By Dr. Becker
Hiking can be a wonderful activity and also great exercise for dog owners and their canine companions. There’s nothing like a few hours on the trail in the great outdoors to clear your mind and work those leg muscles, and most dogs relish any opportunity to explore the natural world.
Needless to say, both human and canine hikers need to be reasonably fit before setting out. There are also several other precautions you should take to insure you and your furry best friend have an enjoyable outing together. Here are some things to consider before you and your dog hit the trail.
Is my dog physically fit enough for the hike I’m planning?
If you’re not sure whether your dog is in good enough physical condition for a hike, get a second opinion from your veterinarian. If your pet doesn’t normally get much exercise, is overweight, a senior, or has arthritis or another condition that limits his mobility, you’ll want to consider those things before setting off on even a mildly challenging hike.
You certainly don’t want your dog to get hurt, and you need to think about whether you’ll be able to carry him the distance if something happens or he tires out earlier than expected.
Does my dog consistently come when called?
If you’re planning to hike with your pet off-leash, she should be in the habit of coming when called and responding to basic commands. She should also be well-socialized around unfamiliar people and other dogs.
When you’re out in nature and your dog is off-leash, her responsiveness to your commands can literally save her life. It can also prevent her from annoying or scaring other hikers, clashing with another dog on the trail, or sampling a pile of wildlife poop.
If your dog isn’t reliably responsive when you call her or tell her No, or Drop, I recommend she receive some basic obedience training before you let her loose to roam on a hike. In the meantime, keep her on a standard leash attached to a harness. (And even if you plan to hike with your dog off-leash, you should have a leash with you at all times.)
Will my dog do well on-leash if necessary?
If trail signs say all dogs must be leashed, you’re hiking steep or especially rugged terrain or around fast-moving water, or if there’s another compelling reason to keep your dog tethered to you, you’ll want to make sure he’s comfortable on-leash.
Again, you’ll want to use a standard leash (not a retractable leash) attached to a harness, not a collar. If you need to snatch your dog away from the edge of a cliff, or he loses his footing on a steep incline, or he splashes into fast moving current, the tool you’ll need to save him is a standard flat 6-foot leash and a harness. The harness will allow you to lift him if necessary, and it will also prevent a serious neck injury.
While hiking, hold your end of the leash securely, but don’t wrap it around your hand or wrist, especially in areas where your footing is unsure. If heaven forbid your dog takes a tumble, he could pull you down with him, which will put both of you in danger. If your dog falls and injures himself, you want to be able to carry him to safety or if that’s not possible, go for help.
Do I have the appropriate dog hiking gear?
Make sure your dog has an up-to-date ID tag or collar, even if he is also microchipped or tattooed. The fastest way for someone who finds your dog to get him back to you is to call the number on your dog’s ID tag.
Your four-legged hiking companion will need water breaks along the trail, so you’ll want to be prepared with one of those lightweight, collapsible travel bowls or even just a simple plastic container and plenty of fresh water for both of you.
Stop at frequent intervals to offer your dog a drink, and certainly if she’s panting a lot. Keeping her well-hydrated will also prevent her from drinking from a stagnant pond or puddle. Standing water can harbor a wide variety of pathogenic bacteria and parasites, so it’s best to keep your pet a safe distance away.
You’ll also want to pack a few healthy snacks to feed your dog along the way. And don’t forget dog poop bags, especially if you’ll be hiking on heavily traveled trails.
I also recommend packing a small first aid kit with essential emergency items like gauze, scissors, or tape. And don’t forget your cell phone.
Checking your dog over once you’re back home.
No matter where you live or hike, it’s always a good idea when you return from an outdoor adventure to give your dog a careful going over to check for ticks and other pests, foxtails, insect or spider bite marks, scrapes, and other wounds. Pay particular attention to the footpads and between the toes. Also check in, under and around your dog’s ears.
You might also want to give him a foot bath to wash away allergens, dirt, and debris. If you think he might have come in contact with poison oak, ivy, or sumac, it’s a good idea to give him a full bath.
Preparing ahead of time for a hike with your dog will help make your time together in nature safe and more enjoyable. If you’re new to hiking, or your pet is, you may just find that your time on the trail together strengthens the bond you share with your canine companion.