Snowshoeing With Malamutes And Other Dogs - What Tips And Gear Do You Need?
Snowshoeing With Malamutes
I have snowshoed before but absolutely nothing compares with the fun I had recently taking our 2 malamutes out on their first-ever snowshoe trip! It was wonderful! It was beautiful! It was totally exhilarating! It was completely and utterly one of the best experiences I have ever had! Can you tell I'm a little excited? Totally !!!
Since Griffin is a wee laddie yet (only 6 months old), he cannot pull any significant weight as his growth plates are still closing and all that. We have been working him diligently on urban mushing commands as I like to call them. He can walk behind the scooter and we can direct him and Denaya but he cannot pull anything or anyone yet. But it turns out that the training seems to have paid off - or maybe it is just that he is a 'natural' as Denaya is. They take to pulling like ducks to water and with just the minimum of effort and consistent training, I'm thinking that there are some awesome sports for people who own malamutes that they can do....even if they are not spring chickens.
We checked in at REI to make sure about what areas we could snowshoe in but more importantly, what areas around us that we could snowshoe in with dogs. That is super important because if you take dogs into certain wilderness areas, it becomes a risk not only for the dogs but also for humans. The forestry service knows its stuff and I would never argue with them or break any rules on the off-chance that I would be dead wrong and something were to happen - either to us or to our dogs. In some areas, you cannot even take your dog out of the car, so it is always my first consideration to check the viability of an area for dogs and especially large arctic dogs. The last thing I want on a potentially enjoyable outing with my dogs is a nightmare in the making.
We had purchased snowshoes recently because we have been looking for a sport that is not so hard on the knees and that was pretty portable or adaptable - even if we get a fair amount of snow here where we live, it would take nothing at all to strap on the shoes and go for a 'jaunt'. I had done it a couple of times previously and found it to be great exercise. The idea of being able to incorporate the dogs into it was a great bonus and I was very anxious to see if it would work. To my delight, it not only worked, but it turned out to be absolutely inspiring.
We drove to a sno park that was probably 1-1/2 hours away. There were other parks and we will have to check them out another day now that we are 'hooked'. Since we spend so much time in Bend though, it really was not that much additional drive time - probably 20-30 minutes for recreation and exercise past our normal driving to shop.
We made sure that we had supplies and took every precaution to make sure that our day would be as enjoyable as possible - for us as well as our canine friends. We had snow gear already from our previous experience but for the novice, will list that further down. We made sure that we had every possible piece of equipment to ensure that we stayed dry and warm. We also made sure that we had food for ourselves and for the dogs and of course water. We also had a pack so that we could carry any necessary supplies, a cell phone, ID, etc. We also brought leashes and our special pulling harnesses that we have for the dogs that fit them and are comfortable - these are specific to mushing and are lined. We donned our snow boots, caps, gloves, coats and snow pants complete with thermals underneath and we were set!
What A Blast!
Picture this! It was a beautifully sunny day - mid to upper 30s and the snow was just right. Not too frozen and though not terribly powdery, it was still beautiful out. We proceeded to get the dogs out and harness them up. As if sensing they were in for a particularly wonderful time for THEM for once, they were eager but quiet.
Once we had all our gear on and them placed into their harnesses, we grabbed up our pack and headed off to start the trails. My daughter and her husband were visiting so they were with us and it made for the most wonderful time walking the trails with them meanwhile training our 2 malamutes on their first-ever snow-included mushing trip! They seemed oblivious to anything but doing what they were meant to do and proceeded to just be model citizens. They applied themselves to the harness without any encouragement at all and we just pretty much stood back and tromped along for the ride.
If you watch the video of us mushing along, even though we are going relatively slowly, you can see their breed 'in action' in a very precise way; the way that they muscle into the harness and 'dig' to cover ground even when they do not have anything attached to them. It is a natural maneuver for them. When we would stop for a bit to readjust something or just take a breather, Denaya especially would be pointed down the trail most often and at 'attention' because she had no desire other than to keep moving down the trail. We walked for hours and they never tired. Not even little Griffin!
Griffin was a bit more distractible on the trail as he explored the world around him but he was easily directed back to the trail and if you notice him in the video, he is bearing down much as his sister and seemed to get the 'flavor' of the exercise about 99%. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and we all enjoyed watching them both enjoy something so much. We never had a moment of panic or a bad experience in the whole outing which is saying something. Usually in my humble experience with mals, there is always something that will go wrong. I did step on Bob's snowshoe at one point in my fumbling with the video camera, and he went down with finesse. Like a chain reaction, Griffin spooked a bit and yanked me, which in turn made me fall on top of Bob - but all was well. Saved the camera and that is why the video abruptly ends! Even that did not create any lasting effect to our experience and we went on again enjoying the time.
