Let Janice or Leroy spot me shaking out the day pack or busting out my hiking boots and you can barely contain their enthusiasm. They recognize this gear as clear signs we are going on an actual, out in the wilderness hike! I do walk them every day and take some lengthier strolls on my local “rail trail” at least once or twice per week. What we don’t get to do very often, though, is pile into the car and go out into the beautiful woodlands that surround my hometown. We don’t take a one- or two-hour hike, but instead fully commit to a day out on the trails.
Last update on 2018-12-17 at 16:55 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Because the cooler and amazingly beautiful autumn season is starting to arrive where we live, I am getting ready for a nice long hike and thought it would be a perfect time to offer a refresher to my fellow hiking enthusiasts. After all, it is easy to forget the different hazards that come with the many delights of a hearty autumn hike.
No, I don’t mean your fitness – I mean the dog’s! You should never take a dog that is aging, ailing or somehow too physically challenged to tackle the demands of a hike out on the trails. While you shouldn’t keep them at home, either, you will want to modify whatever course you have planned to something that dog can safely manage. Keep in mind that many breeds are meant to easily handle short sprints, so your pup that seems to race easily after a ball may not love trekking up and down leaf-covered trails for two or more hours at a stretch.
You can do a bit of training beginning a week or two ahead of your day hike if you fear the dog may not be up to the challenge. Start with just one mile in the woods or on the trail. This is around 30 minutes of very gentle walking or 15 minutes of very brisk movement.
How did the dog do? Allow for preliminary sniffing and a potty break or two but pay attention to the amount of effort and fatigue that results. If your dog seems ready to keep going, slowly increase distances, and incorporate hills to see if they are okay with your intended pace and terrain.
It could also be a good time to do a refresher or first-time test of your dog’s willingness to follow verbal commands. Trust me, it can be, let’s say, disturbing to use the voice commands that work fine in the backyard only to have them fail in the woods.
Leroy, a fine fellow at most times, has selective hearing when it comes to squirrels. When in the yard, he might make a dash even though he knows he gets a verbal signal to “leave it”. He’ll usually stop his terrorizing on my cue, but once in the woods, all bets are off. I keep him in a comfortable harness and leashed at all times, but I am in for a big jolt if he spots one and thinks he can reach it.
So, work on those commands or test them out ahead of a hike this fall. Animals heading into hibernation states can be quite cranky, and some can be dangerous. Snakes, as an example, are often found in the woods in autumn, and you don’t want to encounter a situation in which the dog will ignore commands to “leave it” (or whatever phrase you use) when it is a poisonous snake.
I was shocked to read an article online about six dogs in Ireland dying after succumbing to parvo. It all happened in Limerick City and in just two weeks, an outbreak of the virus led to the death of six of the 11 dogs that were diagnosed with the condition. As the article noted, “It’s said to be spreading ‘like wildfire’ and has a 90 per cent fatality rate.”
My regular readers know I am pretty passionate about vaccinations, and particularly after one of Janice’s pups died when its adoptive owner failed to get it properly vaccinated against the parvovirus. And because parvo can be picked up everywhere – from the dog park to the sidewalk in front of your home – it makes sense to protect your pup against this lethal and usually fatal issue.
Yet, there are other potentially harmful bacteria out in the woods and wilds, including Leptospirosis. You can get your dogs vaccinated against this, too, and if you are going on a day hike, it is one of the wisest choices to make because this one can live in standing water or anywhere wild animals live, i.e. the WOODS.
As part of a regular twice-annual checkup, speak with your vet about the activities you enjoy with the dogs and ask them which vaccines are essential for keeping them safe as you venture out into the world for a lengthy hike. As I wrote about in my article about preparing to backpack with a dog, get everything you can to keep the dog safe, including rabies, distemper, parvo, Leptospirosis and even treatments to combat fleas and ticks.
Dogs are amazing at finding the most disgusting things and then rolling in them. My kid sister had the sweetest little Yorkshire Terrier – Miniature Dachshund mix, and though she was a lover of all things, she was especially fond of stink. Whether it was a dead worm on a sidewalk, a dead mole in the grass, something unidentifiable yet rotten and horribly aromatic, Ozma would be found rolling in it.
