If You Mush Know: Happy Feet!

This month’s question comes from…..


What does it mean when a musher says a dog has “good feet?” Do only dogs with bad feet wear booties?

Happy Feet

A musher is a coach choosing his or her team and beginning to prepare the dogs to perform at their best. The dogs will be running hundreds of miles as they train in preparation for race competitions like the Iditarod. The dogs will run on different trail conditions, some of which are great for bare feet but some that can cause scrapes. A musher prefers their dogs, the athletes, to have “good feet.” Good feet means they do not need to wear booties all the time.

Experienced distance mushers say good feet start with good nutrition, and proper nail trimming. They prefer tougher pads, like having callous hands versus soft hands. Some mushers find the dogs with black pads and nails have tougher pads. A tighter foot with good hair in its feet tends to keep ice balls from forming between the toes and the pads.

Dogs’ feet are checked to ensure they are “happy feet”. A musher will check each dog’s feet before and after every run looking for small scrapes on the pads or any lesions between the toes. At a race, every dog is carefully checked by the veterinarians looking for any lesions on the pads or between the toes. If there is a lesion it is noted in the Veterinary Log Book for future reference. The dog will wear booties and possibly be treated with an ointment to help the lesion to heal.

Booties are used to protect a dog’s feet. Mushers will decide if dogs with healthy feet need booties every run. Dogs running mainly in training runs or races might wear booties every run as a preventative measure to protect their feet from being scraped up. In areas where the snow is very cold, the dog will not wear the bootie to stay warm but rather because the cold snow can be very abrasive and rough. The snow crystals are very sharp. A bootie will protect and help prevent scraps and sore feet. Like humans wear socks to protect our feet from cuts and blisters, the booties will be a sock for the dogs.

A musher wants his dog team to have happy feet. Nutrition, daily care, and correctly fitted booties will help maintain healthy happy feet.

Lynne’s Team in Booties at the Beargrease photo: Kris Ausland