Skip to content

Do Your Aussies Get Snow-packed Feet Too?

March 29, 2009

Aussie Feet in the Snow  



I have a question to share……. 


As you know, Wyoming winters can be most inclement. During times of bitter cold and snow, my dogs become house-bound as they truly don’t enjoy it outside – mostly because their feet pack up with snow. I’ve tried everything from trimming off all the hair on their feet, booties (Ha! That lasted about 3 minutes!!!), Pam cooking spray and even Vaseline. Nothing works and the more they try and get the snowballs off their feet, the worse it gets. However, I’ve been constantly amazed during my cross-country skiing days, that other people are out skiing with their dogs – a cornucopia of breeds – and all the other dogs are having a grand ole’ time. But not mine! Every time we would try taking our guys skiing, inevitably we would end up having to get them back to the car. I’ve asked other Aussie friends and they say the same happens with their dogs. So, what is it about Aussie feet that causes this, whereas other breeds don’t seem to be similarly affected?


I’ve studied wolf structure and wolves have very splayed feet so as to equally distribute their weight in snow or frost crust. Otherwise, they would fall through the snow and not be able to hunt and likely starve to death. So, could the issues with Aussies be “cat feet,” which our standard favors? Of interest, I was up at a show/trial in Montana one summer. Rhonda Silvera put on a handling clinic, mostly for Juniors, but some of us older folk attended. Betty Williams came with her daughter, Marsha, who was just beginning her 4-H show career. Betty started off saying that as a cattle rancher breeding only for working dogs, she knew nothing about the show ring or the structures most rewarded there. That began a really fascinating and lively discussion. Rhonda asked Betty a lot of questions about how she chose and/or bred her dogs and what attributes she favored. Betty said she needed a talented working dog but it had to have a structure that would hold up on the trail all day. She could not keep those that needed to come home on a saddle at lunchtime, therefore these dogs didn’t stay nor were they bred. In consequence, she was selectively breeding without really being aware of it. What Rhonda did was actually show Betty that she knew far more than she thought about working dog structure. In this discussion, I asked about feet, as I’ve had this nagging question for years. Betty said she found that her dogs with the tighter feet held up better on the trail than others with more splayed feet. So, we all concluded that this was why “cat feet” were included in out standard. However, it still makes me wonder because a good working dog would also be required to work in snow packed weather, especially in the northern most Western ranching states. So, if it could be that “cat feet” help an Aussie to better withstand a long day on the trail, could it be that this foot structure causes a detriment in winter conditions? Wolves certainly get around efficiently all year long, covering great distances in search of food. I don’t know about the foot structure of other similar breeds, like Border Collies, bred to work the frigid tundras of the Scottish moors. And, I do know that in Wyoming, herding dogs tended flocks all year long – herders often wintered in their sheep wagons under horrendous conditions.


So, do Aussies have a foot structure different from other working herding breeds? And, if so, how does it compare? Should it be a tight foot, good for the trail? Or should it be a more splayed foot more suitable for harsh winter work? Or, does this have nothing to do with foot structure, but rather, something else? I honestly have no idea – but have always wondered why my Aussies are miserable in the snow.


Any Comments, Suggestions or Solutions?


One Comment leave one →
  1. April 10, 2009 6:57 AM

    Hi Darcy,

    I will have to ask our other friend in Wyoming about his dogs. I know they have snow for a very good portion of the year! The Aussie should not have a “cat foot” but rather as my mom’s (Victoria Mistretta) book on The Structure and Movement of the Australian Shepherd in Drawings says “The Aussie has oval shaped compact feet. The toes are well arched and the pads are resilient.” In your article Betty’s comments about the tighter feet holding up on the trail would be consistent with my mom’s experience on the ranch she grew up on in Eastern Oregon. We do have a letter though from my Grandma who wrote to my mom (in the 1940’s) while she was away from her beloved home and first Aussie Tubby. I’d be happy to share a bit of it with you…”I’ll try to write you now. I’m taking it a little easy today. The heel flies are terrible and the cattle so mad. They got to standing in the ditch and muddying the water up so I spent all day Monday getting them rounded up and put them above the high line and fastened the fence back up at the top of the peach orchard, to make it a little harder for them to get back. So late Monday eve Jim Motely comes up to say that Tom was bringing the bulls Tuesday morning and could we have the cattle down close. Well they didn’t come back. Not this time, they scattered all over the darn mountain* and so I rode again all day Tuesday. I think it was about 8:30 when I got the last bunch back, clear over behind Roy Robertson’s. Poor Tubby was sure footsore and weary by night, he was too tired to eat. I left him home on one trip, but then the cattle won’t budge out of the brush. He minds beautifully all I say is “back Tubby” and he gets right at Flaxa’s heels and that’s awfully hard to do when a deer goes sailing by.” *about 200 acres. So even though Tubby had excellent feet and was a working ranch dog after that extreme day of work his feet were sore, not being use to quite that much work every day!

    I’ve enjoyed your blog, excellent article on the Aussie as a guardian.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: