One of the joys of having a companion dog in your life is taking him with you on outdoor excursions. Hiking is both good exercise and a bonding experience for you and your dog. Before you set off on your outdoor adventure with your canine buddy, think about the things you can do to make it an enjoyable experience for both of you.
Firstly, take an honest look at your pal. What kind of shape is he in? If your dog doesn’t get regular exercise, a ten-mile hike is going to be stressful. If he’s a bit overweight, start out slowly and gradually increase his daily walk until you feel he has built up some endurance. Walking and hiking are wonderful ways to keep your dog fit both physically and mentally. He should be leash broken; most hiking trails mandate that pets must be kept on a leash at all times. It is important that the dog’s collar carry a tag with your contact information in case he slips away from you. Some people find that a harness is better than a collar for hiking. Experiment with both and use the one that suits your pet best. Losing your dog in a wilderness area is a nightmare and many pets are never found.
A hike with your dog will be much more enjoyable if he has had some obedience training. Obedience training increases the amount of control you have over your pet, it increases the bond between you, and strengthens the communication between pet owner and canine. Hiking is much more fun if your dog trusts and obeys you. Obedience training also protects your dog; for example, if a skunk or snake confronts your dog, it will be easier to take him out of the danger zone if he is trained to come. Also, excessive barking is no more welcome on the trail or in a campsite than it is in your neighborhood. Ultimately, you are responsible for your dog’s misbehavior.
Are your dog’s inoculations current and up to date? Is he taking heartworm prevention medication? Hiking with your pet will likely expose him to fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other potentially harmful insects. Heartworm is spread through mosquito bites and it is very important that your dog be protected against this potentially lethal disease year round. Examine his coat and skin for parasites during rest stops. Pay particular attention to his feet as thorns and burrs can bury themselves in between the dog’s toes. Remember that dogs can suffer from heatstroke and sunburn. Not only can their skin sunburn, their noses can suffer from sunburn as well. Ask your veterinarian about sun block for your pet.
It’s a good idea to take along a small pack of supplies just for your dog. This should include a spare leash, comb and/or brush, food and water dishes, water, kibble, and a small first aid kit. Some dogs are large enough and strong enough to carry their own packs. Look for specialty packs at your local stores and online. A dog can carry roughly a third of his own weight without a problem. The larger breeds will have no problem carrying their own packs; you may carry your friend’s supplies for him if he’s on the small side. Fresh water is a must; even a seemingly clean stream may contain chemicals or bacteria that may make your dog sick.
Many hiking trails welcome responsible dog owners. This means that dogs are kept leashed and are well behaved toward other dogs they may meet on the trail. It also means that their owners take responsibility for their dog’s waste. Some trails are marked with pet waste containers; in other situations, you should bury your pet’s waste. Never allow your dog to sniff another animal’s feces; it could contain parasites.
Many dogs love to swim and your hike may include the opportunity for your pal to frolic in the water. Be sure and pack a couple of towels, one for each of you. If your dog wears a flea collar, remove it before he goes into the water and don’t put it back around his neck until his coat is dry. A wet flea collar will not only irritate your dog’s skin, it will become ineffective.
With a little planning, hiking with your dog is a real pleasure and a great experience for all involved.