Do Dogs Need Shoes for Hiking?
Arguably the most important piece of gear any hiker or backpacker can purchase is a good pair of hiking boots. But what about your four-legged companion? Do dogs need shoes for hiking?
In general, most dogs do not need shoes (or dog booties) for hiking.
Their paw pads are naturally quite tough and their nails give them purchase on slick surfaces. I’ve noticed my dog Barley slips more often when he’s wearing booties, even grippy ones made for hiking! Some Search and Rescue dog handlers that I know also swear that having your dog wear booties reduces the dog’s ability to feel the ground, potentially resulting in more injuries.
Barley doesn’t even own booties anymore. That said, there are a few instances where booties are a good idea for your dog:
- If you’re hiking on particularly treacherous terrain or around a lot of cacti. Your dog might still spike himself in the ankles, and a big piece of glass can pierce a bootie. But booties certainly can help on dangerous trails.
- If your dog has soft paws or an injury. Dogs need to build up the toughness of their paw pads, just like rock climbers need to build up hand calluses. When I first brought Barley home from the shelter, he kept cutting his paws. I got him booties and paw salve and slowly eased him into hiking and running. Now his paws are tough as nails!
On snow and ice. Many mushers run their dogs barefoot – so it can be done. But some dogs prefer wearing booties when they’re out on ice and snow. Barley wears booties on our long skis (over 10 kilometers) but runs barefoot otherwise. I do really like that booties prevent ice balls from forming between your dog’s toes, which can be quite painful!
- Your dog’s internal body temperature is a lot warmer than yours. This, combined with tough tissues in the paw, mean your dog can actually handle temperatures as cold as -35*C without too much trouble!
- On hot pavement. Ok, sure, this isn’t about hiking. But hot asphalt is a serious issue for urban dogs! It’s best to just walk your dog on grass or during cooler parts of the day. If you have to head out onto burning asphalt, protect your dog’s paws with some good dog boots.
Again, in general, most dogs don’t need shoes for hiking.
If you do decide to get shoes or boots for your dog for hiking, be sure to get high-quality booties that fit really well.
When Barley and I were testing out booties, we probably went through four or five sets (and kept losing one or two from each set) before we found a set that we liked.
Most adventurers like Ruffwear’s booties, but Barley thought they were way too stiff. He had a hard time walking in them, especially on sharp rocks where it’s helpful to be able to splay toes and rotate ankles freely.
Kong makes some booties with a cool closure system – they wrap up the ankle. However, after just 6 miles of hiking in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Barley wore holes in 3 of his 4 Kong booties.
We tried a few cheaper booties, just to see if anything worked. None of them did.
We finally found a pair of soft, tough, nondescript blue booties in the donation bin at the shelter. I have no idea what brand they are – but they’re tough nylon on the outside, soft felt on the inside. They’ve got a simple velcro closure and are very pliable. I think they’re quite similar to the Ultra Paws booties.
I usually keep the booties in my backpack (or better, Barley’s dog backpack) just in case we need them!
Most of the time, though, I just dip Barley’s paws in a bit of Musher’s Secret, keep an eye out for injuries and hazards, and we don’t worry too much about it!