Know Your Dog's Fitness Level and Abilities
Obviously, if you've got a Husky, St. Bernard, Pyrenees Mountain dog or some other breed that's got snow-caked DNA, you're good to go (as long as your pet is fit). But no matter the breed, assess Princess' fitness level and choose a route best suited to her. If you're unsure, start out on short excursions to see how she fares. Remember that romping through the snow is more physically demanding on her than it is on you. The good news is that later on, back at home, she'll spend the entire evening snoozing by the fire, content and wiped out from your shared adventure.
Your Dog Must Be Under Your Control
If Spot's the naughty type and never listens to you, he stays at home until you've done some more training or enrolled both of you in an obedience class. You can leash him to your body on cross-country skis (skijoring: it's cross-country skiing meets dog-sledding and working dogs love it) and you can snowshoe with a leash, but if you're on a trail that doesn't require you to leash—or if you're just out in the wilderness—it's more fun to see Spot run, experiencing all that a white winter has to offer.
So make sure he responds to his name, comes when he's called, heels, halts and doesn't go after every single animal he comes across (including and especially other dogs).
Pick Up After Your Pet
Especially if you're on a public trail system. No one wants to get poop all over their skis or snowshoes. Practice dog etiquette.
Take Care of the Paws
Snow and ice can get stuck between the pads and chafe, cut, freeze or cause loss of traction. Keep nails cut short and the fur between the toes trimmed (but not too short). Different kinds of dog booties and even snowshoes are also available for paw-protection. If you go without booties, check paws frequently during your outing.
And when you get home, let your pup's paws defrost in the warmth of the indoors. You can even buy some dog paw salve and apply it to his or her pads before bed to heal cracks or dryness. Or purchase "musher wax" (designed for sled-dogs) to apply before your jaunt to prevent snow clumps.
Monitor Your Dog's Health During Your Excursion
No matter what age she is, keep an eye out for frostbite or hypothermia. Telltale signs are shivering, lethargy, slower breathing, loss of coordination or dilated pupils. You can even dress her in a dog coat if she's got short hair or is more susceptible to getting cold than other dogs.
Doggie bags, foldable water bowls (your dog can also eat snow when she's thirsty but you whould have unfrozen water anyway), treats and some kibble to refuel always come in handy. If you're going on a big excursion, a first aid kit and extra supplies in case of unforeseen incidents are a good idea. You can also bring a mat for your dog to sit on when you take breaks so that she doesn't get wet and cold while you're resting.
Be Ultra-Aware of Hunting Season Rules
If hunting is allowed where you and Rex plan to romp, know all the rules, regulations, dress him in a hunter-orange vest and make lots of noise wherever you go. You never want to deal with worst-case scenarios.
Christina Scannapiego is the Outdoors editor for Active.com.