By John Woods from All Things Dogs
The day you brought your furry best friend into your life may have been the day you decided that you’d only go on an adventure if he could come along.
Before you head into the wilderness with your four-legged companion, here are some tips to stay safe on the trail.
How Old Is He?
Before you commit to miles of peaks and ravines, you need to consider the health of your dog.
Puppies should only be walked for five minutes per month of age. For example, if he’s three months old, he can have two 15-minute walks a day.
Keep those longer treks for when he’s reached full maturity. For smaller dogs, this is around 12 months of age. For large breeds this can be anywhere up to 18 to 24 months of age.
Is He in Good Health?
I’ve mentioned the younger side of the scale, but owners should also be mindful if they have an aging pet. Older dogs can suffer with immobility due to skeletal conditions like arthritis. This causes pain and reluctance to move.
Again, you don’t want to ask too much of our older pet, so if his body doesn’t let him move like he used to, choose some less demanding, shorter routes and watch for signs he isn’t coping.
Plan Your Route
It should go without saying, but it’s essential to plan your route.
Bring along a map and ensure you have a good understanding of where you are heading. Check weather warnings and local warnings before you head out.
Speak with other hikers to see if they have any tips for the route and be realistic about your ability. Are you confident that you can finish the route? Is it achievable for your dog too? No one wants to be stuck navigating near sheer drops with a 200-lb Mastiff!
Remember to take a bowl and bottle of water for your dog too.
Some dogs will only drink from a bowl. This isn’t something you want to figure out at the top of peak! So stop regularly. You may be tempted to allow your dog to drink from water sources you find, but ensure the water is clean and safe before you do so. Any signs of algae or film, walk away.
If you are trekking in a foreign country, the risk of drinking from local water sources heightens significantly, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry and just take a bottle with you.
Check for Parasites!
Before you head out, ensure your dog is up to date with his flea and tick treatment.
Lyme disease is a tick-transmitted disease prevalent in Canada, the US and Europe. Even if you know your dog is up to date with his treatment, check him for ticks whenever you have been out in woods and long grassed areas.
A tick will attach to the skin, bite and feed before dropping off. If you find a tick, remove it fully with tweezers or a tick-removing tool, ensuring you also pull its head out. Never squeeze it or douse it in anything thinking that will kill it.
Stressing the tick may cause it to regurgitate its infected stomach contents into the bite site. If you are concerned about tick-transmitted disease, speak with your veterinarian.
Nail the Training
Before you head into unknown territory, make sure you have trained the basic commands. You’ll never know when you’ll need him to “Stop!” “Leave!” or “Stay!”
You’re walking towards a rocky ravine and Fido is getting a little boisterous, “Stop!” will keep him safe and refocus his attention.
You find a snake across the path and you want to wait patiently for it to slither off, “Fido, Sit—Stay!” will keep him out of harm’s way. A dead carcass? “Fido, Leave!”
Call Fido towards you. As he comes, throw treats behind him. He should stop to eat them. As he does, label the behaviour. Repeat. As he understands the task, he should stop to look for the treats as soon as you say the command. Then move on to releasing him before you treat him. You do want him to come back to you in the end!
With a treat in a closed fist, Fido should sniff it and try to get to it. Don’t let him. As soon as he turns away, give him the treat. He learns that if he ignores it, he gets it anyway! Label the behaviour. Eventually, you can progress to leaving treats on the floor and asking him to leave even when in plain sight!
With Fido sitting or lying down in front of you, hold you hand up, palm flat. Say “stay!” If he does so, treat and praise him. Slowly, increase the time before you praise and treat him. Then, slowly move away from him. Train the command at one step away, then two steps, then three steps etc. Use short sessions and only praise him when he’s done it. Any other speaking during the task will just distract him and he’ll just wander straight to you!
Once you’ve covered the basics, you are ready to head out and explore.
Keep him on leash near livestock or distractions, or for the whole trek if you’re not confident in his recall or eagerness to respond to commands. And of course, always obey all posted signage and avoid trails where dogs aren't welcome.
There is a big wide world out there ready to explore with your pup. Stay safe and enjoy your treks!