Autumn is such a beautiful time of year for long walks and hikes, and PetravelR™ has some important information for hiking with your dog. Today, in Part 1, PetravelR™ offers some tips for choosing a hiking trail, as well as determining if your dog is physically fit and suited to hiking. Check back next week for Part 2, which will cover what you need to pack and proper hiking gear for your dog.
Hiking is much more strenuous than walking for both you and your dog, so it’s important to ease into hiking and not overdo it. Backpacker.com recommends that you find canine-friendly trails and follow the advice of Best Hikes with Dogs Inland Northwest author Craig Romano – choose shade trails with soft, leaf- or needle-covered terrain that are “easy on the paws,” and avoid paths with sharp rocks, off-trail routes with steep drops, or any surface that might get very hot.
It’s crucial that you make an honest assessment of your dog’s overall fitness and ability. Lisa Densmore of the Appalachian Mountain Club cautions that if your daily dog walk consists of a casual stroll around the block and you’ve planned a 10-mile hike, you may end up carrying your canine companion for the second half of the route. Her rule of thumb: If you cannot feel your dog’s ribs through its fur, it would benefit from more exercise before you hit the trail. Also, if your dog is going to be carrying a pack, have him start by wearing a light pack around the house, then on walks, gradually increasing both the weight of the pack and the length of the walks. According to REI’s Erica May, it’s safe to work to up to one-third of your dog’s weight if your dog is in healthy physical condition.
Any dog over 40 pounds and in good condition should be able to hike with you. Smaller dogs can generally handle a relatively smooth and short trail, but they don’t cover ground as quickly due to their short legs and may need to be carried up and down rocky areas. Age is a more important consideration than size, because older dogs often suffer from stiff joints, arthritis, and other physical ailments. You (and your veterinarian) should carefully evaluate any dog 10 years or older before trying anything more challenging than a basic walking trail. Dogs with hip dysplasia can frequently still handle some hiking trails with proper medication prescribed by your veterinarian (always consult your vet first!). You should also be very cautious with puppies, because climbing steep, uneven hiking trails can negatively impact the development of their growing joints.
You must be able to maintain control of your dog at all times. Lisa Densmore notes that your dog must also be well-behaved and completely socialized with both humans to be a good hiking companion. A good hiker-dog must also be comfortable both on and off-leash, and able to heel, sit, stay, and come at your verbal command.
You can find more detailed information on hiking with dogs at these excellent resources: Lisa Denmore, A Hiker’s Best Friend, Appalachian Mountain Club; Erica May, Hiking or Backpacking with Your Dog, REI; and, Backpacker.com.
Photo by Sarah Perlmutter, courtesy of Appalachian Mountain Club