She was a great fan of cow manure, mud and the horrifically disgusting muck at the edge of our pond. She’d return home, head held high and we would all yell at my sister for allowing her pet to roll in the latest foul find. We are not alone in this sort of issue, and one Good Housekeeping writer captured her own experiences with this same phenomenon quite well, describing how, her dog Mr. Moxie “dive-bombed the dead thing, rubbing its essence into his fur and making sure eau de dead sea gull perfumed our car ride home.”
Why dogs like stinky things is up for debate, with some experts saying dogs like to camouflage their scent in order to be able to hunt more effectively. Some think that it is the reverse and a dog choose a strong odor to mark territory. Still another explains that a dog’s olfactory sense is so much stronger that ours that a smell we describe as rank may be quite perfume-like to a dog – in other words, it is so bad it is good.
Yet, the why is not really important when your dog has decided to make a habit of this. After all, whether they do this out on a hike or in the backyard, you end up living with that stench. It could be that the car seats have to be deodorized or it could be the entire home. The good news is that you can prepare for this in a few ways.
First, keep the dog on a leash or be sure your dog is responsive to the “leave it” command. If they still manage to get themselves filthy, you can pack a towel and some cleansing wipes that kill off harmful bacteria and reduce some of the odors. You can also keep an emergency deodorizing and cleaning kit in the car. I tuck a shaker of dry shampoo in my kit to help neutralize the worst odors, and I never travel without keeping the seats fully covered with durable seat covers, since towels or sheets never do the trick.
If you fear the very worst, you can keep some water and liquid shampoo in the car, but that’s too much of a project for most. The best way to ensure this behavior doesn’t ruin a hike is to simply train your pup to stop rolling in the stinky stuff.
And if your dog is not on a lead and encounters a skunk? That is a serious problem, and for that I have to refer you to an article I did earlier in 2018 on just that issue.
Even if I am hiking in a place I know well, I don’t ever assume I’ll make it out alive…just kidding, I know we’ll survive a day of hiking, even in spite of my horrible navigational skills. Yet, I do prepare for the worst-case scenarios. For example, what if I wipe out and break my ankle or my leg? What if bad weather comes and we’re trapped somewhere?
Rather than sweating out any what-if scenarios, I just pack it up and make sure we have adequate emergency supplies. There is food and water for the dogs, along with a great little travel bowl for each of them. I also bring a backup leash and harness in case something goes wrong with the ones the dogs are wearing. We always carry out our garbage, and that includes dog poo, so a good supply of poo bags goes into the pack. I also carry a first aid kit for myself and one with supplies for the pups. These are just the basics and I also usually have a blanket for us to stretch out on, a few treats in addition to food and water, and things like emergency whistle, and more.
The point here is to be sure you go out on the trail, even one that you feel will have other hikers and dogs, prepared for an emergency.
While I never advise a strenuous hike for people or dogs during the heat of summer, I also warn dog owners about woodland hikes in the autumn season. This is for a few reasons, but the most important is the fact that it is often hunting season. Whether it is birds, deer, bear or something else, the simple truth is that a woodland hike in the fall can be full of gorgeous leaves and people with guns. It is altogether too easy for a hunter to see a leggy dog, or a dog of any size really, and mistake it for game.
What can you do? First and foremost, try to get your dogs to wear bright orange flares of some kind or another. I know that many dogs dislike clothing, but many are okay if you make them carry a pack. If that is what works with your pup, then go ahead and find one that has an orange flare or that can have something brilliantly colored attached to it.
Secondly, why is your dog wandering in the undergrowth or bounding in the fields without you? Even if you habitually allow your dogs to roam during hikes, this is the time of year you really have to curb that behavior; stopping it altogether. Not only is there a risk a dog could be mistaken for prey and shot, but an injured animal that a hunter failed to kill with a single shot can be very dangerous. From deer to bear, a wounded animal is going to lash out if cornered. A dog cannot help but sniff out blood and an animal’s scent and will follow the trail.
Last update on 2018-12-17 at 16:55 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Just resist the urge to let a dog run free. If you want to see them galloping at full speed, take it to the nearest dog park or dog-friendly playground and let them get out all of that energy.
While you are doing research for a good place to go hiking with your dogs this fall, consider making plans to improve the entire experience by ensuring it is a safer, healthier and more enjoyable one. Be sure your pups can tackle the terrain you have in mind, and prepare them for it by getting them vaccinated, stocked with the right gear, trained for safety and dressed for the woods. When you’ve done that, you can stop worrying about any “what ifs” and enjoy the day, or two, out in nature before the winter weather comes.