When you think about hiking with your dog, do you envision exploring trails shaded by pine trees so tall that the sky is green and scaling rocky passageways so steep they take your breath away? You might imagine your dog needs to be large enough to handle the physical demands of the rugged outdoors and that he should be allowed to frolic freely through woods and streams. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a wilderness experience with a lumberjack-sized dog. Hiking, by definition, is simply taking a long walk. Hiking with your dog
Walking is something that can be done by almost anyone and any dog, in any place. At what exact point a walk becomes a hike depends entirely on individual perception, but most would consider any excursion longer than an hour or in excess of a couple miles to be a hike. Hiking with your dog
Hiking with Your Dog – Conditioning
Since hiking is longer than a typical walk, it does take some preparation and conditioning for both you and your dog. The American Heart Association recommends a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes three times per week to get the most physical benefit out of walking, and this is also a good starting point for those getting into condition for hikes. These practice walks can also provide opportunities to train your dog to walk without straining on a leash. Outside of some dog parks and wilderness areas, leash ordinances usually apply, and the health benefits of walking won’t have much value if you are left with a sore arm and stiff shoulder from your tugging dog.
When your dog is trained to walk nicely, you’ll be able to concentrate on making your own walking style comfortable and efficient. Because this entails allowing your arms to swing freely, you can tie your dog’s leash around your waist or purchase a leash designed with a waist belt for this purpose. Pay attention to your posture while taking long, fluid strides, and practice landing on your heels and rolling forward to the balls of your feet. A good walking style will help you avoid soreness or fatigue.
Hiking with Your Dog – Gearing Up
The whole purpose of conditioning is to prepare you and your dog for the real thing, so it makes sense to include whatever equipment you plan to use for hiking in your practice walks. Nothing will take the fun out of a great hike more than blisters the size of June bugs from your new pair of hiking shoes. Imagine your disappointment at the start of your first hike to discover your dog thinks his backpack is a swarm of killer bees on his back. Use your practice walks as test trials for your equipment.
Your dog’s backpack, if you choose to use one, should be sized correctly to avoid chafing at the shoulders or behind the elbows. The comfortable, fleece-lined back pack produced by Dura-Craft makes an excellent choice. The advantage of outfitting your dog with a backpack is that your dog can help carry some of the necessary supplies that should be included on any extended walk: water bottles, water dish, treats for your dog and a snack for you, maps, dog waste bags and a first aid kit. Any other items you pack might be determined by the purpose of your hike: a picnic lunch, a long tie-out leash, dog toys, and rags or wipes for clean up.
Whatever you decide to take, you should consider size and weight. The smaller the item, the less room it will fill in your pack. The lighter the item, the less weight you and your dog will have to carry. The Porta Dish and Disposable Bowl Set by Kyjen/Outward Hound are excellent for this purpose, as they are both lightweight and flexible.
Those who think that small dogs are not capable of handling the rigors of a long hike are right, but that doesn’t mean petite pooches need to be left at home. Carry them with you! Kyjen/Outward Hound also produces the Sling-Go Pet Carrier and Pet-A-Roo Front Carrier that can give smaller dogs a break from walking without interfering with your walking style. These can often be used in combination with a waist pack or backpack to carry your supplies. Your dog enjoys every minute with you, regardless of his size or level of participation, but like your other equipment, you should use your pet carrier on your practice walks so he can learn to feel comfortable in it.
Hiking with Your Dog – Mapping Your Route
The destination of your hike should be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! It doesn’t matter if you begin your hike from home or drive to a starting point. Destination is the whole purpose of traveling. Hike to a park, a lake, a way side, a fishing hole, a friend’s house, or any place that offers a respite from walking, a pleasurable atmosphere and a chance to eat, drink, relax or play.
The route you take to get there should be analyzed for distance, terrain and scenery. You need to decide how far you and your dog are conditioned to hike and how the weather will influence your capabilities. Extreme heat can result in heat exhaustion, frigid temperatures can cause frostbite, and a chilling rain can lead to hypothermia. Be prepared for the length of walk and weather conditions, so your enjoyable journey doesn’t become a torturous trek.
Terrain can present excessive physical demands in the form of steep hills and other obstacles, and can also harbor hazards for your barefoot dog. Cement sidewalks and packed dirt trails are usually safe and easy-going, but asphalt on a hot day might feel like walking on a bed of burning coals to your dog. Road shoulders often contain glass and other debris that can injure your dog’s feet, and hiking in snow may leave caustic salt residue on his paws.
Hikers should be on the lookout for these hazards and carry a simple first aid kit to treat minor problems. Since the most common injuries for hiking dogs are footpad injuries, your kit should contain, at minimum, sterile wound dressings, antibiotic ointment, gauze roll, vet wrap, and a tweezers for removing splinters, thorns or ticks. And don’t forget a few bandaids for yourself!
Finally, consider the kind of atmosphere and scenery the hike will provide for hiking with your dog. Some roads carry a heavy load of truck traffic and are not conducive to the kind of quiet, relaxing walk you had in mind. If there is more than one way to reach your destination, the quiet, scenic route is preferable to the short route.
With the right conditioning and planning, hiking with your dog can become a wonderfully invigorating leisure activity regardless of the type of dog you own or whether you hike in the wilderness, country, city or suburbs!