Ahhh, a big sigh of relief for the return of fall and cooler temperatures.
After moving to the Upstate in July, I have come to the realization that the last few months of summer here drag on much like my memories of February and March in Northern Indiana where I grew up; fall like spring couldn't come soon enough. During those dog days, I found myself thinking about all the fall projects I had planned: finally committing to patio furniture, the never-ending task of landscaping (never-ending because I have a plant problem,) and of course hiking with my loyal trail pup Hank, a heeler-terrier mix. At 10, Hank still has it going on and on most hikes is fairly annoyed at the human slowing him down. Over the years of traveling and hiking with my boy, I have visited a lot of different trails all with their own rules, gotten to see the happiest pups enjoying life with their people, but also come across a few trail mishaps that could have been prevented.
I hope the following tips help to make for an enjoyable and safe hiking experience with your furry friend this fall and for many years to come.
~Katy Bailey, DVM (and Hank)
Knowing Your Dog
Cooler temperatures and beautiful days naturally make us want to get outside and bring along our pets (I won't discriminate against cats as there is a Maine coon in my neighborhood who goes for a stroll every night down the road. ) It is important to know your dog, though, and their behavior and level of training in situations where they are up close and in contact with many other dogs and people. Being able to walk calmly on a leash, knowing commands especially "leave it", and recalling/coming back to you in the event that they get out of their collar/harness or their leash is dropped are all crucial. Also, be sure to follow leash laws as they are designed to keep everyone safe. Even if your dog is friendly and well-behaved in all situations, it is impossible to predict the behavior of the dog that they may run up on or how big that dog's "personal space bubble" is.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and home quarantine, many young dogs missed out on important socialization/interaction with other people and dogs outside of their own home setting. If you have a reactive dog who barks at the sight of other dogs and/or people, continuing to work on training, taking high reward treats with you on hikes, and selecting quieter, less heavily trafficked hiking areas are great ways to set your pup up for success and still be able to enjoy the outdoors. Finally, be sure to take into consideration weather conditions and your dog's breed and age with the trails that you select, especially if you have a brachycephalic breed, young growing puppy, or senior dog that may have mobility concerns.
Planning & Packing Appropriately
Anytime you are planning a hike with your dog, make sure that you know if it is dog friendly and read up on the rules beforehand. I will never forget being politely told to turn around by a park ranger in the Smoky Mountains because I had completely overlooked/was not aware of the strict no dogs on trails rule. Many National Parks do allow dogs but generally, be prepared for restrictions to where they can go to keep them and wildlife safe. The National Park Service has created the B.A.R.K. principles so people and pets can have a safe and fun visit:
- Bag your pet's waste
- Always leash your pet
- Respect wildlife
- Know where you can go
Just as we take along our own hiking pack with water, snacks, bug repellant, and first aid kit (mine has quite the assortment of goodies,) think about your dog too when packing! In addition to being microchipped, they should have a tag or collar with your contact information on it. Also, be sure to bring them water (soft, collapsible water bowls take up little space), treats, and a small pet first aid kit in your hiking bag. Many of the items in the pet first aid kit are similar to our own such as:
- Alcohol wipes
- A pair of tweezers
- Benadryl (in the event of an insect sting/bite)
- Gauze pads/tape
- Antibacterial ointment
Finally, for those adventure pups that hit the trails frequently (and all dogs), it is very important that they receive a monthly and effective flea/tick prevention and are also vaccinated against leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic, (meaning it can be spread from animals to people) bacterial disease that is transmitted via animal urine in standing water. Performing a post-hike exam to make sure that there are no unwanted tick hitchhikers and preventing your dog from drinking from ponds, streams, or standing pools of water on your hike are great ways to help keep them safe.