How to keep your dog happy and safe on trails

  • By Steven Silton Herald and News (Klamath Falls, Ore.)
  • Friday, May 2, 2014 12:45pm
  • Life

Exploring the trails is even more enjoyable when your faithful companion, your dog, is along for the journey.

Before you head out, it’s important to know the rules, expectations, limitations and safety precautions.

Rules and expectations

National parks don’t allow dogs on trails.

Most areas require leashes, but even with a leash, your dog should be familiar with other people and dogs and well-trained.

When taking your dog on its first few hikes you may want to consider lesser known trails or going during the off-season to avoid other people.

Limitations

Knowing your dog’s limits is important to keep him or her from reaching dangerous levels of exhaustion.

An older or less fit dog might be better off in the local park for a short walk instead of climbing mountains.

If your dog is ready for the long haul, you might consider letting them carry a few things. But remember, they aren’t pack mules. They aren’t designed to carry a lot of weight.

To get your four-legged friend comfortable with a pack, break it in on shorter walks around town. When they’re comfortable with the pack for long periods of time, start adding weight.

Pack it light at first, but you should never exceed about a third of the dog’s weight.

Depending on the size of your companion this means they could carry their food and water and maybe a little extra.

If you’re backpacking, overnight sleeping arrangements and rain scenarios need to be taken into account as well.

Some dogs are small enough to fit into your sleeping bag, but others might not be.

Dogs also don’t have the option to take off wet clothes for the night so finding a way to dry your dog in the rain can make a difference when temperatures drop.

On the flip side, when hiking on a hot summer day, it’s easy for a dog to overheat.

A cooling vest may be the answer. You soak it in water and they wear it like a vest.

Safety

Keeping your dog hydrated is the number one overlooked aspect of hiking, experts agree.

Dogs dehydrate faster than humans and, because they don’t sweat, overheating can compound their exhaustion.

Keeping more than enough water for yourself and your dog is the first thing you should plan for before heading out the door.

If you come across rivers or lakes don’t let your dog start drinking. Bacteria and algae can make your pooch sick.

Keep an eye on their paws as well. In the winter, boots are great to keep their paws off the snow. You can also buy paw creams or a wax called Musher’s Secret that helps on sharp rocks and cold snow.

If maneuvering through brush or tall grasses think about flea and tick treatments ahead of time.

While rare, encounters with wildlife can happen and should be taken seriously.

If you’re planning to hike in rattlesnake country ask your vet for a vaccine. It could be the difference between life and death if your dog gets bitten.

The vaccine slows the venom’s effect and provides more time to get your dog to the vet.

Along with a basic first-aid kit for yourself, it’s a good idea to keep a vet wrap and disinfectant handy too.

There are endless scenarios to prepare for hiking with dogs, and this is just a basic introduction.

Once on the trail, you’ll learn other tips and tricks. Talk to your veterinarian, trainer, neighbors and friends to find out more about how to safely explore the outdoors with your pet.

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