Feet: Your Dogs Weakest Point.

This is an article that was first published in the January/Febuary 2007 issue of Hundekjøring Magazine. Much of the expert advice within is still just as relevent seven years later. While some things have changed; fleece booties aren’t as common anymore. Some things will always remain the same… Bag balm is still the «duct tape» of the dog repair kit and changing an entire team of dog booties is still, literally, a pain in the neck. 

Side note: Ralph will be competing in Iditarod 2014 as a rookie.  


By: Marte Heilemann. Originally published in HUNDEKJØRING 1/2007. Translated by: Barry Siragusa 

It is always easier to prevent than to repair. This is true for dog feet as well. Dog boooties are available in many materials for every type of trail conditions. For those of you with a more practical nature, who will save a little on expenses, it is absolutely possible to sew them yourself. Cordura, Fleece and even dirt-bike innertube are materials that can be used as dog booties. Thin booties for winter use, made of «secret materials», are available for purchase in huge quantities. Hundekjøring Magazine has gathered information on the protection and care of foot injuries from three different top Mushers. 

Fig 1.


1.Cracks and cuts across the feet. Caused by running on frozen gravel, or corn snow and hard icy conditions. 
2.Infected sore around the nail. Running on hard, icy, conditions and gravel can cause sores that can develop into infections. 

Fig 2.


1Long Distance splits. Caused by long runs on snow. Especially dry, cold snow or very icy corn-snow.
2. Tears and cuts can happen while running on frozen gravel or extremely icy trails. Dogs with naturally poor feet can also get this type of injury early on in Fall Training.
3.Abrasions or Hot Spots. Common wear and tear during fall training. Especially for dogs who go out very hard. 


Fig 3.


1.Homemade dog booties in fleece. 
2.Bootie sewn from a dirt-bike innertube.
3.Thin dog bootie from Bentokronen Equipment

Text continues under pic. 


«The most important thing is prevention and checking feet all the time.»

Name: Hege Ingebrigtsen
Age: 39
Number of years in the sport: I have had huskies since 1981 and competed actively with my dog team since 1989.
Mushing: Sprint, both dryland and snow. 
Dogs: A mix of Vorsther/pointer and husky. Most of them are they are 50% hunting dog and 50% husky. We have 22 dogs in training and 14 puppies in the kennel. 
Accomplishments: 3 x European Champion, 8 x Norwegian Champion, 3 x Nordic Champion, 4 x European cup winner. 1 silver medal in the World CHampionships and 2 silver medals in the European Championships
Goals for season 2006/2007: Become World Champion again
Website: www.funracing.no

An Extremely important part of a sled dog are its feet. In Heges’ opinion, the foundation for good feet is built from good nutrition as well as the material under the dogs feet in the kennel. Even if everything is perfect, when training is going full blast, feet need help staying good and healthy.

The most important thing for Hege is to prevent injuries that she nows from experience will come. When fall training starts, after a few training trips, there will be abrasions forming on the front of the pads on each of the dogs toes. It is usually the back feet on Hege’s dogs where these abrasions start as it is the point where the foot contacts the ground when the dog pushes off with that leg and is where the most wear and tear happens on very hard training surfaces.   

To prevent these abrasions, Hege uses dirt bike innertube booties. These are the only booties that can last over several training trips on gravel and still protect the feet. Innertube booties Hege makes herself from dirtbike innertube that she has bought in the right dimension. Hege take a normal dog bootie with her when she goes to buy innertube and uses it to measure the correct diameter. She cuts the innertube in bootie length pieces, and sews one end closed using a normal sewing machine. Where the bootie will be attached to the foot, Hege sews on velcro and cuts slits near the top of the bootie to thread the velcro through on both sides of the bootie. This makes it so that the bootie is attached firmly around the foot.  

Hege rarely uses any ointments on the feet at this point in training but, rather, works towards prevention of injuries. If Hege does use ointment, she advises that an ointment with tanning oil is best as it will promote skin growth on the pads so they become thicker and stronger. There is a Tanning Oil spray available at Cold Spot Feeds that is called Cani Sport.

When the snow comes the innertube booties no longer work well as they become slippery when in contact with snow. Hege then transitions to thin cloth winter booties. These booties are easy to use and last reasonably well on good snow conditions. Hege buys winter booties from Cold Spot Feeds. She uses cloth booties when it is very cold or if there is a lot of new snow on the ground to prevent what is called in Norway «long distance splits» (see fig.2:1).  These are long abrasions that look like cuts in the skin between the dogs toes and are very painful for the dog. If a dog develops long distance splits, Hege uses Streptolin bag balm that is available at the local feed store. She also puts a bootie on the affected foot to protect the pad during training. Hege ads that the more often you apply ointment to the foot the quicker it will heal. 

