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Eager to amp up your daily walks and expose your dog to new sights, sounds and smells? Take a hike!
Hiking offers many benefits to both dog and owner, including a great cardiovascular workout and a healthy way to combat stress.
In the past few years, my dogs, Chipper and Cleo, and I have trekked up and down small mountains, as well as taken weekend camping trips in dog-friendly nature preserves throughout California and Arizona.
But before you lace up your own hiking boots, there are some things that you need to know to keep your hike fun and safe for your pet.
Vetstreet turned to Dr. Christine Zink, DVM, Ph.D., a veterinarian who specializes in canine sports medicine in Baltimore, Md., for her top tips for getting the most out of a hike with your pup:
Book a snout-to-tail examination. Bring your dog to your veterinarian for a thorough physical exam. Your vet will assess your dog’s current fitness level, evaluate his range of motion, and alert you to any possible health concerns. And don’t forget to schedule a physical with your own physician.
Avoid “weekend warrior” syndrome. Don't just limit exercise with your dog to the weekends — you risk injuries to your pet's muscles and joints this way. “Dogs suffer muscle pain just like humans," says Dr. Zink. "This can be immediate or it can happen a few hours later or even the next day." Instead, gradually expand the distance, duration and elevation of your daily walks until your dog can comfortably complete jaunts that last more than an hour.
Master the “come back” call. Practice your dog’s recall capabilities in an enclosed area, such as a backyard, before allowing him to be off-leash in hiking areas that permit dogs on trails. (You should also avoid letting your dog roam loose in regions known for having venomous snakes.) "This is the single most important command a dog can learn,” says Dr. Zink. “If your dog will come when called, you can get him out of just about any dangerous situation — like avoiding a cliff, rushing river or a wild animal."
Factor in your dog’s age. Dogs who are under 1 year old are still developing their muscles and bones, so they should not go on hikes that last more than half a day. And don’t overtax senior dogs, either — they may be emotionally willing to please you, but they could lack the physical prowess to complete a long hike.
Pack with safety in mind. Your backpack should include plenty of water for you and your dog, easy-to-digest protein doggie treats (such as dried liver), sunscreen for white or thin-coated dogs, a small pet first-aid kit and your cell phone. Proper flea and tick protection is also a must. And don't forget to check that your dog's ID tags are securely attached — even better, get a microchip — before setting off on any hike.
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