On the trails: be your dog’s best friend
May 6, 2006
Without a doubt, we mountain dwellers love our dogs as members of the family and like to include them in our summer hikes. While we’re planning for where we’re going, what we’re going to do and how long we’ll be staying out, we can ensure a satisfying excursion for our canine friends as well if we include their tendencies, preferences and needs in our preparations.
Martine Savageau is a dog trainer/behaviorist who has been involved with Search and Rescue, therapy dogs, and guide dog puppy training. She teaches classes through Lead Me On in Salt Lake City and Friends of Animals in Park City. According to Savageau, different dog breeds, with individual variations, of course, adapt differently to the hiking experience. Before adopting a canine walking or running companion, Savageau suggests learning what a specific breed of dog was bred to do. "Generally, the sporting and herding dogs, those bred to work with a person, are the most successful as hiking companions," said Savageau.
"Labs, for example, were bred to be fish dogs, retrieving fish and bringing them back to their owners. In other words, they will bring us their own dinner. Shepherds are good one-on-one dogs, bonding well with their person. In Search and Rescue, most people were keeping track of their dogs. The shepherds were keeping track of their people."
At the other end of the canine spectrum Savageau said that hounds are bred to chase after things. "If she catches the scent of something, she’s going to forget you’re there. And a Jack Russell Terrier should never be off a leash. He will want to be off digging up things." Savageau added that bulldogs generally don’t like to run. "They seem to be exhausted all the time." To find the dog that’s right for you, go to the American Kennel Club Web site and learn about the breed characteristics of over 150 AKC recognized breeds.
Carol Potter, executive director of Mountain Trails Foundation, says that all the trails in and around Park City allow dogs and all require leashes. While some scofflaws let their dogs run free on trails, it is not possible to anticipate unpleasant encounters and dangerous situations. Savageau was once sharing a walk with her dog Nakota at Rockport Reservoir when Nakota suddenly ran out on the ice and fell through into the freezing water.
When Nakota tried to get out but couldn’t get a foot-hold, Savageau had to go into the icy water to pull him out. Another hiker in Daly Canyon, who sheepishly wishes to remain anonymous, unthinkingly tossed a pinecone backwards over his head. The cone bounced over the side of the mountain and the hiker’s golden retriever, Rosie, who was off-lead, went bounding after it, dropping several yards and crashing into a tree that stopped her fall. Rosie was retrieved and carried back up to the trail. In each case the hike was over and while both dogs survived their life-threatening experiences the outcomes could have been very regrettable.
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Accidents do happen, though, and a well-supplied hiker should have first aid supplies tucked away in her backpack. If hiking in rough terrain, dog booties can help protect tender paws. A tube of antibiotic cream, Vet Wrap bandage tape, tweezers, and pliers for pulling out porcupine needles should all be part of the kit. Child-sized socks could be used in place of the booties and a leash can double as a sling. Keep an eye on your dog for signs of dehydration, lameness and heat stress. For more information on canine first aid, check out the American Red Cross’s book "Pet First Aid" or view their website for a local first aid class.
Dogs must be fluent in human language, at least the basic recall commands, and proficient in acceptable behaviors, in order to avoid dangerous encounters, as well as to interact politely with other canine and human hikers. A dog that pulls on a leash, for example, can be treacherous to you and others, especially on steep or narrow trails.
You should be able to call your dog back to you even it is bolting off after a deer. And dogs should not be allowed to approach, touch or jump up on other hikers, human or canine. The outcome of such an encounter is unknown and often unpleasant. "We need to be considerate of others," said Savageau. "If I’m out hiking, I don’t want other people’s dogs running up and jumping on me. I’m out to spend some good time with my own dogs."
Savageau recommends that your pooch get a complete checkup with a veterinarian before going out on long treks. Ask when your puppy can begin hiking, and gradually increase its distance. "Only engage in age-appropriate activities," cautions Savageau. "If a puppy is not fully structurally developed, the stress on its joints can result in a life-long problem." Older dogs’ capabilities should be considered as well. "As the dog gets older, the hikes should be slower and shorter."
The industry that has built up around hiking activities hasn’t forgotten the canine hikers. Doggy backpacks that can be filled with plastic water bottles, snacks, and treats can be purchased in many retail outdoor stores, as well as collapsible water dishes, booties and leashes long enough to attach a tired dog to a tree trunk for a comfortable rest in the shade. Experts say a healthy dog can carry up to 1/3 its weight, but the pack should be carefully fit to the dog. Start with an empty pack to acclimate your dog, and then gradually add weight on successive hikes.
Staying hydrated is just as important to your dog as it is to you. Your dog will feel the heat sooner than you will, since he’s hiking in a full fur coat. Give him water often, and watch for signs of heat stress panting excessively, running from shady spot to shady spot, or becoming red in the gums. Hiking in the early morning or late in the evening can help reduce the risk of heat exhaustion.
And one final word of advice scoop up the poop!
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