Hege’s dogs usually dont have the problem that the hair between their toes ices up, but she still applies bag balm before training as a preventative. It is important that the foot salv used does not contain water as it will freeze.

Text continues under pic.


«Booties take the most time»

Name: Ralph Johanessen 
Age: 47
Years in the sport: I Got my first Vorsther in 1971
Mushing: Long distance, open class. 
Dogs: About 30 alaskan huskies in training
Accomplishments: Many podium finishes in Femundløpet, 2. place in Finnmarksløpet 2003 and 2004.
Goals for season 2006/2007: Run as well as possible in Finnmarksløpet

During fall training Ralph uses very few booties, but he trys to train on forgiving training surfaces and avoids frozen gravel. If a dog does need booties, Ralph uses two doubled-up booties from Dogbooties.com. In long distance it makes sense to prevent foot problems. All dogs get booties while training on snow. If the trails are very good and the snow conditions are right the dogs can train without booties. If training in the open with no trail, on icy conditions or with cold temperatures, all of the dogs need to train with booties. 

Long distance splits are the main thing you want to avoid. Ralph points out that very wet conditions like overflow can also cause long distance splits and that booties are then needed to protect the feet.  

Ralph points out how important it is that the dog booties are not fastened to tight, as the dogs feet can swell and in worst case develop a cronich inflamation from running with booties that are to tight. However, when running in very loose snow, the booties have to be a little tighter than normal to prevent them from falling off. 

A trick for checking for infections in the feet that you can’t directly see, is to check the lymph nodes next to the shoulder on each side of the dog. Infections in the right foot will cause swelling on the right lymph node. Infections happen most often when it is warm and wet, so it is important to be especially aware of the feet when running in warm wet conditions.

It is important to stop often while running to check feet for snow/ice build-up in the bootie and to replace booties that have fallen off while running. Equally important is to remove ice from the upper edge of the bootie to avoid sores. Toe nails should be cut short to avoid wearing through the booties. 

Ralph always runs with booties during a race and always applies something like bag balm to the feet. Bag balm, in addition to making the skin soft and pliable and preventing dryness, also acts as a bacteria preventative. Zinc oitment can also be used for long distance splits. Bootying an open class long distance team is a time consuming chore, at a checkpoint it is normal to start getting the dogs ready an hour before you plan to leave and most of that time is spent bootying.  

The first chore when arriving in a checkpoint is to take off the booties. Later on in the race when the dogs are tired, it’s easiest to remove booties while they are lying down, but this usually means that the mushers is bent over the dogs. It is therfore important to bend with your knees to avoid straining your back. This is especially impotant for long distance mushers, as big amounts of time go to taking off and putting on booties. Another important thing for
making your job easier in the future is to remember to work with your puppies feet so they are use to having their feet touched.

There are 10 checkpoints in Finnmarksløpet. You need new booties for an average of 10 dogs every checkpoint which means that 400 dog booties are used. That’s in addition to the ones you have had to replace on the trail. If you factor that in with all of the booties used during training, it is easy to see why booties are such a big part of a long distance mushers budget.   


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«Be deliberate about training surfaces.»

Name: Yngve Hoel
Age: 27
Years in the sport: 12
Mushing: Skijoring
Dogs: Spiro, Victor, Tarzan and My. All are a mix of Vorsther/pointer/greyhound. 
Accomplishments: 5 x World Champion, 4 x European Champion, 5 x Norwegian Champion.
Goals for season 2006/2007: Gold in WC’s and EC’s

To prevent foot injuries Yngve keeps an eye on the dogs feet the entire year. The faster you find splits and abrasions, the easier it is to do something about them. In addition, he tries to find good training conditions. The transition period between fall and winter can be especially frustrating with dryland, ice and snow all at the same time. During this period, Yngve tries to train where the trail surface won’t wear down the dogs feet. If you find good snow or good dirt then there is no problem. However, if -for example- the gravel on a dirt road is frozen than the feet really get worn down.   

If the conditions are poor, use booties on the dogs. While dryland (spring, summer, and fall) training Yngve uses mostly cordura booties. During the winter fleece booties work as long as it is dry and the snow conditions are good. If it is wet during the winter, Yngve uses cordura booties again. 

To treat foot injuries Yngve uses bag balm or zinc ointment. If a split develops in the foot, He tries to remove the dead dry skin. This, combined with the use of salve, helps the splits/sores heal faster.   


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