It has been said that, "No foot, no dog." And I think too often mushers settle for poor feet and blame it on the dog's foot structure or saying the dog just doesn't have tough feet...forgetting that it's our responsibility to keep our athletes in top condition. It's definitely something I did before I went to Alaska and learned proper foot care. And one thing I've learned is that sleddogs are much tougher than we give them credit for...so it's almost always the musher's fault if things are going well (probably should say...always!).
First of all, I've come to firmly believe what Scott told me whenever this topic came up - "Booties ARE good foot care." This year I found learned my lesson there...
My dogs had great feet through Eagle Cap and training but I made the mistake of not keeping to my plan and letting the dogs go barefoot for the last part of Race to the Sky...and several of the dogs that had not had any foot troubles for over 2000 miles got splits or nicks that could've been prevented. I also wonder if, with such a hard trail, the booties would've kept Mambo from getting sore feet - which had me bag him for the last twenty miles...
So, I definitely believe in booties and using them unless the conditions are such that there is an increased chance of injuries because of booties. Fall training and early snow runs are the time to toughen up feet by using them less, since there's time to heal the nicks and cuts and conditions are so iffy, but once we're training long and hard in December I will put booties on for every run over 30 miles...even for shorter runs if the conditions are abrasive.
In Alaska Aaron used a zinc cream called Ophir Gold. Scott told me this is no longer made, but that he likes pink ointment (a mixture of providine ointment, zinc oxide, triple antibiotic ointment, vitamin E cream and tea tree oil). This is the ointment I used all season with good results. After every run I went over every foot and applied ointment to the dogs with cuts, splits or abrasions. I also had a dog with rain rot and this seemed to clear it up as well (and make him pink!). It also helped with minor cuts the dogs might get on their nose from dipping snow.
Over the season, using booties and the pink ointment, I was able to see wounds heal as we ran, which was very exciting, and none of the dogs ever seemed uncomfortable because of their feet or from wearing booties.
At Eagle Cap the vet told me that for splits straight providine ointment is best because it dries out the split and if you put a good amount on and put the dog in booties, a few applications can heal the splits. You just have to make sure you get the scab out of the way first.
That's pretty much the foot care I do, until I learn how to do it better...the only thing I'd add is that I think nutrition also helps. The Bill Cotter's "Black pills" used in Alaska by a lot of mushers really helps the dogs feet/coat. I couldn't get them down here, but I did supplement with fish oil and I think it made a difference - and I didn't start until late in the season.