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Preparing to Hit the Trail with Your Dog

by Adam Shinn, Only Natural Pet Staff Writer

As we move into Fall, there is no better time to get outside than the next couple of months.  The temperatures start to drop, and the cooler mornings and evenings allow for perfect opportunities to get out on the trail with your dog. 

Getting outside on the trail offers the opportunity to physically push your limits while offering your dog the same benefit.  Hiking with your dog will encourage you to hike faster to keep pace with their energy level, which can mean more exercise for you as an added bonus. 

I do a large amount of hiking with my dog, Savanah, and really love the time together with her, as well as the obvious benefits of the exercise and being outside here in Colorado.  One thing we learned very quickly is that being prepared with the right gear is essential when venturing on to the trail – whether for a short day hike, or on a multi-day trip.

The most important items are your dog’s collar – with an up-to-date I.D. tag – and a sturdy leash.  Some trails will require you to leash your dog while others will not.  Encountering wildlife and other dogs is not uncommon, so even if you’re on a trail that doesn’t require your dog be leashed, it’s always important to be ready to leash your dog at anytime. 

Most parks have informational Websites that can help you be prepared with park & trail rules before you leave home.  You can use these helpful links to find information on National and State Parks in your area. 

Here are some tips on how we prepare to ensure Savanah has the best time possible.

For All Trips:

  • I feed Savanah at least 2 hours prior to the hike as a general rule.  I do this so she’s able to start digesting the food and turn it into energy for the hike.  This also allows for less chance of digestive upsets due to physical exertion.
  • Be sure to bring along a leash for your dog. 
  • Make sure your dog wears a collar [again, with a current ID tag], and make sure it’s at least one inch wide which will help to avoid choking your dog and possibly damaging her throat if she pulls, or if you need to hold her back. 
  • Hydration is a very important part of your dog’s performance on the trail too.  For short day hikes (1-4 hours), I pack extra water for my dog and use the Ruff Wear Quencher Dog Bowl.   It fits conveniently in my backpack for easy access when we need it. For multiple day trips where the weight of items packed plays a role, I will always use the Quencher Bowl because it’s light weight and can be used for both food and water. 
  • A must have is the Ruff Wear Singletrak Dog Pack.  This pack is ideal for adventures where water is all you need. The Singletrak Pack features two on-board, removable Platypus water bladders that keep Savanah hydrated throughout our hikes. 
  • Musher's Secret All Natural Paw Protection Wax will also provide protection in winter conditions as well as summer conditions.  I used the Musher’s Wax last winter and had great success keeping the snowballing to a minimum and her pads protected and will likely use both depending on the type of snowpack we come across.
  • No matter how prepared you are, it is also very important to prepare for the unexpected. Keep your vet and an emergency clinic's phone number handy, always carry a first aid kit, and to be on the safe-side, print out this informative article and tuck it in your pack in a plastic bag to be protected from the elements : Emergency First Aid for Pets.

For Longer Day Hikes and/or Multi-Day Trips:

  • The Ruff Wear Palisades Pack is the best pack for dogs on the market that I have seen.  Savanah wears hers on every backpacking trip we have been on and it is fantastic. The Palisades Pack is built for hard use over multi-day backpacking trips when extra carrying capacity is needed.  This pack carries food, treats, bowls and much more and I have not had one issue to date.  It also comes with hydration bladders for when hot or dry conditions present themselves.  My favorite feature of this pack for dogs is the removable saddlebags.  This feature allows anyone to get that perfect fit with the harness without all the baggage that can get in the way with other dog packs.  
  • We always bring small treats that can be easily packed like Only Natural Pet All Meat Bites Treats for all the hikes we take.  The All Meat Bites are a freeze dried chicken, bison, or beef treat that are very nutritious and highly digestible, not to mention light weight.  Another treat I take is Only Natural Pet HealthTreats Jerky Bites, which combine a variety of energy sources and natural nutrients to keep active dogs going strong.
  • I’ve found the Only Natural Pet EasyRaw Dehydrated Dog Food to be the best possible food to bring along. This food only requires water to be added and you have a complete meal of whole foods.  I pre-portion the foods to match the number of meals my dog will eat and because it is lightweight, I’m able to pack it in Savanah’s pack and she will carry it the whole trip. 
  • Ruff Wear Bootswill provide maximum support for dogs with sensitive feet or if you are looking to provide protection from rocky terrain, ice and snow, or other potential paw hazards. 
  • Dogs can be heat sensitive; especially larger breeds, heavier dogs, and dogs with thick or black coats. Your dog may appreciate the Swamp Cooler from Ruff Wear to keep cool and reflect the sun.

I encourage you to get out and make the most of a hike with your dog so both of you can reap the benefits.  Dogs are natural athletes and taking them for a hike is an extremely rewarding experience.  Just remember to be prepared with the necessities mentioned above. 

I try to keep it simple and make sure I can hydrate Savanah, feed her when necessary, and provide her with the appropriate gear for any type of hike and the hiking will be that much more enjoyable for everyone. 

Get out there and enjoy!

Adam Hiking

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