Hiking With Dogs
It’s not always easy to find someone who is willing and able to go hiking with you. Friends just always seem to have some lame excuse as to why they can’t go. They’re too busy, they don’t have anything to wear, their feet hurt, their hair hurts, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too sunny, blah, blah, blah. But one friend I have, my best friend in fact, never has any excuses and is always overly excited about hiking no matter what the weather conditions. And this friend never has to worry about what she’s going to wear. This friend is my dog Riley.
I only have one dog. She is a 5 year old, Chow Chow and Australian Cattle Dog mix that I adopted from a rescue shelter in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 2005. When I adopted Riley she was only 2 months old and my plans for her included being my hiking buddy. So from the day I brought her home and before she grew in to her paws, she has been hiking trails and scaling mountains with me. I didn’t really know how big she would get but I could tell she was going to be a stout dog and she now tips the scale at 55 pounds. From those very first days, I have taken Riley everywhere and she has never complained. She loves hiking and she loves riding around with me in my truck. She’s always ready, willing, and able to go anywhere I go in any kind of fashion. She’s even ridden with me on a 4-wheeler as we tooled around the dirt roads of the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico.
I have taken Riley on many hiking trips and she loves every minute of it as she sniffs and pees on anything she finds interesting. She’s so anxious to walk, she pulls on her leash and I often am dragged from tree to tree or rock to rock. That’s why I put a harness on her when we hike to keep her from choking herself. The smells of the outdoors excite her and I can tell she is truly having fun.
Riley particularly loves hiking in snow. With her thick Chow Chow coat, she never feels cold, in fact I have never seen her act cold even when she was caked with clumps of snow. She loves to run and bounce around in the snow drifts taking bites of snow as she goes.
Riley also enjoys running through the shallow waters of creeks and streams. It seems to ignite some kind of wild dog behavior I call it as she splashes around before bolting back and forth in the water. Then, she will retreat back to me and shake her coat out giving me an impromptu bath. It’s such a joy seeing her have so much fun and I know she is truly a happy dog.
But one thing Riley doesn’t like about hiking and it’s the only thing, is when there’s thunder and lightning. Like most dogs, the thunder scares her and I remember one particular hiking trip we were on when we both had the fear of thunder and lightning put in to us. We were hiking up a three mile trail to the top of a mountain peak. It started out as a nice sunny summer day. But is often the case during the summer months in New Mexico mountains, a storm popped up just as we reached the summit. I knew we had to get off that peak and get off fast. So, we began our three mile descent quickly. Then after one crack of thunder, quick trekking turned in to frantic running. I didn’t have any problem getting Riley to run as she led the way back to bottom. We didn’t stop running until we reached the safety of my truck At the time, it was a scary thing but looking back, it was a blast and I can’t imagine sharing that hike with anyone other than Riley.
I do have to be mindful of Riley’s physical being as we hike longer, rougher trails. I keep a close eye on her feet making sure she isn’t getting cuts or thorns. And, I keep her hydrated. She’s always been a thirsty dog. I threaten her sometimes with carrying her own water since the extra water weight makes my backpack heavy but I have yet to carry out that threat even though she does have her own doggy backpack. I just don’t have the heart to weigh her down. I stop regularly to offer her water and of course share my snacks with her. She loves cheese and peanut butter crackers especially. Also, she has a tendency to chase animals so I keep her on a leash. If I didn’t, she would take off after wild animals and that’s not good for them or her. Not only is she disturbing the wild life but she risks getting lost or injured. She once did a spontaneous leap from trail to rock wall in an attempt to catch a lizard. Things like that can get her hurt in a flash and then I’m stuck trying to carry an injured, 55 pound dog out of the woods. Many people believe that dogs shouldn’t be on a leash but I know better and safety is the number one priority when we are in the middle of no where.
I’ve given up on trying to get my friends to go hiking with me especially now that I have Riley. She’s the perfect hiking partner and enjoys and appreciates the wonders of the outdoors as much as I do. There’s no better partner to sit next to a campfire with after a long day of hiking and talk about the day’s exploration. Ok, I do all the talking but she listens, naps on and off in the middle of my conversation, and never complains. Hiking with dogs or one dog in my case is the best way in my opinion. Not only do we both have fun but we create a lot of wonderful memories together. If you enjoy hiking, take your dog. Be mindful of conditions and your dog’s welfare and limitations, but enjoy everything nature and your dog have to offer.
HIKING WITH YOUR DOG TIPS:
1) Always carry enough water for you and your dog even if the weather is cool. Hydration for the both of you is extremely important for optimal performance. There are special water bottles for dogs that you can purchase but I just use a wide mouth bottle for Riley.
2) Resist the temptation to let your dog off the leash. It’s just plain safer to be in control of your dog at all times. This includes verbal commands. You may feel bad about restricting your dog but you’ll feel worse if your dog gets lost, hurt, or bites another hiker. Bring along an extra leash in case the other one breaks. And never allow your dog to chase wild animals.
3) Some dogs may require sun screen. Use a safe, dog specific product.
4) Apply a dog safe, insect repellant on your dog to prevent mosquito, fly, and other insect bites. Put a flea and tick collar on your dog.
5) Have and keep your dog vaccinated. You don’t want your dog getting rabies in the event of a wild animal bite. Also, keep your dog on heart worm medicine.
6) Resist the temptation to allow your dog to drink from creeks and streams. This water is not always safe and can make your dog sick.
7) Don’t hike with your dog in extreme temperatures especially heat. Heat leads to fatigue which can get you stranded if your dog can’t or won’t move.
8) Watch your dog’s feet for cuts and thorns. Some trails are very rough and full of sharp objects. Even trails with round cobbles can bruise a dogs feet. Also, check your dog’s coat for burrs and stickers. These things can be irritating to a dog.
9) Try to get your dog to wear sunglasses known as Doggles. The sun is just as damaging to a dog’s eyes as it is to yours.
10) Always provide food for your dog to keep energy levels up. Don’t allow your dog to eat anything he finds along the trail. It could make your dog sick or even be fatal.
11) Keep a dog tag on your dog with your information and your dog’s name in case he does get lost. Consider having an ID micro-chip put in your dog.
12) Educate yourself about first aid for dogs including CPR. Anything can happen out there and you want to be prepared for emergencies. Think about what you should do if your dog gets hurt.
13) Know your dog’s limitations and fitness level. Never push your dog to do something he can’t or doesn’t want to do. Be sure to take rest breaks and check the break area for scorpions, spiders, and poisonous vegetation. Also, larger dogs are prone to hip problems so keep this in mind. If your hips hurt, your dog's hips might hurt as well. Remember you have to get back to camp.
14) Watch the trail you are hiking. Snakes can hide under grass and other vegetation. Your dog will probably see it before you do since he is closer to the ground which can be dangerous.
15) Pick up or at the very least, bury your dog’s droppings. Leaving it where your dog left it along a hiking trail is unsightly and can be messy for other hikers. Also, it could contain elements that can contaminate soil and streams.
16) Keep supplies of any medication your dog may require. If you get stranded for a longer period of time than you expected and your dog needs a certain medication, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have it.
17) Remember that hiking is to be fun not something to be conquered. If you’re having fun, your dog will too.
18) Take plenty of pictures of your dog at every place you go. You’ll want to look back on the trip and reminisce.