The sun is shining, and the temperatures are rising. You’re ready to get on the trail. You’ve got the food, water, and other essentials in your daypack. The kids are as prepared as they’ll ever be. But, what about the dog? There are a few important things to know before taking your four-legged family members into the backcountry. In the same way we prepare ourselves and our children for a hike, there are preparations for the pooch, too.
Know the Area
First, it’s a good idea to confirm dogs are permitted where you plan to hike. Most National Parks do not allow dogs on trails, but national forests and state parks are usually pet-friendly. Rules and regulations can vary, so it’s best you do a little research. In addition, learn a bit about the hike itself. Be aware of the type of terrain, mileage, elevation gain, water sources, and potential hazards. These things will help you determine if the particular trail is appropriate for your dog.
Know Your Dog
Ask yourself if this trail is appropriate for your dog’s age, size, health, and fitness level. As you assess a trail for your own abilities, don’t forget to keep your dog in mind when planning your destination. If your dog barely goes for walks around the neighborhood, a ten-mile loop in the mountains might not be such a great idea. Just as humans should ease into any new fitness regimen, start with short and easy hikes and gradually increase mileage and difficulty for your furry family members. It’s up to you and your veterinarian to make an honest assessment of your dog’s endurance level to determine if they can comfortably go the distance.
In addition to your dog meeting the physical demands of the hike, take into consideration its behavior. Make sure your dog is comfortable on and off leash, obeys your basic verbal commands, and is well socialized among other dogs and people. It’s important to have control of your dog among other animals and humans you might encounter. If approached by fellow hikers, bicyclists, or horses, practice proper trail etiquette and allow them to pass while keeping your dog in control.
Know the Weather
No matter how hiker-savvy your dog is, you should always take the weather into consideration. Be cautious of extremely hot weather in summer months. Consider hiking earlier in the day, rest as needed, and bring plenty of water. It’s important to note dogs are capable of concealing the signs of fatigue and are driven to follow their owners at all costs; familiarize yourself with signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Remember, when hiking on the trail you are an ambassador for other dog owners. Set a good example by keeping your pooch in sight and in control at all times, give dog-less hikers the right of way, and always clean up after your dog.
Now, who wants to go for a walk?!
about the author…Maria Weidich resides in Billings but feels most at home backpacking in the Beartooths.
Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s August 2018 issue.
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