Outdoor Adventure Hiking a Trail with your Dog
A day hiking a meandering trail along a stream, up a mountain or around a lake is a pleasurable bonding experience for both dog and owner as well as providing them with beneficial exercise. However, before stepping foot and paw on the tamped down earth at any trailhead dog owners must first take some steps toward planning for a successful outing into the wilderness.
Protect the Dog’s Health
Keep annual vaccinations up-to-date. Carry along the rabies certificate or tags for proof the dog is healthy in the unlikely event the dog bites another animal or person. Rabies is communicable between all mammals so protection from contracting the virus is essential.
Use a heartworm preventive if hiking in areas where mosquitoes are prevalent. Heartworm is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites a dog. The eggs deposited from the mosquito travel through the bloodstream to the dog’s heart where they develop and grow. This devastating disease can eventually kill the dog if left untreated.
Apply flea and tick repellent before heading into the woods or grasslands. Check the dog for ticks after a hike and bathe or dip if a monthly treatment isn’t used. Ticks carry several diseases harmful to dogs. Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been reported in nearly every state in the continental United States. The disease causes fever, depression, anorexia, and enlarged lymph nodes in infected dogs. Blood tests can confirm an infection, and it’s treatable with antibiotics. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease found across the U.S., but most commonly in the eastern section of the country. Symptoms are similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever except the dog will experience lameness and swollen joints. Antibiotics provide an effective treatment. Vaccinations for prevention are available for dogs and are most effective in dogs not previously infected with the disease.
Day hikes vary from a stroll along a paved trail on reasonably level terrain to a strenuous climb on a rocky or root jutted dirt path. Choose a hike the dog is capable of completing. Consider the size, build, age and health of the dog when planning the hike. Very young or very old dogs should stick to walking around the block. Most others, after conditioning by taking progressively longer walks interspersed with shorter ones, can build up their stamina. Take the climate into consideration, as well. Dogs with dark or heavy coats should hike early mornings or late afternoons on hot, humid days.
What to Bring Along on the Hike
Even when not required, leashes are recommended for a dog’s safety and consideration of other hikers. Even well-trained dogs will find it hard to resist chasing wildlife or venturing off the trail through sensitive ecological areas. Leaving the trail increases the chance of encountering snakes, insects, and other wild animals. Returning home with a skunk-sprayed canine is quite unpleasant. There is always the chance that a loose dog will disappear and become separated from its owners, as well.
There are a few items all hikers should carry for their dog’s and their own comfort and safety. They should include, but are not limited to:
- a flashlight with fresh batteries
- a map of the trail
- rain gear
- socks or booties for the dog if traveling on rough terrain
- sunscreen and insect repellent
- pocket knife and whistle
- poop bags and trash bags
- an extra leash or strap for tying the dog to tree or post
The dog can help carry supplies in a specially designed backpack for canines. When purchasing one it is important to fit it properly to the dog. When loading the backpack don’t fill it too heavily and distribute the weight evenly on both sides, or the dog will tire or could become injured as a result. For first-time canine trailblazers, load it lightly until the dog is used to the added weight. Also, if the dog shows resistance or becomes hot during the day reduce the weight it’s carrying.
Where to Find Trails
Check National, State, County, and City Parks or Recreational Areas for trails where dogs are welcome. The National Park Service website gives information about each property and the hiking regulations. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy lists the sections of the trail off-limits to dogs and offers suggestions for hiking the trail with a canine companion. Some areas of the country have clubs devoted to dog hiking such as K9 Trailblazers in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area. They offer helpful advice about hiking with a dog, rate trails for difficulty and schedule group hikes for owners and their dogs.
Good weather, beautiful scenery and a best friend is the perfect combination for a memorable hike in the outdoors. Dogs find great pleasure in new places to explore. Plan ahead, pack wisely and seek out trails suitable for both boots and paws.