Good paws or a long pause in training...
Ben at Oatfield Huskies the Snowpaw Store Sponsored Sleddog Team explains the importance of Paw Care for every dog owner and how they look after their teams paws throughout the seasons out in Sweden.
From Cani-X in the park, To the Iditarod in Alaska, Every musher or canine team leader knows or should know one of the most important responsibilities of your dog is paw care!
Here at Oatfield huskies in Swedish Lapland paw care is an absolute vital part of looking after our dogs. This knowledge comes from learning different information from kennels we’ve handled at, along with our own experiences. Every musher’s opinions & techniques will differ. Here is an explanation on how we keep our dogs paws in the best possible condition. From summer relaxing, autumn training through to winter racing.
A starting point for a healthy dog is a healthy diet. This comes into play for dogs paws just as much as any other part of its body & mental health. A good source of high quality protein is needed along with a good balance of omega fatty acids to keep those paws in great shape. One thing we have noted from working at different kennels with different feeding programs is that in general the dogs that take a lower protein/fat diet intake through the lazy summer months can often start the autumn training with softer or more injury likely feet than the dogs that have been kept on more high energy diets. We’ve noted this when buying dogs & from our own dogs that have a slightly different diet.
The fur on sled dogs feet grows pretty fast! This fur quickly becomes a burden to them out on trail. The snow collects in the long fur in between the dogs pads & up to their toes. This soon creates small ‘’snowballs’’ or ice balls that become not only uncomfortable to the dogs but can also cause swellings or cuts in-between the webbing on the toes.
You could compare this build-up of snow & ice, to imagine running yourself wearing wellington boots with small stones inside! Ouch right?! To prevent this discomfort we maintain the fur by keeping it cut short. We do this not only throughout winter but also autumn dryland training to keep out clay, mud & sand build ups etc. we also keep this practise up throughout the summer months whilst keeping their nails & pads in check. It is also great for the young dogs & puppies to learn the way of life procedures inside a long distance sleddog kennel.
Let’s Nail It!
Although I was around dogs for as long as I can remember, the first real important lessons on nail care came in 2008 whilst working at Axehandle Mountain as a guide. There were almost 100 Siberian huskies to take care of at that time & nails were a priority! Scary task for an amateur but the more happy paws I got through the easier the job was. Learning to hold the ‘’racing snakes’’ in the correct positions was somewhat more in need of college degree rather than the nail trimming itself! (Naomi has one of these from her grooming qualification, so probably learned in a slightly more conventional way.) However I think we team up pretty evenly these days!
The more people I meet with dogs the more I seem to notice the tendency of shying away from taking it on themselves to cut their dogs nails. In all truths with the correct guidance this can easily be accomplished with minimal fuss & by all rights less stress for your faithful companion! So from previous experience turning me into an absolute nail enthusiast I became obsessed with giving my dogs the best pedicures possible. From experience on running the dogs more on different surfaces I soon learned that actually I was sometimes doing too much. We started training more distance on different grounds, sand, gravel swamps, rough dense forest, and ice & of course snow. Now any of these terrains in shorter distances are not too much of a problem to a well-travelled & trained sleddog or dryland companion’s paws. But as the distance & training continues the wear on the paws becomes very apparent. So for example we still every 2 weeks check & trim every dogs nails that need trimming. In the winter with lots of running across different ice & snow terrains the nails generally keep pretty short by themselves but do need maintenance of course.
The summer they grow like wild fire & are certainly ready to be taken down on every second week but!!! We got it wrong at first with the increased distance late fall training, as soon as we started with 30/40 km dryland we noticed bleeding nails… we had kept the nails trimmed so short that the extra work was wearing through to the quick (the live part that grows inside the nail) so we rested for a few days, applied boots & learned the necessity of leaving a little extra nail cushioning for the dryland training!
This being said the consequence of leaving nails to grow too long can be pretty bad. Long nails can have a negative impact on the shoulders & wrists causing injury. Nails can also break, split or even tear off if too long. On the other hand (or paw) if you leave the nails for too long between clipping the quick can become too long inside of the nail which creates the impossible chance of cutting the nail back without causing unnecessary pain. If we, very rarely, have a situation with a split nail we trim it back as much as possible then keep it clean & wrapped. If of course at any stage you think a nail looks out of your hands then please visit a veterinarian.
Keep those nails nailed guys!!
Pads are the most important or the part of the paw that we pay the most attention to. We take from our experiences that pads or cushions on our dog’s paws differ in different situations from dog to dog. Lets start with the kennel environment. All of our kennels here have treated wooden floors. We have heard from many other reputable mushers that wood floors lead to soft feet on sleddogs. Fortunately we are yet to witness this. All of our dogs free run together twice per day no matter if they’ve been out on the trail or not. It’s good for them to socialise in their group & stretch off before or after a run. The play yard is made up of sand & stone so maybe this is the help that keeps the pads a little used to different materials underfoot. One thing we do know is that we start training the dogs in autumn with no boots as we have a relatively sandy trail. We almost never have any pad injuries at this stage of training.
As winter starts to show us a glimmer of its presence we begin to put boots on all the dogs. The ice within the sand soon becomes sharp & cuts through even the best of boots after just a few runs. The boots in long distance training are the second most expensive part of the whole season only beaten by the dog food! So a good quality boot for the best interest of the dogs & value for money is undoubtedly the Non-Stop Dogwear Long distance boot, we have honestly tried almost every boot we can & the quality or resistance on these boots are unbeatable in our opinion!
With the dogs tackling longer distance it’s inevitable that boots can start to rub, this is why you’ll notice that the first thing that all mushers do at any break in training or checkpoint in racing is immediately remove boots to let the dogs paws relax (you throw your shoes off straight after a long day at work right?) it’s no different for the dogs! Or is it? As soon as the dogs boots are being taken off we are inspecting our dog’s feet, yes a real close inspection for any soreness cuts or lacerations.
The dogs pads are moisturised thoroughly & treated more vigorously at home if needed, this is a twice or more Dailey routine. On competitions the dogs feet are also checked by a vet at every checkpoint to ensure they are at the best possible health that they can be. We use products such as mushers secret, pad wax & winter pad to keep our besties firing on all fours!
Back to your home conditions
It’s well noted that dogs that live or are kennelled on gravel tend to have tougher feet than dogs that live on sand or treated wood like we have here at oatfield huskies, We have also noticed that whilst this is in most part true, we agree that the pads seem to be dryer on these dogs & still can require more frequent moisturising. however all dogs are different, with the right mix of free running frequently on different surfaces & training on a lot of different terrains with added continues foot creams & an eye to detail on each individual dog we feel our small but ever growing future long distance kennel is heading in the right direction with our passion for paws & our attitude that these dogs will live, work & absolutely thrive in our ambition to take our team mates as far as we can go. That mission starts for us on 24/03/22 at the Beaver trap trail in the north of Sweden where we will take on the 250km race & our final destination will be Kiruna for the Tobacco trail 12/04/22 with the help of Snowpawstore, Oatfield huskies will have some waggy tailed dogs waiting ready for their foot massages throughout the summer back home.
Have questions about Paw Care or Long Distance Racing comment below and we can answer any questions you may have.