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Hiking with Dogs

05 Jun

Summer is here, which means a good time of year to go hiking with your dog.  One of the best experiences that we can share with our furry friends is taking them on an outdoor adventure!  If you’re properly prepared, the benefits of hiking with your dog are immeasurable.  Hiking can be great therapy for a dog that is exhibiting boredom-based bad behavior at home such as shoe chewing, lawn digging, or gratuitous barking.  Remember, a tired dog is a good dog and hiking is a great exercise for humans as well!  Part of the fun of hiking with your dog is watching them get excited by the new smells and varying terrains.  Another advantage is that hiking is relatively inexpensive and requires little or no experience.

Nonetheless, here are some tips that I found from Dogster, and Washington State Trails websites to keep your dog and yourself as safe as possible while going for a trek in the outdoors…

1. Dog Health- Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date before you hit the trail.  It’s always a good idea to have your veterinarian give your dog a checkup to make sure she’s in good health.  If your dog is not used to long treks, build endurance with shorter hikes before attempting longer, more difficult ones.

2. Find the Right Trail– Make sure your hike is in a park or open space that allows dogs.  National and regional parks are typically more dog-friendly than state parks.  Do your research and familiarize yourself with any restrictions such as which areas of the parks allow dogs, and whether they have to be leashed at all times.  If you’re just starting to hike with your dog, try some easy trails first.  See how your dog does crossing small streams, balancing on bridges and dodging big boulders.  Determine how much water and food is required for a day hike, how well your dog adjusts to a pack and how she fares with elevation gain and mileage.  As you get to know what kind of hiker your dog is, you’ll know what to look out for with the trails you choose.

3. Manners- A well-mannered dog can be a great trail mate, so it’s best if your dog is well trained on the leash before you bring her on a long hike.  Many experienced hikers advise never taking your dog off-leash even if it’s allowed, because too many things can go wrong.  Even the best-trained dogs can ignore voice commands and bound after a squirrel through bushes or shrubs, which can be dangerous to the dog and damaging to sensitive off-trail habitats.

4. Trail Etiquette– As a hiker, you are responsible for your own actions.  As a dog owner, you have an added responsibility, your dog’s actions.  You need to obey the rules specific to the trail that you’re visiting.  You and your dog should also yield the right-of-way to hikers and horses (if you are sharing the trail with them).

5. Wildlife– Always be aware what kind of wildlife is present, particularly if your dog is smaller.  Coyotes will attempt to lure away small dogs so they can be attacked by the pack.  Deer and elk, despite their non aggressive reputations, can cause serious damage by kicking with their back legs.  Rattlesnakes are present in all of the lower 48 states.  Even though they are shy and more afraid of us then we are of them, they can be found almost anywhere, including in lakes and rivers.  It’s best to keep your dog away from piles of dead branches, fallen trees, and grassy areas near creeks, streams, or other water sources.

The chances of encountering a mountain lion are extremely low, but if one happens to be around, your dog can make a tempting meal if it’s running unleashed through the bush.  If bears are in the area, you should absolutely keep your dog on-leash.  The last thing you want is your dog to annoy a bear and then run back to you with the angry bear in hot pursuit.  Other critters you want to avoid are porcupines and skunks, which may not be so dangerous, but can quickly ruin the day’s outing.

6. Dog Backpacks– Packs are a great way for dogs to burn extra energy during a hike and give them a sense of purpose.  Make sure you get the right size because if the doggy backpack is too small or too large, it can cause discomfort and even injury.  Get your dog used to it by letting him wear the empty pack on short walks in the neighborhood.  Younger and healthier working-type dogs can carry up to 25 percent of their body weight. For most dogs, 10 to 15 percent is plenty, which is usually enough for them to bring along their own water and kibble. Consult your vet before taking your dog on a long hike with a full backpack.

7. First Aid– Even for short hikes, it’s a good idea to bring basic first aid supplies like gauze pads, bandage tape, topical disinfectant, tweezers (for ticks and porcupine quills).  Keep your vet or emergency vet’s phone number on speed dial.

8. Hydration– Dogs get dehydrated much faster than humans do, so bring plenty of water and a collapsible bowl.  Many hikers let their dogs drink out of creeks and lakes, but they risk ingesting the giardia parasite, which settles in the small intestine and can wreak havoc on your dog’s system.  If you allow your dog to drink from a creek, purify the water first just to be sure.

9. Elevation– If the trail will take you to higher elevations, ascend at a slow and steady pace and make sure both of you drink plenty of water.  Watch your dog closely for signs of altitude sickness.  If she is panting heavily or slowing down, consider heading back down the trail or at least giving her a long rest.  Dogs want to please their owners and will try to tough it out, so it’s up to us to make sure they are not overdoing it.

10. Poop Bags– Bring them, use them, and pack them out!

11. After the Hike– Thoroughly check your dog for cuts or injuries as well as ticks, which can carry Lyme disease.  Dogs burn energy faster than humans, so keep kibble handy so your happy, trail-weary dog can have a little meal before you head home.

The benefits of living near the mountains are the beautiful hikes that are available to you.  To find trails that allow dogs, your best resource would be to go on your state’s trail website.  There you will find all the information you need about the trail, distance, elevation, location, and whether or not your furry friends are allowed.

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