Activity, outdoors, fresh air – hiking is a perfect way to bring you and your dog closer together. Few activities will inspire dogs who like to explore the wilderness with their best friend. However, it’s not as easy as just packing up your furry buddy and going on the trails. Preparation and proper tools are necessary to ensure that you, your dog and your fellow hikers enjoy a safe, responsible and rewarding hike. Here are some suggestions to make the best of your dog-friendly trail day.
Prepare your dog physically
Just like you, your dog needs to be in shape to make a hike. First, all puppies younger than one year should probably be left at home. The demanding nature of hiking – uneven paths, steep inclines, long stretches – is often too much for their young bodies. In some cases, walking can even permanently damage the puppies’ developing bones and joints. For adults: Weight, age and breed should all be considered. Older or overweight dogs are obviously not the best candidates for migration. Push-nosed and smaller dogs also have more problems walking than other breeds (although they often excel in shorter, easier walks).
Fortunately, it is not difficult to train your dog for hiking. In fact, the process is similar to preparing people for hiking. Training should start with small walks and slowly move on to higher mileage and more difficult terrain. The goal is to build your dog’s stamina and tighten the paw pads. If you see your dog licking his paws, panting excessively, limping behind, or putting his tail in, you should stop, rest and give your dog some water and a snack. These are signs of an exhausted dog. With proper and patient physical exercise, your dog should be ready for his first hike in a few weeks.
Train your dog for obedience
When hiking with man’s best friend, basic obedience is crucial. Well-trained dogs are simply much less prone to injuring themselves or others on the way. “Sitting”, “staying”, “coming”, “heels” and “leaving” are all essential. If your dog is not familiar with these commands and is thoroughly socialized with humans and other dogs, he is not yet ready to walk. Wild animals, other walkers, other dogs, poisonous mushrooms and berry paths are full of potential pitfalls that could endanger both you and your pet if they are not properly trained. Aggressive, noisy and overly protective dogs are not good candidates for hiking either.
Explore the Way
Before you choose a trail for yourself and your furry buddy, it’s best to do some research. Some areas and trails require permits or have other strict regulations for dogs (e.g. most national parks do not permit any dogs on trails). Waste disposal, leashing, breed restrictions – all trails have at least some rules. To save yourself a nice and really short day on the trail, it’s best to know what the rules are before you start a hike.
It is advisable for your puppy to look for paths that are dog-friendly. Softer paths – leaves or soil covered, free of particularly rough or sharp surfaces – will help prevent injuries to the usual paw pads. Also, best are paths with unusually steep inclines, ladders, sections and those that are heavily used by bicycles or horses.
Consider the weather
Before you set off on a hike, you should check the weather. Cold weather, unless it is far below freezing, can usually be solved with the right gear dog booties, dog vests, coats or sweaters. However, hot weather poses a greater health risk to your pet.
High heat and humidity, in particular, can cause breathing and moisture problems in canine teeth. Strong wheezing, increased salivation, a bright red tongue, and general weakness are signs of a tired and possibly dehydrated dog (if you spot, stop, rest and immediately wet one of them). Remember to take a break and drink water every 15 to 30 minutes. Use your judgment: if it’s too hot, postpone the hike to another day or look for a shaded, less challenging path instead.
Follow the etiquette of the trail
While laws and regulations vary from trail to trail, there are general rules of conduct that apply to every hike. For safety and fun for you, your pet, other dogs and other hikers, please follow these guidelines:
Give right of way to hikers without dogs. Be sure to say hello and be friendly so that your dog knows that these people are not a danger.
Whether on a leash or not, always keep your dog in view and under control.
Maintain a 1:1 ratio of dogs to humans. If you walk alone, simply bring one dog friend after the other with you.
Leave the trail as you found it and clean up after both you and your pet as you walk. Dog waste should be cleared out of the way with your rucksack or buried about eight inches underground, somewhere far from water sources.
Keep your dog informed and prevent him from disturbing the wildlife. Many plants, for example, are sensitive and cannot survive to trample. Of course, this also helps to protect your dog, as he won’t encounter dangerous animals and harmful plant species such as poison ivy.
Do a post-hike check
After a long hike, it’s easy to just rub yourself off and drive home. For your dog’s safety, however, it is important to perform a post-hike check once your adventure is complete. If you are stroking your puppy through the whole coat, check for drills and other needle-shaped, vegetable, lifelike foxtails and cacti. Also check for ticks, fleas and other biting insects that may have found their way into your dog’s coat. Be sure to inspect all areas of your pet, especially hard-to-reach areas such as between the toes and under the armpits. Finally, check your dog’s paw pads for severe cracks or other injuries.