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A dog can make a great hiking companion


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Have Hound, Will Hike, p2

 

Practice walks will get your dog used to the space around him; he presents a wider profile with the pack and will initially run into things. On the REI website, author Erica May writes in "Hiking or Backpacking with Your Dog" that you should "ease your dog into the routine of hiking. If you want your pet to carry some of the load, start off by having him or her wear a pack around the house, then on short walks, then longer walks."

Kat Lacy emphasizes proper gear: "If you take them on long hikes and don't prepare, you're going to get bloody paws." Paw protectors can be indispensible in rough country and extreme temperatures. But getting your dog used to wearing boots for the first time is like watching a Laurel and Hardy routine. Do both of you a favor and don't slip them on the dog for the first time right at the start of your hike. Let your dog get used to them. Kat encourages people to "bring their pets in to fit them. All employees in the store are trained with the products and can help with fitting."

 

Remember that classic band, Three Dog Night? According to www.idiomsite.com, this expression refers to being cold: "Often when ranchers or cowboys were out on the range they would have to sleep with their dogs to keep warm. A one dog night was a night when he had to share body heat with one dog, a two dog night was two dogs and a three dog night was an extremely cold night where he would have to share body heat with three dogs." If you're staying overnight and it's going to be that cold, bring along extra gear for you and your pal to snuggle up with, including a ground cloth. Kat also recommends a waterproof fleece jacket that she says is "especially good for short-haired dog breeds that don't develop much of a winter coat."

hike 2
Brenna Lacy hiking with Ludo.
(Ludo photos courtesy Doug Lacy)

Be mindful that wet fur and cold nights are not a good combination. Give your dog a chance to dry thoroughly before the temperatures drop. Often a lightweight sleeping bag liner and a ground cover over a good bed of pine needles will be just right on a cool mountain night. Another unique piece of gear for longer trips is a "twist and go" pop-up tent. This provides quick instant shelter and can be a big help in keeping your dog warm and dry while keeping your own camping gear clean and dog-odor free.

Hiking in the cooler part of the day during the warmer seasons and reversing that during our short winter is often a great strategy. "Prepare for the highly variable weather conditions here in the southwest," Kat encourages. We've all read stories of folks caught out in the elements, ill prepared for what they will face. Don't let that happen to you and your pet.

For hot weather, a great accessory is the "Chiller Coat," a silver vest that has a water-absorbent layer to keep your dog cool. It lasts two to four hours and can be a big help for those hot summer days when it's easy to overheat. It also has reflective trim to improve visibility.

 

Brush up on your first-aid skills before heading out for a hike. Besides your own first-aid supplies you can add some items that will address your dog's unique needs. Kat says, "You need bandages that are self-adhesive, so you can wrap it over a dressing and it will hold." Also pack a sturdy pair of tweezers and perhaps some "AspirEase" for pain management. Applying a bug deterrent, especially to neck, ears and belly, will protect against fleas and ticks and help prevent Lyme disease. She recommends giving glucosamine as a preventive joint lubricator, for dogs of all ages. (I'm using that myself these days.)

A common canine injury Kat sees a lot of is torn nails. She says, "Rough ground can rip that nail off, or leave it hanging.... A lot of people think the nails will wear down with hiking, but your dog would have to hike 20-25 miles of rough terrain to keep them trimmed. Most of our pets don't come anywhere near that." As you're prepping for your hike, make sure your dog's nails are trimmed.

An additional item to consider loading in your travel kit is skunk odor remover spray. This can be a great aid in taking care of the results of a close encounter with an unwelcome hiking companion. Imagine being out on a hike, your dog getting sprayed, then having to get him home without having to burn your car afterwards because of the smell.

But the most important thing to prepare for with day hikes, Doug says, is to make sure you take enough water. "It's always good to carry at least one to two quarts of water for an afternoon hike, depending on the size and water needs of your dog." Kat agree: "Just like with people, hydrate prior to your hike."

A great portable water dish for shorter hikes is just a plastic sandwich bag, stuffed into a pocket. We've used this many times with great success; it weighs virtually nothing and is easy to drink out of. Doug carries a collapsible bowl that folds up small and can fit in a pocket. He has tried many and says, "I've found the best one is the latex rubber water bowls by Ruff Dawg; they're sanitary and have long-term durability."

You can have your dog carry her own food and water. Double bagging the food in zipper-sealed bags will keep it dry and contain any odors. Consider swapping out for stuff that can't be damaged by weather or rough use. Make sure to balance the weight in the pack and watch out for anything that might rub and irritate her.

 

Helping dogs with good nutrition is Doug's primary focus in preparing people to hike with their dogs. It's important to "prepare for a hike by carrying food you know your pet will like. There are several lightweight options out there that are high nutrition. On backpack trips, air-dried raw meat works out better for me and my friends." At the Pet Health Shoppe he has lamb and venison options available to provide maximum nutrition for the lightest weight impact.

Some dogs "go off their food" during longer hikes. But don't worry if your dog doesn't eat as much as at home. Her routine is different and the surroundings may be so interesting that she just isn't as hungry. You can help offset this by feeding her out of the same dish you will use while hiking for a few days before going. Usually, dogs will eat snacks, so make sure those are nutritious and high protein; banana chips, jerky, even a peanut butter sandwich can really help with your pet's stamina. (Avoid actual nuts, though, as these may give your dog tummy problems and pancreatitis; some sources say macadamias cause neurological problems. Grapes and raisins are a big no-no, too, as of course is anything containing chocolate.)

When camping, feed your dog somewhat away from camp, in the same place each day if you're stationary, or in a dedicated food station you show her each day. Make sure to put the dish away so as not to attract wild animals.

At the end of your hike, take a few minutes to debrief before climbing in the car. Offer your dog fresh water and let him cool down in the shade if it's been hot. Offer water again a few minutes later. You could give him a light snack but don't feed him heavily before the car ride home. Check his body for ticks, lacerations, thorns, rub spots and sores, paying special attention to his feet and legs. If you've been in a place with poison ivy, you will want to bathe your dog to remove the essential plant oils that could give you a rash even days later.

Check your dog again after you arrive home and note if he's been worrying over any sore spots. Give his coat a good brushing and feed and water him well again in familiar surroundings. Wash out any portable dog bowls you've used and check his pack, boots and leash for signs of wear. When your gear is in good shape and put away, curl up with your canine pal and enjoy the memories of the hike. How did you both do?

Now is a great time to start planning your next outing with your dog. With a bit of coaching and some positive experiences, she can become a great hiking companion. Make it a pleasant experience by building stamina and being prepared and you'll both be dancing at the door ready to go on another trip. See you on the trail!

 

 

Pooch Packs

When selecting a dog pack, consider:

  • Pack size
  • Size of compartments suited to size of dog
  • Intended length of trips and type of hiking

Pack fitting:

  • Measure the dog's girth at chest level
  • Measure the length of the dog
  • Weigh your dog
  • Adjust straps, making sure they don't bind/rub/pinch

Pack loading:

  • No more than 25% of the dog's weight, often less
  • Balance the load on each side so it rides level
  • Pack items in zip-top bags to waterproof
  • Make sure no hard edges will rub against the dog on the inside of the pack

 

 

Karen Ray is a Las Cruces based writer and personal historian. She can be reached at karen@rememberingthetime.net.


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