Protecting canine feet in the field
There is no substitute for a tough-footed dog, but sometimes in rough country or hard conditions you have to do the next-best thing—and that’s use dog boots. Living in the rocky, arid part of the West, my setters have fairly tough feet. But there are some places, particularly on extended trips, that are just hard on dogs.
Monster sand burrs in Kansas, lava rock in Nevada, and the rough, spiny expanse of the Southwest can chew up a dog’s feet. This is especially true if a dog is used to milder footing. If I’m headed out for a multi-day hunt, I always pack a few pairs of dog boots, because a footsore bird dog can really sour a long-anticipated trip. Booting your dog can salvage a hunt, though you need to do so at the first sign of—or even before—any problems.
Using boots takes practice, and while some dogs tolerate boots better than others, pretty much any dog will forget about the boots when it’s time to hunt. Some dogs don’t mind boots at all, while others will chew them if they’re crated with the boots on. If you have a big-running dog, you will lose boots from time to time, especially as you learn to secure them properly. If you’re concerned about lava rock or abrasions, often you can boot just a dog’s front paws. For thorns and sand burrs, it’s usually best to boot all four feet.
Dog boots require preparation and are more things to lose in the field, but when conditions are tough, they can keep your dog healthy and running.
We tested four pairs of boots, putting them through their paces in South Texas and Idaho.
Lewis Dog Boots are the standard by which other upland dog boots are judged. These are heavy-duty rubber boots designed specifically for hunting dogs and tough conditions. Because of the design, you want to measure your dog’s feet carefully. Also, it’s important to note that the Lewis design does not have any Velcro straps or other attachment method and requires both vet wrap and duct tape to secure the boots. While it takes longer to get dogs booted, Lewis boots stay on and you will lose fewer of them. More importantly, Lewis boots do a great job of protecting the tops and bottoms of your dog’s feet from pads to toes.
Sizes: M through XL.
Price: $48 for four boots.
Grip Trex boots have Vibram soles and were the easiest boots to put on of the test group. A single Velcro strap holds the boots on and in our testing did a good job of sticking to the dog’s feet. If I were using the boots in tall grass or on a big-running dog, I might want to put a couple of wraps of tape on for added security. The boot soles are robust and did a great job protecting against stickers and ground hazards. The boot tops are a breathable mesh that does not do as well against thorns, so these boots would not be my first choice in the thorny Southwest.
Colors: Red Currant, Blue Spring, and Obsidian.
Sizes: paw widths 1½" through 3¼".
Price: $37.50 for two boots (so you can order different sizes front and back).
Blaze Cross Dog Shoes have a heavy-duty rubber sole with a grippy tread pattern and good protection at the front of the toes. We liked that the design utilizes two fasteners, using both a Velcro cinch and an adjustable stretch cord to secure the boots at the top. These boots went on easily and stayed on reasonably well. In some hunting conditions I’d opt for a little tape for added security. The heavy rubber soles are excellent at keeping stickers and burrs at bay, though the tops of the boots are a nylon mesh that is lighter duty but still offers some protection from cactus and other thorns.
Sizes: XXS through XL.
Price: $70 for four boots.
The Ultra Paws Rugged Dog Boots were the lightest of all the boots, and we really liked the fastening system, which includes foam blocks inside the boots beneath two Velcro straps. The foam helps the boots stick to the dog’s feet, and the straps keep them latched on reliably. An athletic dog might benefit from a wrap or two of duct tape to prevent boot loss. The soles and tops of the boots are thermoplastic over nylon and not up to hard use against basalt and thorns. That said, for close-working dogs, for protecting an injured foot or for light-duty use, these are very user friendly and stay on really well.
Colors: Black, Orange and Red.
Sizes: S through XL.
Price: starting at $38 for four boots.
Greg McReynolds works in wildlife conservation for Trout Unlimited. He writes for a variety of magazines and blogs at mouthfulloffeathers.com.