A Dog's Hike

Taking Fido on the trail with you? A dog behaviorist tells BACKPACKER how you can make sure your dog has as great a hike as you do.

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See that pooch on the left there? That’s BACKPACKER’s official mascot dog, Sherbert, covered in red dust after healthy bouldering session with our web producer Katie Herrell. You wouldn’t guess it by the size of her head, but ol’ Sherb can rock a V12+. Believe it.

We wouldn’t expect your dog to crush like Sherb, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take Spot out on the trail with you—he/she will dig the fresh air, exercise, and new and exciting scents of wildlife droppings almost as much as you do. But you can’t just turn it loose at the trailhead. Dog behavioral therapist Andrea Stradley of Boulder Bark Busters shares a few essential tips for taking man’s best friend into the wild.

  • Make sure you have enough food and water for each of you; for Rover, make sure to include a high protein snack to keep him from becoming fatigued, as well as to help repair any muscle damage done during the hike. Be cautious of altitude changes for the dog—make sure they stay hydrated and nourished.
  • If your dog will be carrying his/her own food, water, and poop-bags in a pack for the first time, get your dog use to the pack by taking him on walks (at least two weeks in advance) wearing the packs and gradually adding weight to the pack each walk. This not only gets your dog use to the pack, but he will also start building endurance so that he doesn’t fatigue as quickly on your hike.
  • Look out for fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other pesky little bugs. There are sprays specifically made for dogs and cats that can be sprayed on their fur before heading out on the hike that works just like the repellent you use. Once you return home, check your dog thoroughly for any unwanted guests that might have hitched a ride back.
  •  If it’s the first hike for your dog in a while (or ever) you may want to buy him boots to protect the pads of his feet. Dogs that haven’t spent much time outside on rough surfaces will have softer, tear-prone pads. (Think of human feet: We spend all winter wearing socks and shoes, so the soles of our feet are soft. In summer we wear sandals/flip flops, or just go bare-foot, which builds thicker skin and calluses.) If you are winter hiking/snowshoeing, these boots will also help protect your dog from developing annoying snowballs that clump and stick to the fur between the pads of the feet. 
  •  When packing your own first-aid kit, make sure to include some extra bandages and gauze just in case something should happen to Rover.
  • Make sure that your dog is in good physical shape to hike with you. When you descend, keep the dog at a reasonable pace, and watch that they don’t cause damage to the pads of their feet or to their joints when they jumps down or from rock to rock.
  • If your dog goes off-leash, be considerate of other hikers and their dogs—make sure you have control over your dog and he comes back when called. If your dog likes to chase, or run ahead, be mindful of snakes, bears, skunks, and any other wildlife or traps that could attract or harm your dog.

(Learn more about keeping your canine friends healthy on the trail with “First Aid for Fido,” from BACKPACKER’s May 2008 Issue.)

Do you have a trail dog that can stand up to Sherbert? Send us a photo. We’ll publish our favorites.

— Ted Alvarez

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