How Do You Know When Your Dog is Cold?

This morning we woke up to single digit temperatures in Central Oregon. For those of us with dogs in our lives, winter means the enjoyment of cold weather adventures. When the temperatures really start to drop, winter also brings on many questions. Questions like, “How do I know when my dog is cold? At what point should I consider using boots to protect my four legged friends paws? Does my dog need a jacket?”

Snowy Cascades

We asked those same questions to our pack here at Ruffwear to see what this seasoned group of cold weather enthusiasts could share. The first thing that became clear to us is that all dogs are very different. Some breeds and mixes do better in the cold weather, while others need a little extra attention and care. That seems pretty common sense right?! The key is to know your dog well enough to know when they are giving you signs that they are uncomfortable.

Our goal is to make products that allow you to extend your adventures year round – and to make sure that you are doing so safely and comfortably.

Here are some thoughts from the Ruffwear Pack:

LindseyKaya is always stoked to be in the snow, so it’s pretty easy to gauge her comfort level…

Kaya Rippin PowderKaya Rippin PowderHuge grin and staying right on our tails = happy and comfortable.

No smile, sitting or laying down in the snow while we are on the move, or lagging behind probably means she is tired, cold, has snowballs on her fur, or all of the above. In that case, I’ll assess the situation and see how I can help.

If she is tired, I’ll make sure there is a good, packed down track for her to follow in the snow and encourage her to use it.
If she is cold, I’ll either put a Cloud Chaser on her (also good for preventing snowballs!) or lay something on the snow for her to rest on.
If she has snowballs, that means I didn’t plan well enough… Prevention is key. The Cloud Chaser works well to keep the snowballs from building up on her belly and armpits. If I know the moisture content of the snow is high and likely to ball up on her fur, I’ll spray Pam or something similar on her. The snowballs just slide off! But be prepared to wash the dog soon thereafter… The oils can go rancid!

Patrick - How can you tell when your dog is cold?Mavis
Mavis show signs that she is cold by putting her tail between her legs, hunched shoulders, lifting paws and shivering. Gordo tucks his nose under his tail when sleeping but he has been sleeping outside in 4 degree Fahrenheit.

- At what point do you consider using boots?

For balling, we watch for snow packing or balling between the paw pads that cause irritation or pain. This typically happens when the water content of the snow and outdoor temperature reaches a crux. It seems to be a function of dew point and can happen with warmer and colder temperatures. As we travel to different locations the snow conditions change drastically, Sierra Cement vs. Wasatch powder, so being prepared and reading clues from your dog while being aware of changing conditions allow us to maximize our days on varying conditions. Ice slab, sun crust and deep powder all present different challenges. Ice slab can frost bite and cause pads to crack, sun crust can be crystalized and abrasive for paws, deep powder balls up and causes irritation and bleeding paws between the toes.

- How do you extend your adventures with confidence that your four-legged companion is comfortable and having fun?

I believe as we spend time with our four legged friends we become aware of subtle indicators. The way our dogs carry themselves combined with their activity level, all are actions that help me to read their comfort and motivation. Making sure the activity level and comfort continue to be fun and engaging is based on continuous observation. We are only as fast as our slowest trail companion.

Lauren – We use boots when it’s under 20 degrees.  I don’t want his feet to ‘burn’ or stick to the icy ground.

MADDIEVince – The Grip Trex boots come out when Seppi does the cold ground dance. He lifts his feet up one at a time off the ground showing obvious signs of discomfort. He has very short hair and is thankful for a coat when we are in between activities. Our Australian Shepherd, Maddie, tends to get snowballs in between her paw pads – which are very painful. She constantly stops to try to chew out from between her toes. She gets boots for really long snow outings.

We would also love to hear from you!

How do you know when your dog is cold? What signs do they give you that let you know they are getting uncomfortable?

8 comments

  1. Anyone have any info about shorthair dogs or use this gear with their shorthair? Our dog is 3 and a mutt – but vet’s best guess a boxer/shepherd/terrierish mix so he has a really short coat. He loves backpacking, canoeing, swimming, anything outside. We have the Cloud Chaser and use it – but I noticed on a spring backpacking trip this year when it dipped into the mid 30′s he was shivering at night in the tent sleeping between us and ended up in the toe of my sleeping bag. Then early this winter on a walk outside when we stopped for a bit to enjoy the scenery at an overlook he was shivering after about 15 minutes (maybe mid 30′s). Not sure if we should have him in different gear – but he is a trooper and we love taking him everywhere. Not sure what the best solution for him is.

    1. Hi Karen,
      Thanks for reading our blog and asking for advice. If the temps drop to a point where event the Cloud Chaser is not warm enough, you may want to think about adding the Quinzee (http://bit.ly/13hz14t) as an insulated layer over the top of the Cloud Chaser. Think of it as the same type of layering system a human would use when heading out into the backcountry. Another laying system could be the fleece Climate Changer (http://bit.ly/ULSgly) underneath the Cloud Chaser. Just a few thoughts for ya! Thanks for paying attention to your dog and making sure they are comfortable and enjoying your outings!
      Happy Adventures!

  2. I let my Aussiedoodle’s hair grow long starting early in the fall, so cold has yet to be an issue – he’s comfortable and chipper in the coldest weather we’ve exposed him to, while the rest of the family is trying to keep their hands from going numb. He definitely needs boots, though, to protect him from snowballs and from the highly over-salted sidewalks of my area. I use the boots if the snow is heavy and clingy.

  3. I have an English Springer too. Regardless of the weather, he will want to swim -and will find a fast flow river to do so. So our main concern is to make sure he is warm even when he has been in water. We bought a neoprene wet suit designed for gun dog types (since Springers have a very thin coat) He LOVES it. Despite being wet, his body is lovely and warm. He has also learned that when he is wearing it, his body is more protected, so he tends to run through wilder bracken and bushes – so we now have 3 suits in different states of wear and tear!
    For his paws, he’s not keen on boots – but I find that regularly waxing his paws means that they are well moisturised and that’s enough protection for most outings. If it’s a major walk in deep snow and low temps, I will put ruff wear boots on him.

  4. Katie, my springer spaniel, tells me when she wants her jacket/sweater. I don’t put it on her for short walks (an hour or less) but long hikes I bring it with me. She will just try to sit solely on my boots and look at me when she wants her jacket. As for boots, she loves them. Anytime we are out in the snow for anything other than a potty break, they go on. She has learned that we don ‘t have to stop as often if she has the boots on for her to get ice out from in between her toes. The only time I put a jacket on her without her telling me is after she takes an icy plunge into the creek. Nothing stops her from swimming, not even ice and snow. The ruff wear life jacket is a huge deal for her now, we wear it year round!

    1. Thanks for sharing Carrie! We know a few of those all weather swimmers!

  5. I have a red nosed pitbull. He has a plethora of your gear as his a pretty svelte little furkid. When we take him outside we use his ears to judge how warm and comfortable he is. Cold ears = jacket time.
    In his regular trail jacket is the cloud chaser. For extra warmth he gets the overcoat on top of it. So far we play it by ear with his boots. So far he’s not a fan of the boots coming down snowy hills (grip).
    Thanks Ruffwear for making great practical gear. It’s allowed Memphis to come on a variety of trips where most people would leave their furkids at home.

    1. Thank you Jeremy for taking your furkid with you on your adventures!

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