The Joy of Hiking With Your Dog

One of the greatest pleasures you can share with your dog is a hiking excursion. Don’t get me wrong, not all dogs are suited to hikes in the high country. But for those that are, it can keep them in great shape, keep you in great shape and forge a bond between you and your dog that many may never experience.

Just like us humans, our dog companions need to get in shape for hiking. Depending upon where and what type of hiking you plan to do will determine what type of training your dog needs. I would advise checking with your vet first before starting any type of training regimen. If you like taking short half-day hikes, you can start off by walking your dog around your neighborhood (this is good practice for any dog) short distances each day and gradually increase the mileage. A great place to take your dog for some fun is a dog park or off leash area where your dog will get exercise playing with other dogs or fetching a Frisbee or ball. Try a short hike with your dog, about 1-2 miles to see how they do. Gradually increase the hiking mileage to levels that you will normally hike. Check your dogs paws/pads if they are not used to being outside and get some dog booties if they have tender feet. The other training consideration is altitude acclimation. If you plan to hike in higher elevation terrain than your hometown, you and your dog will need to acclimate. Most hikes in southwest Colorado should be considered high altitude hikes and will require altitude acclimation which means you need to gradually adjust to the elevation. Take it slow, drink lots of water for the first few days until you become accustomed to the altitude.

Before departing on any hike with your dog, bring extra water with you if there are no streams or lakes along the way (to avoid the possibility of Giardia, a waterborne parasite, bring fresh water.) Even the most fit of dogs will become exhausted if they don’t have enough water especially on a hot day. It’s a good idea to consult trail maps for many obvious reasons but also to find out if there are streams, rivers or lakes along the way so your dog can cool off during warm summer months if they are so inclined. Keep in mind if your dog is a swimmer, to remove the pack before they plunge into the water and soak everything in the pack. Have food and dog treats with you too. Try Zuke’s Power Bones to keep your active dog going. If you’re taking a longer hike, think about getting your dog a pack to carry his or her own food and water.

When choosing a hike to take with your canine companion, make sure to do some research to find out if dogs are allowed on the trail (dogs are not allowed on trails in national parks,) but many state parks do allow dogs on the trail. Just check your particular destination to see if there are any restrictions. Even if you are hiking in an off-leash area, keep the leash handy in case you need to restrain your dog quickly due to other unfriendly dogs or wild animal encounters. Keep your dog on a leash at all times if they are not under your voice command. There have been many cases where deer and other animals have attacked dogs when they feel threatened. Keep your dog in site at all times when hiking for their safety and yours. There are trails out there where you need to determine if the hike is too risky for your dog because it’s too steep, too rocky or too narrow or any number of other reasons. Research the hike thoroughly and find out if others have taken the hike with their dog. Assess your dogs abilities fairly and if you’re in doubt about the hike, leave them safely at home or choose a different hike.

Hiking etiquette applies not only to humans but your dog as well. Give way to horses on the trail, preferably the low side of the trail. Keep your dog restrained while horses pass. Pick up after your dog. Don’t let your dog race up to strangers (believe it or not, some people are afraid of a dog running at them.)

Just like for humans, there are many potential pitfalls when hiking in the back country or in your neighborhood. Use common sense, consult your vet about your dogs health prior to hiking and be prepared. Know your limitations and your dogs and enjoy the experience of hiking with your best friend in the great outdoors.


Kimberly Aardal

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