Winterize Your Draft Dog

While many folks put their dog carts away for the winter, if you have a Newfoundland or a northern breed, then this is the best time for draft work. Unlike horses, dogs don’t have sweat glands on their body, making the coated breeds perfect for cold weather work.

In winter your dog can pull you on skis (skijoring) and tow a sled or toboggan; he can also carry packs to help with the load when hiking in the snow. While carts with their bigger wheels can still be used in many snow situations, wagons are very limited. However as revealed in the last column (September/October 2008), the big toboggans known as ice fishing sleds can now have a wagon conversion kit attached making them fully functional for a draft dog. Since that column came out, my son, Allan, who makes wagon conversion kits as part of his outfitting business, has now developed a professional bracket to secure the conversion kit; he was not impressed by his mechanically challenged Dad’s simple use of two U-bolts.

Just like you winterize your motor vehicle, you can and should winterize your draft dog. Equivalent to putting winter tires on your car, is leaving the nails untrimmed, especially on the rear feet. In fact, to prevent slipping on ice and hard packed snow, I recommend that the rear nails be left uncut for all dogs; anything to help prevent cruciate ligament injuries.

A big problem in certain wet snow conditions is the formation of ice balls in the feet. Such balls are a major problem when they form under the webbing. This is most uncomfortable, like having a stone in your shoe. Most dogs will stop and try to lick or chew the offending piece of hard snow; however when harnessed this is not appropriate making prevention most important. Mushers often use boots for their dogs, also protecting the paws from jagged ice surfaces. They may also use a special wax for the purpose. Those of us who are less sophisticated can use petroleum jelly on the underside of the pads. At a minimum you should trim the fur on the bottom of the feet, but only to the level, leaving the fur between the pads for warmth.

Ear trimming which is done on Newfs, should be modified for the cold season. While the outside flap can be kept neat, the hair should be left fairly long to provide warmth and prevent freezing of the ear tips. Under the ear flap can be thinned as in the summertime.

To minimize shedding and matting, many people have turned to cutting blades such as the Mars King and Furminator; however such tools should be only used minimally in winter as they can remove too much undercoat thereby depriving the dog of much needed insulation for the body.

Here’s hoping you and your draft dog don’t hibernate this winter.

Peter Maniate is a Newfoundland dog breeder and a professional trainer specializing in dog carting. Since 1979 he has been writing a bi-monthly column in the Newf News entitled Carting Corner. The preceding column originally appeared in the November/December, 2008 issue. Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.