremities).
We had a lot of fun researching this topic Since we were not sure how long and how far Bear could travel with us when it was close to zero degrees. We learned from our trip last year that we need to start practicing with quality booties and googles for him since those were the problem areas. His larger size and full, thick, double coat has really kept him warm throughout our adventures. He is really a super Adventure Dog who just loves being far from civilization and exploring with his family. And due to his love and devotion to our family, we felt we owed it to him to keep him safe and comfortable during our extreme adventures.