Exploring the great outdoors is an exhilarating experience, but when you hike with your dog, it isn’t just a walk in nature. It’s a bonding experience.
Certain dog breeds are better equipped for outdoor activities like hiking than others. While toy breeds such as Shih Tzus and French Bulldogs might not find the activity as enjoyable, larger, more active breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Dobermans, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and our very own Indies thrive in such environments. For these breeds, these outdoor adventures serve not just as a physical necessity but also offer a range of benefits.
Dogs belonging to these breeds are natural athletes. Hiking becomes an excellent way to maintain their physical fitness. The diverse terrains challenge their muscles, providing an exceptional workout and contributing to their overall health. Furthermore, the outdoor setting offers a sensory playground, engaging their senses with a variety of sights, sounds, and scents. This mental stimulation plays a crucial role in reducing boredom and anxiety, resulting in a more content and happier pet.
However, proper preparation before venturing on to the trails is essential. Assess the trail’s difficulty and length. Ensure your dog is in good health and has received all necessary vaccinations. Consider their age, fitness level, and any specific considerations based on their breed before deciding on a trail. Avoid challenging hikes if they are not accustomed to long distances or tough terrain.
Ease your dog into hiking gradually. Teaching basic commands such as “stay,” “come,” and “leave it” is crucial for ensuring safety while on the trail. Practise these commands in diverse environments to reinforce their effectiveness. While it’s wise to keep your dog on a leash for safety, if you plan to allow them off-leash, make sure their obedience training is thorough enough for them to reliably respond when called. Maintaining control over your dog is not just for their safety but also for the comfort of fellow hikers sharing the trails.
Carry a basic first-aid kit, including essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and any prescribed medications. Outfit your dog with a well-fitted harness, a sturdy leash, and a collar with identification tags. On rough terrain, consider using protective booties for their paws to avoid cuts and bruises. It’s crucial to carry an adequate supply of water for both you and your dog. Additionally, packing snacks or small meals for your dog will help maintain their energy levels throughout the hike.
While on the hike, stay vigilant about the weather, especially in extreme conditions, as hot surfaces can harm your dog’s paw pads, and cold temperatures might affect them differently. Make necessary adjustments to your plans according to the weather. Offer your dog regular breaks for water and rest, as they aren’t as efficient as humans at cooling themselves down. Be attentive to signs of overheating, like drooling and excessive panting.
Maintain control over your dog at all times to prevent wildlife encounters, which could pose a threat or pique your dog’s curiosity. It’s wise to be knowledgeable about both venomous and non-venomous reptiles you might come across during your hike to ensure the safety of both you and your dog. Keep yourself aware of vegetation and plants that could be toxic to your dog if ingested.
Once you have completed a hike, examine your dog’s paws for cuts or lodged debris. Check for ticks, and promptly address any wounds. Offer your dog sufficient water and a cosy resting spot to aid their recovery. Acknowledge and reward your dog for their good behaviour. Positive reinforcement serves to strengthen their training and fosters a positive connection with hiking.
Hiking cements a shared experience, strengthening the bond between owner and dog. Navigating trails requires teamwork and mutual understanding between you and your dog, fostering improved communication and trust, and enriching your relationship.
Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.