Dog Winter Boots Overview (highly detailed)
One of the questions I get the most is what dog boots I recommend for the winter. The answer is complicated. It depends on the snow you’re on, the temperature, the length of time you are outside, how deep or packed the snow is, and what type of dog you have (dewclaws? energetic? insane? eats boots?). Here’s a highly detailed answer that seeks to lay everything out to help you choose a boot.
Should Dogs Wear Boots in the Snow?
I do not put boots on my dogs unless they need it. Dogs do not need boots in all conditions and I do not pre-emptively put boots on unless I know they will need them. Dogs need to feel the ground underneath their paws in order to navigate their surroundings and boots will make them slip as well as impede on things like climbing stairs, and walking up rocks. Imagine trying to open a can with thick gloves on your hands and not being able to see them as you work. In general, I advise not to put on boots unless your dog shows you they need them, but to carry them with you in case they do. However, there are obvious situations you should put on boots.
- They are injured or healing from injury
- They have a history needing boots in certain situation
How do you know your dog needs boots? Mine will stop running, will lift up their paws, and will be obviously happier with the boots on zooming again once I put them on. Over time, I know that my dogs need them at -10 or lower, and I will bring them in my pack if I think we might reach those conditions (I tend to hike up mountains, so it gets colder as we ascend). Don’t forget the windchill!
Dewclaws/ Small paws
One of the biggest hurdles to booties are dewclaws or if your dog has small paws (in relation to ankles) and the boots slip off easily. Even though my girls do not have these issues, this is the advice I’ve seen works. Dewclaws rub on straps, edges of boots and over time they can bleed and make boots very painful. Some boots have straps in better locations (you need to try them) but even without a strap, the inward pressure on the dewclaw and material rubbing can be painful.
If you notice this happening, use Vet Wrap (any brand will do, same used for humans) which is a self adhesive wrap under and then over the dewclaw. Do not wrap too tightly so it cuts off circulation or too loosely that it will move. It’s to prevent the dewclaw from moving too much. Then either put the boot over it, or use a sock on top.
Socks are another layer of protection for dewclaws, or dogs with paws that are too slim so boots slip off. Either with or without the vet wrap, slide the boot on, and secure with vet wrap or medical tape. Then slip the boots on top. You will need to experiment to see what works best for each circumstance.
Balloon and rubber boots have their uses but not in the backcountry. Balloons actually work well and stay on well but will not survive long on abrasive surfaces like rock. They’re better on small dogs, short works, and when salt is a problem with leashed walks around the block. They’ve been used by my friends’ Chihuahuas and Pugs, dogs that need to be carried after a certain amount of time out. The wellies are thicker and some come lined, but some dogs will not do well with the thicker sole, and the boot will not stay on an off leash dog.
I do not recommend these boots for any long distance off leash running or walking. They’re best for indoors (if your dog is slipping on the floors), for smaller dogs, and those that are just going outside around the block for a potty. They will slip off with movement and are not ideal for snow.
I’m just going to call this type of boot the Classic style. They tend to have a soft material on the top, and a rubber sole on the bottom with a strap around the ankle. No matter what anyone says, they are not waterproof, but they’re ok with packed snow. The ankle strap can be very difficult with dewclaws and if you don’t use a sock, they can have a hard time staying on if your dog runs around off leash. A trick is to twist the boot both ways a little bit (clockwise and anticlockwse about a quarter twist) before tightening the strap.
The Classic style will wear longer than rubber or sock boots. You definitely see your money with the construction of the boot. Cheaper styles will have stitching that rubs against the dog’s paw making blisters. We’ve experienced blisters on the top of the boot, and the sides where the sole meets, as well as the ankle. You also see the pricing difference with the quality of the Velcro.
The downsides to this boot is many. No matter the brand we’ve tried, my dogs will take these off if we go for hours on a backcountry hike. The snow gathers around the opening and warms up with the temperature of the dog. The snow then turns to ice and starts rubbing at the ankles. My own dogs are hairless and the boots we have tried seem to have been made for dogs with thicker ankles so the boots don’t stay on as well. The versions with thicker soles have been the most disliked because with no feeling at the paw, they cannot scramble or climb obstacles. Last, with time our boots have worn down and the materials have peeled away.
Overall, these have their uses and I’ve used them for years. I would recommend duct taping them closed, and to a jacket if it’s possible to keep them on. They’re better for dogs that aren’t running around like crazy and I would select boots with thinner soles and a warranty.
Ruffwear Polar Trex -Thick soles with gaiters. Good idea but Whiskey didn’t like these. She couldn’t feel the ground and the gaiters took up and kept snow inside.
