Going hiking?

Take Sassy along!


Breezes are balmy, the late summer sun warms to the core, and nature beckons the whole family to the park, the beach, and the mountain trail. Sassy wants to go along too, so why not?

First on the agenda is to make sure Sassy is well-behaved in public. An obedience class should take care of that – if you follow instructions and practice at home. If the vacation looms and there’s no time for a class, and Sassy’s fairly well-behaved already, just make sure she walks quietly on a leash, doesn’t bark a lot, and will sit, lie down, and stay on command. [More on obedience training]

Next, make sure she is carrying identification in case she wanders off. A collar tag or rabies tag may be sufficient, but permanent identification such as a microchip or tattoo works if the collar gets lost. [More on microchips]

Make sure Rover’s in shape. He needs to be conditioned for hiking just as you do. A few shakedown hikes at any of the area’s parks will provide a clue to Sassy’s readiness for a week in the mountains or at the seashore. First, check your equipment. Make sure you have a sturdy leash that is easy on your hands. Leather or nylon in either three-eighths or half-inch width is better than chain, cotton, or wide leashes. Use a strong flat or rolled buckle collar that will control your pet if he is tempted to chase deer or other wildlife.

Although flexible leashes are popular, they are not well-suited for a walk in the park unless there are no other people, dogs, or wildlife in the area. A dog on a retractable leash can still jump on other hikers and trample flowers. A large dog may snap a retractable leash if he takes off suddenly, a dropped leash handle can snap back and hit the dog, and few owners have complete control of their dogs at the end of a 15- or 25-foot leash.

Never allow the dog to run free in a park, no matter how much he enjoys it or how guilty you feel that he is cooped up all week while you work. Loose dogs can mug other hikers, harass wildlife, tromp wildflowers, spook horses, get lost, get hurt, or get into fights with other loose dogs.

If you’re hiking in a park that has heavily used trails, make sure you clean up after your dog. Don’t subject someone else to your dog’s feces. If there are trash barrels handy, carry plastic bags, put the feces in a bag, and deposit. (Many city and county parks have dispensers of easy-to-use plastic bags or disposable scoops.) If there are no barrels, remove the feces from the trail with a stick, a large leaf, or a utensil carried for that purpose.

Carry plenty of water, even on a day trip. Dogs evaporate heat from their bodies by panting; they need lots of water to replenish the moisture lost in this process. Some dogs will drink from a squirt bottle that can be carried on a belt or in a backpack; otherwise, carry a small bowl (collapsible ones are available) in a backpack along with a first aid kit, a bird guide, and a pair of binoculars.

Closed tents and motor homes can overheat, so consider special cool bandannas or belly wraps to keep Sassy comfortable at the end of a day on the trail or during rest breaks and at night. Collapsible bowls and cool wraps are available through dog supply catalogs and specialty stores.

Learn to recognize poison ivy. Although dogs are not susceptible to skin irritation caused by the oils of these plants, you can be exposed if you pet a dog that has run through a patch or thicket of this ubiquitous perennial vine or shrub. Carry a medicinal salve such as cortisone cream or the new Benadryl anti-itch cream in the first aid kit just in case.

Check for ticks at the end of every hike. Ticks carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and Lyme disease, but they must actually attach to the dog and begin to ingest blood in order to transmit the diseases. Quick removal prevents attachment.

About two weeks before leaving on vacation, take Towser to the veterinarian for a complete checkup to make sure he’s up to the trip. Have him checked for intestinal parasites, and, if you’re headed to an area where Lyme disease or leptospirosis is prevalent, talk to the doctor about vaccinations against these ailments.

If boating is on the schedule, make sure Rover has a life jacket.

If you’re traveling in a motor home, make sure the generator is in top shape, especially if Rover will spend time alone in the vehicle. Generators have been known to fail, and dogs have suffered severe heat stroke and even died as a result.

Consider buying a backpack for the dog. Even a medium-sized dog can carry some dog food, a bowl, a first aid kit, etc. if the load is balanced and not too heavy. Of course, the dog should be slowly accustomed to wearing the pack empty and then with various cargo.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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