Few things can beat a hike with your best K9 buddy. However, before you embark on adventure, there are three things to consider to ensure success.
Leashes and the like
MOST areas for hiking will be on leash. There are many reasons for this, some of these include: the safety and comfort of people using the trail; the safety of your pooch – there might be wildlife in the area!; protection of natural areas – some parks/trails include sensitive fauna that could be harmed by an enthusiastic pooch bounding through it; other hazards such as old fences/wire, etc can pose a risk to a loose dog.
A harness may be a good option for your on-leash hike, as it allows your dog to pull ahead, sniffing and investigating, without pressure on their neck. A sturdy leash is a must. Flexi-leads are rarely a good idea – dogs can become tangled, you can drop your clunky end and startle your dog, and your dog can get waaay too far out front. There are belts you can wear that you can hook your dog’s leash too, these leave your hands free for balancing yourself on a hike, accessing water, etc.
Your pooch may be able to pull his or her own weight and carry a small backpack with poo bags and treats. Mine always keep my car keys (they are far less likely to lose then than I am!). If your dog hasn’t worn a pack before, start slow and light, then work up to them carrying a moderate weight. It is recommended that dogs not carry more than 10% of their own weight. This means my 43 lb Dalmatian can comfortable carry a water bottle, my keys, and some treats.
Some areas will allow for off leash hiking. This can be a wonderful adventure, but needs some preparation, too. Most importantly, ensure your dog has a VERY solid recall. They need to come when you call them, reliably, and not just in your yard/house, but when there are distractions around. If your dog starts chasing a squirrel and totally ignores you they could run onto a road, or into another hazard, or get lost!
Don’t be a weekend warrior
If you and your pooch are somewhat sedentary during the week, with small walks around the neighbourhood, don’t set out for a 10 km hike on Saturday, you will both end up sore! Start slow and build up, together. You can begin by simply adding on to your regular neighbourhood walks; add some extra distance, or difficulty by finding some hills to climb. Then head out to some trails to get you and your pooch used to different terrain.
Being out in nature is wonderful but can bring risks. Talk to your veterinary team to ensure your pet is protected against anything they might encounter. Dogs who are exposed to streams, puddles and/or wildlife (e.g. rodents, raccoons) urine or feces may need different vaccines (check out Dr. Evason’s podcast on leptospirosis!), and parasite prevention. Similarly, your pooch may need different flea, tick and heartworm prevention depending on where you live or plan to travel to. Your veterinary team will be able to work with you to protect your precious pet.