Canine Equipment Ultimate Trail Boots -4 different boots, L/R back sized smaller than front. Discontinued, longer review here. I liked these boots for the thinner soles, easy to put on straps and warranty that my friends had tried. Unfortunately some of the older boots I had purchased had started wearing on the top and the material split disintegrating to pieces. I’m still using whatever is left however.
Hurtta Dog boots – We used these until they broke. The fabric on the middle/center of the heel wore through and made holes. Whiskey didn’t mind these and they stayed on if you pulled the strap tightly and then wove it back through the strap in the front. Otherwise they would come off. A new version is supposed to be coming soon.
This type of boot is what we used on mushing dogs while dogsledding in the Yukon. They’re very cheap, easy to put on and off, and are thin so the dogs can feel the ground. You won’t be too frustrated if you loose a couple of these but they won’t last as the fabric does wear out. These boots are good for packed snow on trails, nothing wet (or they will freeze), when you just want to keep the ice out. They’re also a very easy beginner boot if your dog is fussy about the thick soled ones with thick straps. I’ve been using these more with Bourbon because I can’t trust she won’t lose them but so far, I’ve been able to find the ones she’s “lost”.
I’ve been really liking the Nonstop booties these days. The price is reasonable and they use a higher quality velcro with a bungee that makes putting the boots on easier and tighter. The boots however do let in snow over time with deep powder and then they fill up with snow and fall off. This is normally after several hours running around. The edges also do ice over like the other boots we’ve tried, and you cannot get the boot wet or it will freeze (no running through creeks).
I’ve used the nonstop Protector Bootie as an injury bootie and I love it but it’s also not good with cold weather as it will freeze as well. It’s more protective in damper and warm conditions but I wouldn’t recommend it in the snow. With all these boots, if you can, duct tape them on!
There are all higher up the leg than some of the short Classic boots. This can be better or worse for dogs with dewclaws depending on the location of the straps. It’s better for trails where the dogs need just a bit more length so snow doesn’t fill in, but can be worse if the snow does fill in and collects to make ice balls. Like all the other styles, the quality (and usually price point) does make a difference for sewing and materials used.
The downsides to these boots are they slip down my dogs’ legs. The velcro is never going to hold through all the movement and I haven’t found one with higher quality velcro and many straps. The seams are an edge around the sides of the paw and also rub the paws over time. The snow collects around the rim and will fill into the boot and then freeze when the dog’s body warms the snow into ice. Duct tape can solve most of these issues!
Muttluks– I like Muttluks as an emergency bootie but the straps aren’t great so I duct tape them to Bourbon’s paws. They’re also all the same size so looser fit in general.
Voyager K9 Apparel– the highest boot and better for shorter walks, not major hiking because the fabric is not waterproof.
Great because snow does not stick to Neoprene and even when wet, Neoprene will hold in heat (it’s what wetsuits are made out of to keep people warm in the water). Not great because it’s very thick material and if your dog needs the feel the ground or any kind of technical surface they will probably not like it (Whiskey struggled). With dogs that do not mind a thick sole, these might be a good option.
Neopaws – a huge variety of sizes and orthopedic options, but very thick sole
For snow that’s a bit higher but NOT very deep snow. Gaiters will fill with deep snow if there isn’t a seal on the boots and snow will just fill in and collect with no way out (we’ve experienced this and took them off in deep snow). Otherwise it’s great because you can’t lose the boots. They’re complicated to put on, but I used them on both dogs without issues or complaints. Backcountry Paws seems to be constantly out of stock, but I would recommend them if they were possible to order. Contrary to what you might think, I would recommend them for more packed trails so snow won’t get in, or for dogs that won’t go swimming in deep snow.
If your dog is gathering snowballs or is picking ice off his paws, Wax is a great solution that does not involve losing boots. Trim the hair as much as you can around and under their paws, and apply Musher’s wax (in the car right before you head out). It’s easier to apply the wax when it’s not frozen, and you do not want to get wax on your car, or let your dog lick it off on the ride so just before you run is best. I apply it to my dogs just as a protective layer if I think we are close to their comfortable exposure temperature -5 to -10 in order to increase their ability to run without boots. My girls don’t ball up or collect ice with their silky hair but the wax does help protect their paws slightly.
paw Pup Wax – use after out for a long time or exposure to salt
Musher’s wax -works if your dog isn’t cold but gets ice balls around the long hairs between their paws (first would be to cut them shorter). They also do protect for a couple degrees difference (say if your dog needs boots at -5 degrees this might help make a 4 degree difference) and against salt but it does wear off. It it on right before you get out of the car when it’s slightly warmer as I’ve had a harder time when the wax is frozen.