So it turns out Suki loves her boots, unfortunately it took me six years to learn that. I kept them in my pack as a “just in case” item for rough terrain, but after seeing her tear happily through the forest last fall I plan to use them a whole lot more. With the added protection and cushioning of the boots she kicked into high drive and led the charge, and she didn’t hit the wall once. I joked that I was going to have to take the boots away to get her under control!
Among other things boots provide protection from injury, cushioning against rough or hard terrain, and stop ice or dirt from clumping up between toes. I’ve been using boots for Suki off and on since about 2010 and have tried a variety of brands and styles, so here are my suggestions for picking out dog boots. This is just what I do, but feel free to add your own helpful tips in the comments!
1. Don’t pay a lot of money for them, because chances are they’ll get lost before they wear out.
Expensive boots are generally more durable, but they get lost just as easily as the cheap ones (and dog boots tend to fall off easily). Go with the cheap set and use a tube of Shoe Goo for any wear and tear. Losing a boot from a $15 set is much less stressful than losing a boot that cost more than your own.
2. Subtle shades might look better against your dog’s fur (and be less embarrassing for you), but bright colours make it easier to tell if a boot has fallen off.
I made this mistake when I bought a pair of (expensive!) grey boots for Suki. The added weight of the expensive style boot meant they flew off easily when she ran, and the grey colour made it difficult to tell if the boot was actually on Suki’s paw. I ended up spending most walks leaned over so I could keep a close eye on her paws, which takes away from time that could be spent enjoying the scenery (and if you think garish coloured dog boots look silly, trust me when I say this looks doubly ridiculous). Her current boots are bright red, so I can tell even from a distance if they’re on her feet. You’re more likely to notice right away when a brightly coloured boot has fallen off, and the bright shade is less likely to blend into the scenery if it does get lost. Go with bright, noticeable colours to save money on replacement boots and reduce time wasted on searching for lost ones.
3. For longer trips, keep an extra or two on hand.
Remember how I said dog boots fall off easily? You’re going to want a couple extras on hand for when that happens and you can’t find the lost one. This is especially true in snowy, windy conditions. In snow the boots are most likely to get pulled off when your dog lifts his paw out of a track. Add a strong wind to that and the boot will be buried deep in the track before you can find it. For winter trekking take along a few extra sets (this is also where buying the inexpensive sets comes in handy. You can get two or three sets for the price of one expensive set).
4. Go with soft-soled boots.
It’s like the difference between a pair of clunky, unyielding boots and those feather-light running shoes with the sole that can flex completely back on itself. I prefer the “barefoot” style running shoe for myself, and Suki seems to have the same preference. A tough but flexible sole will provide protection against harsh terrain while still allowing for a full range of paw motion.
My least favourite style is the ones shaped like little human boots. I tried a set like that on Suki and found the way the boots kept her back toes pointed skyward when she sat down concerning. They looked extremely uncomfortable, and Suki’s behaviour with them on only further confirmed that they were.
5. No one brand is the best. Try them on your dog before you buy.
A few years ago I picked up an excellent brand of dog boot, but when I got home I found out Suki is right in the middle of two sizes and can’t wear either comfortably. That brand of boot works extremely well for many dogs, but for my dog it was a flop. The best way to get the best boot for your dog is to try a variety on in the store before you buy them. Put the boots on and give them a tug to see if they stay put, check how easily they rotate (boot rotation can cause rub spots, which are nasty to deal with), feel the inside of the boot for pokey or scratchy seams, and if he’s willing get your dog to walk up and down an aisle to see how well the boots move. If it’s his first time wearing boots, the last test might be nearly impossible. If that’s the case don’t worry, the other boot checks should be enough. If you’re still uncertain, ask about their return policy; most places will be okay returning boots as long as they weren’t worn outdoors.
Suki’s current boots are fleece with a textured vinyl sole and toe cap. So far they’re my favourite boots, but I would prefer something more breathable for summer so I’m keeping an eye out for a set of soft mesh boots.
Like all new gear, I introduced boots to Suki by putting them on her and heading out on a short adventure. Initially she kicked up her legs and tore around trying to free herself, but she quickly realized the benefit of wearing them and got used to it (it likely helped that we were halfway through a very cold winter at the time). Because most dogs go through life without boots, they’re accustomed to feeling nothing but air each time they take a step. When a boot is added there is still the feeling like there is something touching the foot, which is why they lift their legs so high and walk awkwardly. They just need some time to get used to always having something touching their feet and to figure out how to walk with that stimulus. People who have hiked with Suki going both barepaw and with boots notice she seems much more comfortable when she has her boots.
And finally, if anyone ever tells you dog boots are stupid tell them all Iditarod dogs are required to be outfitted with them. Anything worn by dogs running the Iditarod cannot possibly be stupid.