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April 27, 2004 > Hiking With Your Hound

Hiking With Your Hound

by Nancy Lyon

Our area is blessed with dog-friendly parks with trails that can take you and your canine companion from the shoreline to rolling hills. And as the weather becomes more like spring, thoughts turn to outdoor adventuring. However, before hitting the trail it's a good idea to examine your dog's special trail needs and the possible hazards that face pooches with unwary guardians.

First of all, it's really very important to carefully evaluate just how ready your dog is for hiking. Older, overweight dogs may be arthritic or have other health problems and may well enjoy shorter walks in flatter country. Factors such as coat length or having a very short muzzle that restricts breathing should be taken into consideration when deciding when and where you go.

The safest course of action is to have your dog's suitability for longer treks evaluated by your veterinarian before you get into any serious hiking. Get your dog in condition before hiking and camping by taking him on shorter hikes close to home. If your dog barks constantly or is very anxious, reconsider taking him.

The basics of hiking safely with your dog include an ID tag displaying not only current and reachable contact information but if you are staying away from home, the name of the park, campground, or motel at your destination area. A microchip ID (available at many animal hospitals) and tattoo ID are also good to use in combination with traditional tags. Keep the information current.

It also helps if your dog has had some obedience training, allowing your dog off-leash always carries a serious risk factor and obedience training may prevent or get your dog out of a tough situation. A free roaming dog chasing wildlife may be able to be recalled and prevent him getting lost in wild areas.

The hills are alive with more than the music of Mother Nature. Encounters with potentially disease carrying ticks, mosquitoes, toxic algae and plants, microscopic life forms that live in streams and ponds, and unappreciative wildlife are all part of the nature experience.

Before you begin the hike:
Remember to pack plenty of water. You and your dog will drink more than usual. There are convenient and collapsible water bowls available for dogs. Dog's also have sun-sensitive areas such as nose and ears, particularly those with short fur and light skin. Apply sunblock that should be at least SPF 15, to these areas more than 15 minutes before sun exposure.

On the trail:
It's recommended in wilderness areas that you keep your dog on leash. Bring a short, sturdy leash for hiking and an extra in case your regular one gets damaged. If you're hiking in terrain with cliffs, canyons, big rocks or other challenging conditions, it may be safest to attach the leash to a sturdy harness instead of a collar.

Check your dog's footpads periodically for thistles, debris or soreness along the way no matter where you hike. Sharp awns from foxtails are particularly dangerous and dogs nosing in the grass can quickly fall victim to them. Familiarize yourself with what they look like and if he wanders into a hazardous area, immediately check fur, paws, nose, eye area and ears. He can also pick up the oils from poison ivy and other plants and transfer the oils to you. Plus you want to minimize his chances of exposure to ticks and wild animals. Your dog getting "skunked" will provide a memorable experience for you both.

Carefully comb and run your hands over your dog's body at the end of the day. Check for ticks and other parasites that need to be removed. Carry a compact medical kit for emergency treatment.

Piles of feces are particularly fascinating to dogs whether from other dogs or wildlife. Animal feces carry any number of germs and parasites. Near the water, they may be subjected to toxins from dead fish or other pollutants. Rinse dogs off immediately after hikes and swims. Pay special attention to cleaning their ears and around their paw pads and toes. Also check eyes and nostrils. Be aware that dogs swimming in fishing areas can ingest life threatening fishhooks, lures and line.

Rattlesnakes share our environment. If a snake bites your dog, immobilise the body part that has been bitten. Keep it at or below the level of the heart. Keep the pet calm and still. Carry the pet if possible. Get to a vet as soon as possible, and try to identify the type of snake. Do not manipulate the bitten area any more than necessary. Do not cut over the fang marks. Do not ice pack or tourniquet the area.

Rules of the road:
Make sure your dog has access to shade and to a clean, non-tippable bowl of fresh water. Dogs are uncomplaining partners, so you need to pay attention to make sure he is not suffering from too much sun, heat, exercise or thirst.

Before starting out, check with your vet about vaccines that may protect your dog from wilderness hazards.

Check before your trip to make sure dogs are allowed on the trails and at the parks and campgrounds you plan to visit

Make sure you and your dog are good citizens. When your dog potties on a trail, pack it out or bury it.

If done properly, walking and hiking with your dog can be an exceptionally satisfying and rewarding experience for you both.

Bay Area Hiker: Where to Hike With Your Dogs
Dogs In The Regional Parks -EBRPD

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