Summer hikes have always been one of my family’s favorite activities to share together. Escaping into the cool recesses of a mountain forest is pure joy for all of us, but especially for our dogs, who have always joined us on these adventures. Our Shelties delighted in chasing deer and rabbits through the wooded hills behind our quarters at Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. The lopsided hang of their tongues and their crazy doggie grins spoke volumes. Can you imagine the simple joy of running through the woods for a dog? Time with their favorite people, running free, catching the scent of new and unfamiliar animals…pure doggy bliss!
The company of our dogs on our summer wilderness adventures, however, does require preparation, planning, and training in order to be a truly safe and enjoyable activity. Making sure that Fido is healthy and fit enough to participate in your journey should be first and foremost in your mind. If Fido is spends his day lounging on the couch and finds the idea of chasing the squirrels away from his yard too much effort, he is most likely unprepared to hike the wilds with you. Prepare for your hike by taking shorter walks through your neighborhood or nearby parks, gradually lengthening your walks over a period of weeks. Games of fetch and chase also build stamina and muscle tone which will help Fido be at his best for your longer summer adventures.
To further ensure Fido’s health on his hiking expedition, be sure to check his paws—are his nails short enough to trot and run on uneven terrain comfortably? Are his paw pads healthy? Paw pads help provide both traction and shock absorption for your pooch. They should be free of redness, irritation, and cracks. Help prepare Fido’s paws by trimming the excess hair which grows over the pads and in between the toes of the coated breeds. If you see signs of redness or irritation, treat Fido to a paw spa by applying a specially formulated paw moisturizer for several weeks before your hike. If your pooch is tender-footed, consider acclimating him to boots to further protect his feet.
Have a plan to keep Fido free of unwanted hitchhikers—fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. I am cautious for both myself and my dogs with the use of insecticides, so my dogs receive garlic supplements, Bug-Off by Springtime Inc (www.springtimeinc.com), during the spring and summer months. I also choose natural flea and tick products whenever possible. Products containing citronella, rosemary, and wormwood can be found in pet boutiques, health stores, and some lawn and garden stores.
One of the best things about hiking with your pooches is letting them lighten your load! Dog backpacks allow your pets to carry their own supplies. Healthy, fit dogs can carry up to 25% of their body weight in a well-fitted dog backpack. Check the fit of the backpack by measuring around your dog’s girth—the area behind his elbows, circling his chest. Most backpacks are sized according to that girth measurement. Train your dog to carry his pack on short walks, gradually adding to his load. After your walks, check Fido for signs of chaffing or irritation and make adjustments to the pack as needed.
What supplies should Fido carry? Water bowls, water, food or snacks, toys, and a first aid kit. Hydration is important for humans and dogs alike. Don’t depend on letting Fido drink from streams, ponds, lakes, or rivers—carry your own supply. Water from outdoor sources may contain parasites or contaminants which could make Fido sick. On long hikes, plan on bringing snacks for Fido—either an extra provision of his regular food, or perhaps a doggy energy bar, found at specialty dog food stores or internet sources such as Clean Run, www.cleanrun.com. A pet first aid kit is an absolute essential—even the best trails can have unexpected hazards. Consider taking a pet CPR and First Aid class so that you will be ready for anything. These classes are often available through local Red Cross offices. Pet Tech certifies instructors in pet first aid and CPR as well. Visit their website, http://www.pettech.net, to find an instructor near you.
What other equipment will you need to hike with Fido? I like my dogs to wear regular buckle collars with current ID attached—check into permanent ID, micro-chipping, if you plan to be a frequent hiker. Choke collars and prong collars pose a danger—if the collar catches on a branch, your dog’s airway could be dangerously constricted. I love hands-free waist leashes for hiking because they leave my hands free to hold a water bottle, camera, or to just help balance myself. They also allow me the security of knowing that I cannot accidentally drop the leash. My favorite waist leash is by Sarah Kalnajs of Blue Dog Training, www.bluedogtraining.com. The leash is made of quality material, has several different length adjustments, and has not one but two connection points for the leash. In hot summer months, cooling collars can also be a comfort to our dogs—check Clean Run for some of the latest summer gear available.
Is Fido well-trained? At a minimum, Fido should walk well on a loose leash and have an absolutely wonderful recall back to you—even if the rabbits and deer are beckoning him forward! I like to teach my dogs to return to me by a whistle. The sound of the whistle carries much farther than a human voice, so if the worst happens and Fido flies off after unseen prey in the woods, he will hear the sound of the whistle much farther away than he will your voice. Also, a whistle is small and convenient to carry—a good piece of safety equipment for a hiker to have on hand for emergencies anyway. Pam Dennison has a wonderful video on teaching a whistle recall—look for it on Amazon or Dogwise, www.dogwise.com. Also, many trainers now offer short obedience classes focusing only on teaching a reliable recall—check with trainers in your area to see what they may be offering. A good resource for finding trainers near you is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, www.ccpdt.org
Finally, be sure that Fido is welcome on the trail you have chosen. Today, not all trails and hikes are Fido friendly, such as parts of the Appalachian Trail. Call ahead or research on the internet, especially if your planned hike is out of the area. If Fido is welcome, be sure to use good trail etiquette. Many trails that allow dogs require Fido to be on-leash at all times. I usually keep my dogs on-leash just to be safe. However, be courteous to trail-fellows by keeping Fido from rushing up to other hikers, or chasing bicyclists. Even in the woods, pick-up after your dog—either bring baggies (biodegradable would be great!), or plan to bury Fido’s offering off the trail.
Now, off you go! Plan a hike with your favorite pooch today--take a camera and a care-free attitude and plan to make some wonderful memories! And be sure comment back here to tell us about some of your adventures!