A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post in which I mentioned that I was considering getting a set of hiking boots for my trail buddy, Coco the chocolate lab. I had noticed that on longer hikes the pads of her feet pads got sore to the point where se was reluctant to keep going and we'd have to rest up.
Don't get me wrong, she's a totally trooper and would have kept going if I had pushed her, but I don't like to and it's always nice to stop and take in some scenery.
I've been scouring the web and local outdoor stores looking at the various doggy boot options that are available on the market. After a lot of research, some hands on testing, and advise from several very knowledgeable dog owners that are also well respected hikers, I settled on the Ruff Wear Bark'n Boots Grip Trex as Coco's hiking footwear of choice.
The first thing I had to do was to measure Coco's paws to make sure I got the right size. Doggy boot sizing is based on the width of your dog's paws and not how large they are. Fortunately the online sizing chart and instructions at BackCountry K-9 made this very easy. Coco on the other hand didn't want to play along, she wanted to make it as much fun as possible. She thinks she's funny.
When the boots arrived I opened them up expecting to see some goofy looking dog gear, but to my surprise these things are as well made as any trail shoes that I own. It's amazing how technical dog footwear has become. For example; the Bark'n Boots have an air-mesh upper that is breathable and will drain water in bad weather. The boots also have a genuine Vibram high-grip soles for stability and traction. They'll definitely provide great traction with comfortable paw protection which is why I wanted to have Coco give them a try.
The boots are fairly easy to put on, if you dog is in a co-operative mood. Coco is a great dog with a lot of patience from being around my two young kids, so she knows how to stand still and do as she is told. The boots have a Velcro grip cuff that opens up very wide to making them easy to put on and cinches securely around the ankle to hold them in place.
On the advice from Jason at BackCountryK9, I had Coco try the boots on indoors just in case they were not the right size and I might have to return/exchange them. What happened next about made me wet my pants. Coco was high stepping around the house like nothing I had ever seen before. I'm sure she would be terribly embarrassed if she knew that I was sharing this video, but it's too good not to show you.
Apparently this is perfectly normal and expected behavior. The feel of wearing the boots for the first time is totally unnatural to dogs and it freaks them out a little. It may look cruel but trust me it isn't and I would never do anything bad to my trail buddy. After about 5 minutes of the Monty Python ministry for silly walks skit, she got used to them and was fine.
You may have noticed that one of her boots came off in the video. Her rear left boot to be precise, more on that later. At this point I assumed it was owner error in putting them on and that I would have to snag them up better next time.
On the Trail
The next day I took Coco out on a nearby, gentle trail to put the Brak'n Boot through a more strenuous test. To my surprise she was excited to see me take the boots out of the bag and put them on her. This time I took much more care in putting them on her paws and making sure they were cinched around her ankles properly without being too tight. She went through her inital "high-stepping" routine again for about 30 seconds this time and then gave me a look like "okay I can get used to this". Then we were off!
Like most Labs, Coco loves to chase balls. So I thought the quickest way to get her mind off the boots and focused on moving was to play a few rounds of fetch with her favorite tennis ball. Almost immediately as I threw the ball she went bounding off to fetch it without a care in the world - the boots weren't an issue. I was pleased to see that she had gottent used to the fell of them so quickly. To be fair she really didn't have a chance of not running in them, when a ball is throw it HAS to be retrieved - ha!
We played a few more games of fetch with her ball and allowed her the usual pleasure of being of her leash and sniffing out all the delightful scnets of the outdoors. When she came close to me I noticed that the boot on her hind left paw was twisted upside down (remember the video?). I fixed it and made sure it was tightened properly. However, 5 minutes later I noticed the same thing, that one boot was upside down. This time I swapped it out with one of the other boots thinking it was possibly defective and we continue on.
Not much further along the trail I noticed the same hind paw had a boot on upside down, even after I has swapped the boots around. I was pretty sure it wasn't the boots at this point, but concerned that my dog had a defective leg! I removed all four boots so that we could finish off the trail unimpeded, but made a note to contact Jason to ask him what he thought might be wrong.
Jason responded to my email within hours with a very unusual (to me) response. He asked me to measure Coco's hind left paw to see if it was smaller than her other paws. According to Jason, a sure indication of bad fitting dog boots is that they turn around like the one paw had done on Coco, and it's not at all uncommon for dog to have some paws smaller than the others. This was news to me.
I measured Coco's paws again, this time much more carefully. Jason was right! Her left hind paw is a full half inch narrower than her front paws (2.5" compared to 3") and her hind right paw is a quarter of an inch narrower (2.75"). So it definitely wasn't the fault of the product or the dog, it was an owner error in measuring Coco's paw widths accurately enough. In fact the doggy boot sizing chart has quarter inch increments so it vitally important to make sure you get the right size for you dogs paws. The size (width) is measure with you dog putting a full load on their paw on a hard surface.
Some new, smaller sized Bark'n Boots are on the way for Coco and as soon as I get them we'll both be back out on the trail to see if they make a difference.
Disclosure: BackCountryK9.com provided Brian's Backpacking Blog with a complementary set of Ruff Wear Bark'n Boots to review.
Brian is a Charlotte based backpacker, gear junkie, runner, and CrossFit(er). Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 20 years, finally settling in North Carolina. He spends as much time backpacking as his busy work schedule and family life will allow.