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Protect those Paws

     My search for the perfect dog boot began several weeks ago, when the first snowstorm of the season blew into town. As I reached for my trail running shoes, my dogs perked right up, did a few stretches, and waited impatiently by the door. I glanced out at the weather, sure that the frozen ground would leave their paws dry and cracked, or the snow would grow into ice balls between the pads, and either way, they’d track a great big mess back into the house. If only my running shoes were made for paws! I’d given up on dog boots years ago, after losing several in snowbanks or fields of tall reeds, but maybe it was time for a look at the newer models  

Here was my quest: to find a reasonably priced set of boots that my dog doesn’t mind wearing, and that is rugged enough to withstand weather extremes and rough terrain. Most importantly, they need to stay on the dog’s feet until I take them off.  

I narrowed my search to two companies, both experts in designing dog products targeted to active, outdoor pups.  From RuffWear.com, we tested the Polar Trex boot and the Grip Trex boots; from UltraPaws.com, we tested the Durable boots and the Rugged boots. We put them through the ringer: slogging along muddy riverbanks, hiking across fields of lava rock, and trekking over snowy hillsides. All the boots are of excellent quality and durability—we wore ourselves out long before any wear showed on most of the boots, and a boot that can stand up to the wild weather and rough terrain of Central Oregon can survive anywhere. I can’t claim to have found one pair to declare the winner, but I did find some interesting results.


The Boots  

Putting boots onto a dog for the first time is much like struggling to get mittens onto a toddler. There’s just enough wiggling and twisting to make it frustrating for all parties involved. It’s worth a few trial runs indoors, where the boots cannot be lost—my dog shook them right off until I learned to get their paws situated correctly, and how tight to strap them in. Both companies size their boots by with width of the dog’s paws, and provide specific instructions on their websites to help customers find the correct size.  

Ultra Paws’ Durable and Rugged boots look very similar, both with two Velcro straps to tighten around the leg, and a rubbery material on the sole and up over the toes. The Durable boot’s sole is more textured and provides a grippier surface; the Rugged boot’s sole is made from recycled tires, and is intended for more serious wear. Otherwise, the two styles seem identical.  

Look inside the Ultra Paws boots and you’ll find soft blocks of foam just around the ankle—they are key to the boots’ success in staying on. When the Velcro straps are tightened, the foam snugs up to the dog’s leg and helps hold the boot in place with more friction than the tough nylon fabric could provide.  

If Ultra Paws’ soles compare to a good all-season tire, Ruff Wear’s soles are like studded tires on a monster truck. Both the Polar Trex and the Grip Trex sport nubby Vibram soles, meant to tackle the most extreme conditions. The downside of that sturdiness is that the Ruff Wear boots are much stiffer and a bit heavier than the Ultra Paws—just enough that the dogs took longer to get used to wearing them.  

The Grip Trek have a low cuff, with one Velcro strap, but the Polar Trex cuff reaches several inches up the dog’s leg. A strap just above the paw stays tight with a buckle, and an elastic cord at the top of the cuff snugs it up to keep out snow and gravel. Of all the boots, I found the Polar Trex the most challenging to put on, and the buckle takes an extra push to close properly.


The Mud

Boot test #1 took place along the ice-crusted shores of a duck pond. To test all four boot styles under the same conditions, I put a different boot on each leg. After a few minutes of spastic prancing in his new boots, Trygve took off after a bird and seemed to completely forget the boots. The high-top Polar Trex soon fell off—I hadn’t fully pushed the buckle closed. Next, he marched right into the pond, the boots fully submerged in mud, and I feared they’d be sucked right into the muck, but every boot stayed on. My favorite thing about this test? At the end of our hike, Trygve’s paws were mostly clean, if a little wet, when he jumped back in the car.


The Rocks

For Boot test #2, we hiked around Mt. Bachelor with two test dogs, Trygve and Shadow. The dogs ran wild through the deep woods, launching over fallen trees and climbing up to where rough lava rock covered the hillside. By this point, the high-top Polar Trex boots had fallen off both dogs—that strap needs to be really tight.  

We took the long way down through the woods—and I learned the hard way that people need to check their dogs’ boots frequently, especially when they are breaking them in. Back at the car, I discovered that the Grip Trek boot had flipped upside down on Trygve’s paw, so he had been running on the nylon upper. In fact, the rocks had worn holes right through the material, which shows how tough this terrain can be on unprotected paws. His paw was fine, but the boot was ruined.  

I also should have checked the Ultra Paws. Just as any new shoes might chafe a person’s foot on the first long hike, the boots were still stiff enough to rub the fur off a few of his toes, and they were red and irritated. After a few more wearings, the Ultra Paws would soften and mold to the shape of his paws, and the fit became more natural.


The Snow

Like any kids, dogs love the first snowfall. We took advantage of the first few inches that fell this year to do our final boot test. We brought along Ziggy, our Schnauzer, who is plagued by ice balls on his paws every winter. Even though they were a bit large for him, the Ultra Paws stayed on with no problem, as did the Polar Trex. In the snow, the high cuff of the Polar Trex served to keep snow from clumping onto the leg fur. Once again, the Grip Trex flipped over on Trygve’s paw, but the other three styles worked very well and he had a grand time playing in the snow.


So…which boot is the best?

Unless the terrain in your area is very rough, Ruff Wear’s Vibram sole and expedition weight may be overkill, and not worth the hefty price tag. If you frequent rocky ground, or serious snow and ice, I’d consider them a worthy investment. The Polar Trex surely wins for longer winters and deeper snow, but take care with keeping that strap buckled down, because these are too expensive to lose one (RuffWear does sell single boots online, just in case.) One of three dogs had trouble with the Grip Trex flipping—they were not a good fit for his paws.  

The Ultra Paws provide a very good boot at a reasonable price. I found no difference in performance or comfort between the Durable and Rugged versions, even with the different materials use for the soles.  The double Velcro strap system worked well to keep the boots on. All the dogs adapted to these boots quickly, but do remember to break them in slowly!  

It’d be hard to go wrong with any of the tested models—the quality is better than in most of the hiking or running shoes in my own closet. Consider the terrain, the depth of snow, and your budget, and you’ll find the boot that will keep your pup running all winter long.