Bob and I turned back before our daughter and son-in-law did, and they ended up taking the 2 dogs on further miles of trail and then cutting through the woods and deep snow to get back on the main trail. The dogs loved it! Once in the harness, they seemed to realize that they were supposed to be 'working' and work they did. They were pleasantly tired I think at the end of our adventure but not overly so and seemed extremely content with the whole experience. I did see a little chipmunk on our trek back alone and wondered if that would have proven a problem for the dogs if they had spied it but even that, I feel pretty confident that we could have directed their attention to the task at hand and steered them onward. We did have some snowmobiles pass us a few times and that was not a problem so feel pretty good about the fact that they were able to concentrate on just mushing and not behaving badly!
POINTS TO REMEMBER
All in all, I had one of the most wonderful experiences ever and it included several of my favorite things - family, my dogs, exercise and nature! What a great way to spend a day and except for the cost of the gas and a few minor additional costs, it was relatively inexpensive and so very rewarding. I will always remember our perfect day and hope to recreate many more.
Some tips to remember if you decide to attempt snowshoeing with your dog:
- Check out what area you will be going to and make sure that it is an area that accepts dogs
- Check out the weather report and/or snow conditions the day of before you head out
- Make sure you have trained your dog to the commands that you will be using and that they can respond appropriately
- Make sure you have appropriate snow gear - for you AND your dog - booties if needed
- If the snow is frozen or it is going to be a particularly long and arduous trek, you may need to put booties on your dog's feet. Check your dog's paws to make sure that ice balls are not sticking between their pads and if they are, that is when booties would be needed/suggested. They can tolerate the snow even under poor conditions but it may result in cuts and bruises to their feet in hard or glass-like snow conditions
- Make sure you have extra food for snacks, meals, or emergencies in your pack
- Make sure you have water for both you and your dog
- Make sure you have food for your dog and snacks because any harnessing activity burns a lot of calories - but they should not eat large amounts 1 hour before heavy exercise or 1 hour after heavy exercise
- Make sure you have appropriate winter gear - hat, gloves, goggles if snowing. Socks and gloves should be appropriate to snow and ice and fit comfortably, be waterproof. Gaiters over boots help keep snow out of your boots. Appropriate coat and snow pants are vital as nothing is worse than getting wet and having to trek with wet clothes on
- Make sure you have appropriate boots for use with snowshoes
- Carry a pack or a fanny pack with ID, some money, trail map, cell phone, keys and any other small necessities. A compass is also handy and a whistle is never a bad idea. Pen, pencil and notepad are also good things to include and a lighter or waterproof matches
- Make sure dog harnesses are comfortable and preferably padded
- Dressing in layers really helps in the event that you overheat and need to dress down but it helps to have somewhere to attach your pieces of equipment. Our snowshoes came with walking poles but it seemed rather cumbersome to use those while mushing the dogs so they were left behind
- Time your outing so that you are not approaching dark when you are coming to the end of your adventure but just in case, carrying a small flashlight would be a good idea. We just made sure that we went out at midday and returned shortly before dusk
- I would personally stay to trails that are fairly well traveled just in case you needed help and park in areas where there are always other trekkers to make sure you are visibly not present should something happen on the trail. That increases the likelihood of getting help if you should not return to your car in a timely manner
- Carrying a small blanket or tarp in your pack is also handy in case you want to sit down and rest - for you and for the dog as well to stay dry or have a snack/water
- Dogs can carry packs as well with supplies in them - just adjust around harnesses
- You can use a chin strap and a towline if you are snowshoeing more than 1 dog so that they do not fan out and will stay close together - neck and neck. If you are only snowshoeing with 1 dog each, it is not such an issue but if you have more than 1 dog, a chin strap and 1 main line and several offshoot towlines work better
- Dogs eat snow because they are thirsty and it is not a bad practice though having water at the ready for them periodically is advisable
- Camera and/or video cam to capture those divine moments
My Next Venture
My next thought is to try cross country skiing with the malamutes although I only want to manage one on a line since that would involve a bit of speed and I would like to check it out but without the reality of being run into a tree! This sport is called skijoring and I will put together more information on that particular canine sport soon! There is also sledding and many small framed sleds that you can easily teach malamutes or other dogs to pull. The important thing is training beforehand and as long as they know the basic commands (most notably WHOA), you can exercise your dogs while having the time of your life and enjoying exercise right along with them.
This is a wonderful time of year if you happen to love snow as I do - and am looking forward to many more wonderful days spent out of doors and with the mals!
Another Snow Possibility
Five For Fighting Video - Griffin Is So On It!
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