How to Hike With Your Dog

11.14.08 | 5 Comments

hiking with dogs

In small, torturous ways, hiking with an off-leash dog often backfires. For Seti’s joy it’s worth the effort, really, but there’s always the chance he might ignore us to roll in feces, chase a skunk or sample a rotten carcass. Even more exciting, a deer might gore him. But it’s like seeing wonder in a child’s eye, this observing the world through the wag of a dog.  A  ten-foot smile spans my face as I plod along behind them on the trail – an humbling meditation on the joy of life. Hiking by myself, my mind might otherwise roam to dwell on other things going on, a time to solve problems. Right?

Well, more often, the reality shoves through: there’s not much time for meditation when you’re trying to herd your dog and kids on the trail, which one has to do nowadays, as trails are often full of other people and other dogs, among all the natural wildlife in residence. Herding becomes easier, though, when you follow the first of the New Golden Rules of Hiking With Your Dog:

You ought to use that leash. After all, it’s probably the law on most trails. Not a complicated retractable kind, but a simple leash. It won’t as easily get tangled in underbrush or among other hiker’s legs. It’s not fair to let him run free in an area shared with other hikers, and it’s unsafe, as well, to let him chase rutting deer–and as ruinous to let him chase skunk.

Clear it first that both you and your dog may pass. A hike through the neighborhood woodlot is one thing; planning a day hike to the state beach is another. Many trails exclude dogs, but there are still protected trails that allow them. Try searching an online database for dog-friendly trails.

Know your dog’s fitness level. Dogs like to please you and might overexert themselves if you take off at full tilt with an out-of-shape pet. I’ll be the first to admit Seti’s returned home in arms the last mile back on several occasions; first as a worn-out puppy and most recently as an arthritic senior.

Your dog must be obedient. If the collar slips off, or if he’s running free on the trail with a no-leash leniency, you should know he’ll come back.

Make sure your dog has ID–you should, too.

If you want your dog to carry a pack, don’t slap one on his back and expect it to feel second nature to him. Approach it like a new pair of leather shoes: let him wear it around the house for an hour at first, then gradually start adding some items to the pack. It should weigh no more, with load, than 25-33% of his weight. Try it on a neighborhood walk to get a feel for it. Also, you don’t want it too tight or it will rub, and then you have a crabby dog with an open sore.

Know how to read your dog’s comfort level. When it’s cold, look for shivering. Only you can determine whether your dog needs an extra coat and boots. Booties aren’t necessarily silly, unless they are necessary. Seti has worn the pads off his paws before, but it wasn’t on the trail. He wore his pads down chasing a frisbee on pavement at an office party. If your dog is going to be pounding pavement (especially if it’s hot) or running the Iditarod, either you shouldn’t be out there in the first place or you both should be protected for the occasion.

Conversely, watch the heat. Dogs are quicker to overheat than people. After all, they hike in a fur coat and can’t sweat like we do. If you notice your dog running from shady spot to shady spot, panting excessively or becoming red in the gums, stop and cool him down. Gently pouring water on the stomach and groin area is a good technique. And don’t forget that your dog needs to drink on cold days, too.

Carry enough water for two. You wouldn’t drink out of the creek, but your dog isn’t that picky.  Try to share your water bottle with your dog. If you can recycle a small plastic bowl for this purpose, great.  I’m not sure what I think of water bottles made especially for dogs on a hike because frankly, it’s just more junk to buy. Usually it’s just a matter of my pouring the water from the bottle into my hand as Seti laps it up. Done deal. But hey, there’s always the creek!  Right?

Bring your first aid kit. Or not! For the OC folks: two good things to always have on hand are antibiotic cream (Neosporin) and some Vet Wrap (c) bandage tape (which sticks to itself but not to hair or skin). If you want to know more about first aid for dogs, in fact, I’ve been recommended this book: The Field Guide to Dog First Aid. Assuming you’re only out for a jaunt, as we mostly do, you will be able to doctor any sores when you return home.

When you get back, check your dog for ticks! Also, check for burrs and foxtails. If your dog stops on the trail and holds up a paw, check them for these seeds. Seti often gets burrs and foxtails in between his pads. You can quicly and easily remove a burr, and foxtails should be quickly removed, as well. If a dog gets a foxtail in his nose, run to the vet.

Needless to say, it is polite, on crowded trails, to clean up after your dog. You wouldn’t want to step on any poo, yourself. In your backyard, of course, you make the rules.

Now go get some exercise!

Seti + chipmunk, Crater Lake


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