By Ellen Eastwood
There’s no greater motivator for getting outdoors and exercising than having your best friend at your side. If that friend has four legs, boundless energy, and infectious enthusiasm, better still.
Hiking with the family dog is not only great exercise for the whole pack, it’s also mentally stimulating. The sights, sounds, and smells in nature give both you and your dog food for thought and fuel for an even-deeper human/dog bond.
Hike With a Dog, See the World
All too often, we walk focused solely on our destination, missing out on the journey. Not dogs. Curious canines rarely overlook the little treats that nature scatters about. Coon Hound or Corgi, purebred or purely mutt, all dogs are born with powers of observation that far exceed our own. Bring your pooch on your next hike, and be prepared to explore countless signs of life along the trail, turning the average walk in the woods into an exciting wilderness adventure.
Follow That Nose
A dog’s sense of smell is thought to be as much as 10,000 times more powerful than ours. From the moment her paws hit the ground, your personal canine detective knows more about the nature of the trail ahead than you ever will. Her nose informs her of the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of the world around you with incredible detail.
Unfortunately, even if your pooch knows the command “speak,” she can’t fill you in on the 411. Still, if you watch where she’s sniffing, you’re likely to discover a host of visual clues that will help you flesh out the story for yourself.
Take a look at that pile of scat your dog has discovered; you may find that you can recognize the type of animal that made it, perhaps even what he had for dinner last night!
Has your hiking partner taken interest in a particular tree? Check the bark for bits of fur that may indicate an animal scratching an itch, or scars in the bark from an animal marking its territory.
Animal tracks that your dog can identify in a breath may require you to take a closer look—can you guess at the animal? Determine whether it was walking or running?
Make Peace With the Pace
You may find that your pal’s appreciation of every last smell slows the hike to a crawl. Or perhaps your dog’s drive to explore is so strong that he drags you recklessly up the trail.
Just take a deep breath of clean air, forget about where you’re going, and enjoy the sights along the way. The more ground you cover, the more relaxed and cooperative your dog will become. As hiking becomes a more regular part of his life, he’ll be less desperate to drink it all in at once.
Prepare to Have Fun
For the most part, hiking with dogs is a walk in the park. If you and your dog have mastered basic obedience commands and are both in good health, you’re already on your way to a satisfying hiking experience. Before you hook up and head out, however, consult this basic checklist for hiking dogs, and employ your own common sense:
• Ensure that your dog is up-to-date on all vaccinations and flea/tick prevention.
• Make sure dog tags contain current, local contact information in case your pet is lost.
• Check regulations for your chosen trail—make sure dogs are allowed.
• Secure your dog with a basic harness (no training collar) and a 6-foot leash.
• Carry more than enough drinking water for yourself and your dog—allow more for hot days and difficult terrain.
• Know your dog’s physical abilities and limitations, and plan your hike accordingly.
• Watch your dog for signs of heat stress and fatigue—take frequent breaks in the shade.
• Bag your dog’s poop, carry it out, and dispose of it properly, every time.
• Keep additional water and old towels in your car’s trunk for the hike’s end.
Well-behaved dogs definitely make hiking more fun and rewarding, and the effort involved in including your pal is minimal. With the world in full bloom, it’s time to enlist the help of that naturally gifted trail guide in your midst. Get out and see more of what the world has to offer.
The Trail Hound’s Handbook: Check out HikingWithDogs.net to learn more!