Soon temperatures will be cooling down, and it will be perfect weather for hiking. We'll talk about best practices for taking novice dogs on short hikes, rather than long day treks or camping.
First, decide whether your dog has the temperament for a hike. Does he bark at everything that moves? Does he frighten easily? Is he good around other dogs and/or people? Sometimes as much as you want him as a hiking companion, he may not be a good candidate.
Research the area where you plan to hike.
- Are dogs allowed?
- What does the trail look like? Is the trail level, rocky, woodsy, etc.? When you're just starting out, it should be fairly flat.
- Familiarize yourself what poison ivy and harmful plants look like so you can steer clear of them.
Have your dog checked by a vet so she can determine if he is physically ready:
- Whether his bones and immune system are mature
- If he has any orthopedic or other conditions that would affect hiking
- Whether he is up to date on the specific vaccines he needs in your area
You wouldn't think of running a marathon without training, so begin his training regimen several weeks before hiking. Walk fast around your neighborhood beginning at 15 minutes on flat ground and increasing it to 45 minutes at least 3 times per week. Then begin to include hilly terrain. Additionally, do conditioning and strengthening exercises to toughen his muscles and increase both his stamina and flexibility.
Be sure your dog has ID, both tags and a microchip or tattoo. Also, put a brightly-colored bandana or LED collar on him in case he becomes unleashed so you have an easier time of locating him.
You never know when there may be an emergency, so be prepared. Bring a first aid kit (which includes self-stick and/or spray-on bandages) as well as your cell phone with the number of the nearest emergency vet. Other things to pack - dog boots, dog-safe tick and mosquito repellent, water, collapsible bowl, poop bags.
Use a well-fitted harness (rather than a collar) because, if your dog pulls, the pressure is on the chest rather than the throat, especially if you have a small dog whose trachea may be easily injured.
Use a 6-foot leash rather than a retractable one. There's not enough control with a retractable leash.
When you first start hiking, choose a path or trail that is fairly level and one with no steep inclines or embankments, has shade, does not have a lot of rocks or hot surfaces.
Stay on trails. Trail etiquette is important, and you need to have control of your dog at all times. Keep him leashed even if off leash is allowed. Move to the side and put your dog on a Sit-Stay at the side of the train to let other hikers, bikers, horses, and dogs pass. Don't let your dog bark or lunge at passers-by or wildlife.
Is this a "sniffing" hike, an exercise hike, or a combination? Be careful of his sniffing under rocks or in thick brush because of snakes, other critters, thorns, or harmful plants.
Don't let him interact with wildlife - he can get skunked, bitten, or quilled. Don't let him eat plants or mushrooms because they may be poisonous.
Keep an eye on him to see if he is getting tired, overheated, or cold. Remember that you're going twice the distance - to your destination and then back to the starting point, so make sure to plan accordingly.
Pick up his poop, double bag it, and carry it with you. Deposit it in a trash can at the end of your hike.
Most hiking hazards can be eliminated if he is on leash. Don't let him eat poop or drink from streams or puddles which can contain parasites.
If you encounter an off-leash dog, politely tell the owner to put it on leash. If a dog is dragging its person towards you, move off the trail, put yourself between your dog and the approaching dog. Even if your dog has a good temperament, with the deluge on his senses, if that dog enters his personal space, it may be too much for him to handle calmly and he may aggress.
Check his feet for any foxtails, thorns, debris, etc. Towel him off. Put artificial tears in his eyes to rehydrate them and cleanse them.
Make sure he has water, some food, and is able to rest. Give him a massage and slight stretching to help those muscles.
Use what you've learned on this hike to plan for the next one. Have fun!