Now that spring is upon us, the great outdoors is calling my name — and my dog Tucker’s too! It’s been a long hard winter for most of the country, and spring fever is at its height. For me and Tucker, springtime means hitting the trails for an invigorating and soul-cleansing hike. There’s nothing better to shake off those winter cobwebs than packing up you and your pooch and headin’ for the hills.
So why not celebrate spring by turning your daily walk into an adventurous hike? We often forget that our dogs are pack animals and their origins are rooted in hunting, playing, and roaming all day long with their pack families. You’re already in the habit of walking your four-legged friend, so you know that it’s a special time for the two of you to bond as well as establish yourself as the leader of your domestic pack. Shake up your routine a bit and kick your workout into high gear.
Follow these five tips and your hikes will surely be a wonderful experience that you’ll both enjoy together.
1. Know your limits (yours and your dog’s)
Does your current exercise endeavor consist of walking around the block a couple times? Then you may want to rethink that ten-mile hike you’re mapping out. Not only do you need to be able to hike without difficulty, so does your furry companion.
Start intensifying your walks by making them longer and include hills if possible so the two of you can build up your stamina. It’s also advisable to take your dog to the vet just to ensure he will be able to accompany you comfortably when you’re ready to hike. Dogs are people pleasers and they never want to let on that they are injured or in pain, so they will endure it for as long as they can.
2. Be prepared
Once you’ve determined to go on that hike, whether it’s a long or a short trip, make sure you have the following items:
Up-to-date ID tags: These MUST be legible and specify your dog’s name and your current contact information. It’s also a good idea to have a current photo with you just in case you get separated.
First Aid Kit: Carry a small kit in the event of a cut or scrape for either of you. Throw in some tweezers for easy tick removal.
Vet’s Phone Number: Expect the unexpected while you’re on the trail. You can never be too careful.
Sunscreen: You can get sunscreen specifically for dogs. Light-colored noses are very susceptible to sunburns — and dogs can get skin cancer just like you.
Orange vests: Are you hiking during hunting season? Fluorescent-colored vests will make sure you both stand out.
Appropriate Dress: If the weather is cool, bring an extra layer of clothes if your dog tolerates them. On warmer hikes, keep a cool, moist scarf or bandana that he can wear to take a bite out of the heat.
3. Bring water and food
Just like you need to fuel up and hydrate for a workout, the same holds true for your canine companion. Bring plenty of water and a dish he can drink from (you can get collapsible bowls for traveling ease) and offer it often along the way. A good rule of thumb is to bring eight ounces of water for every hour you plan to hike (and don’t forget to bring water for yourself!).
Give food on rest breaks or during bouts of less intense activity to ensure that you don’t upset his tummy or cause bloating.
It’s best to keep your dog from drinking the water in streams or other natural sources, as these could contain nasty bacteria that will make him sick. You can also freeze bottles of water and unpack one to offer immediate relief to your pooch.
4. Be aware of your surroundings
Plan your hikes on trails that are used often and provide clear paths; now is not the time to forge a new one through the wilderness. In most cases, you’ll likely encounter the usual suspects of the wildlife world, such as squirrels and maybe a deer or two.
Keep your eyes open for porcupines and skunks, who are not so easily scared off by dogs and humans and may become agitated.
Familiarize yourself with what poison ivy and other unpleasant plants look like. Although your dog can’t get poison ivy, they can pass it on to you, so it’s best to keep them away from anything suspicious.
5. Mind your manners
The same rules you follow on your routine walks apply to your hikes. Have a carry-in, carry-out mentality, which includes cleaning up after your dog on the trail. Using a leash will ensure that other hikers, other dogs, as well as the flora and fauna around you will remain undisturbed. If you’re both on a more leisurely hike, let others moving at a faster pace pass you easily.
Hiking with your dog is a wonderful way to spend quality time together and enjoy the outdoors all while getting a great workout. You’re guaranteed to have a fun and safe hike just by taking a bit of extra time to plan and prepare. Happy hiking!
Kim Salerno is the president of TripsWithPets.com, the #1 online resource for pet travel.