Just because the temperatures have dipped doesn’t mean outdoor fun is over for the year. On the contrary, you can have just as much if not more outdoor adventure with your dog in the winter as in the summer, the rules just change a little to make winter hiking safe and fun.
Before you go, make sure you have supplies for your dog. When we hike I pack water, dog snacks, dog waste disposal bags, a collapsible bowl, a dog jacket and boots. A hands free leash is also nice.
Just like people, dogs need conditioning before they hit tough trails. Signs of exhaustion and dehydration, like panting, red gums, vomiting, or sitting down and not moving are all clues to rest, rehydrate, and evaluate on whether you need to turn back the hike.
Winter weather protection is very important for dogs with short coats. A shivering dog is too cold - prevent hypothermia by outfitting your dog with a jacket. You can even layer a pack over a jacket. Frostbitten skin looks waxy, white, or leathery - if you notice frostbitten skin, seek veterinary care immediately. Ear tips and webbing between toes is most at risk. Protect your dog’s paws against the elements with rugged boots. Dog boots prevent snow buildup, but another alternative is to rub baby oil on and between the toes and pads.
Even though it is cooler out, it is important to keep your dog cool and hydrated. Since dogs cool off by panting and by sweating through their pads, it is necessary to occasionally remove boots and allow the paws to breathe, even if it is cold outside. You can also check the paws for sores or abrasions when you do this.
During strenuous activity and hikes at altitude, your dog will need extra hydration. If you dog wears a pack, she can carry her own water. On hikes, stop for a snack every 45 minutes - trail mix for you, kibble or treats for your dog.
Hiking during the fall and winter also means hunting season, but even though you will need to take some precautions before you hit the trail, hunting season doesn't mean you have to stay home. First, check the rules for your area. Generally, archery and gun seasons start in October and runs through January, but seasons varies from location to location.
Overall, hunting accidents involving hikers are rare. The single most important precaution you can take during hunting season is to make sure you and your dog are visible by wearing bright colors, preferably orange. Your orange should be visible 360° around your body, from all angles.
You can buy cheap blaze orange vests at any store that sells hiking gear or sporting goods. Blaze orange hats are good too. Around Halloween, a lot of places sell bright orange trash bags that you can use as pack covers. Try to avoid wearing brown or white gloves or socks, which could be mistaken for the flash of a deer's tail.
Dogs should also be outfitted with a blaze orange collar, scarf or vest. If your dog runs around off trail or chases game, keep her on a leash. In fact, you should both stay on the trail; hunting season is not the time for bushwhacking. Most trails are considered safe corridors and hunters should refrain from shooting on or near established footpaths, but still, better safe than sorry.