The sun is shining, the weather is warmer, and more people are hitting the trails. We are fortunate to live in an area that is blessed with abundance of natural beauty. There are a few things we can do while on the trails with our four-legged friends to ensure that everyone has a good time.
Before starting on the trails, be prepared. Get to know the trails. Look over the description of the trails and topography. It is always good to have an idea of what to expect with the elevation, the natural wonders and the water sources on the trail. Knowing the trails will help you pack adequate food and water for both you and your dog. Know the weather for the day. In Western NC, the weather can be unpredictable. Pack accordingly. Don’t forget to bring a first aid kit, water, snacks, disposable containers for waste pick up, your phone, and leashes.
Also know the leash laws and trail rules. Some trails in the area do not allow dogs while others have leash laws that are regulated and impose hefty fines if they are broken. Knowing the leash laws and trail rules and abiding by them allows areas for dogs that are good off-leash to have the freedom to run and it allows other areas for dogs that need to be leashed to have areas that they can hike without the worries of off-leashed dogs running up to them. Be respectful of the rules.
Before beginning to hike with your pet, have a microchip implanted in your pet and register the microchip so that you have a better chance to reunite should your pet become lost, and always be sure that your pet is wearing a secure, legible ID tag.
Know your dog
Be aware of your dog’s temperament - his or her likes and dislikes. Just like people, dogs have individual personalities. Know their reactions to strangers, other dogs, horses, wildlife, bikes and unexpected situations, so you can prevent problems as they encounter these things on the trail. Some dogs are scared of bikes and will lunge at them, while other dogs do not take a second look at them. Some dogs do not do well when they encounter children, but other dogs love them and bask in their attention. Some dogs see runners as something to chase. Some dogs see everyone on the trails as someone they MUST go meet. Dogs can be very vocal due to a happy excitement, while others are vocal due to stress or aggression. Knowing your dog’s reactions helps you to choose areas to hike in that are appropriate, as well as how to address other hikers or situations as they arise. It can prevent a lot of negative developments on the trails.
Physical capabilities play a huge part in determining what hiking is appropriate for your dog. Different breeds are suited for different types of trails. The brachycephalic breeds (the flat-faced breeds - pugs, french bulldogs, etc) may do better on the shorter and less strenuous walks, while breeds like Labs and Jack Russell Terriers that seem to have an endless amount of energy and can tolerate day-long mountain hikes. Each dog is different, so take in consideration the age, weight, and endurance level of the dog. Older dogs may have arthritis in their joints, and while exercise is good for them, they should have regular exercise everyday of approximately the same amount. Taking an old dog who rarely gets exercise out for a hike of several miles will result in increased arthritic pain. Some older dogs have changes to their heart and lungs which may cause them to tire more easily than they did when they were younger. Overweight dogs will tire and should be allowed to work up to the longer trails over time. After a winter of resting on the couch, start with short trails or less elevation changes and work back into shape.
Some dogs have a low heat or cold tolerance. Thick-coated breeds such as Huskies or very black dogs can overheat more quickly than the thin-coated dogs. The short nosed breeds, like bulldogs, will also overheat more easily. Especially in warm weather when hiking on the trail, be sure to frequently offer water to your dog in order to prevent heat stroke. Watch for signs of illness. Also be aware if your dog is tiring. Do not push your dog; allow rest as needed by your pet because he or she may need more rest than you do.
Your dog can lend a helping paw by carrying his or her own water in a backpack. Select a backpack that fits well - no rubbing on the legs or chest. Slowly work up over several hikes to your pet carrying heavier weights by starting with an empty pack to allow the dog to adjust to it. You can add water bottles or treats to the pack over time. A general rule of thumb is no more than a 1/3 of the dog’s weight should be added to the pack.
Protect Yourself and Your Pet
It is very important that your pet is up-to-date on his/her vaccinations as it is very probable that your pet will interact with other pets who have not had vaccinations. It is extrememly important that your pet's rabies vaccination is current. See the following link for information that every hiker and pet owner should know about rabies: http://www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/vet.html
If you have any questions about the health of your dog before hiking, consult with your pet’s veterinarian at Animal Hospital of North Asheville.