If you love hiking, the best companion to take along is your dog. They absolutely love being on a trail with their humans. It is one of the most valuable bonding activities you can do with your best friend. There’s a lot to think about before you hit the trails, but as long as you take the time to pre-plan the trip, you’ll all stay safe, and everyone involved will have fun.
Unless we see something is unmistakably wrong with our dogs, we assume they’re fit and healthy. They probably are, but long days hiking in the great outdoors can be hard going. A few weeks before your trip, start taking them for longer and more challenging walks from home. Build them up and get them in-shape, before you set off for lengthy hikes.
Visit your local vet and have them check your dog’s health, especially their cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health. The last thing you want on a hike is to find out they have painful joints, or an injury of some kind. Are all their vaccinations up-to-date?
Make sure dogs can go there. The American Hiking Society is a great resource to begin looking for hiking spots for dogs. Florida specific dog-friendly hikes can be found at https://floridahikes.com/hikes-with-dogs.
Florida is rich in alligator life, so for this reason it’s best to stay away from bodies of water.
Check the rules and regulations around dogs on a hike that you like the look of. Is the trail flat or hilly, easy walking or scrub and rocks? What equipment do you need? If the terrain is rough, you may need a dog hiking harness to help them over obstacles.
Are there places to put used dog poop bags, or will you need to carry them out of the trail?
Your dog should happily come to you when called. This is for their safety, as well as being good etiquette in a public space. Many times, we can see our dogs wandering towards a hazard, such as broken glass, or unknown spillages, and we need to stop them instantly. When you’re out in the countryside, there are many distractions, such as squirrels and farm animals that we must also keep safe from our dogs.
Plan each meal for you and your dog, and take more than you think you need. Hiking requires more fuel for everyone. You’ll need plenty of bottled water, even if there’s water along the way.
The all-important fuel. Little snacks, often, will help keep everyone’s energy up. Small, high protein dog biscuits are easy to carry.
Any of the following, depending on where you’re headed, and for how long. Harness, collar, leash, food and water bowl, poop bags, bedding, warm coat if it’s cold.
Apart from bandages, padding, cotton wool and ice-pack, include scissors and tweezers. You may need to trim your dog’s hair from a wound, and tweezers are good for pulling ticks off your dog’s skin.
Just because there are no mountain trails in Florida, it doesn’t mean all the hikes are easy or safe.
- Flooding can be a hazard after heavy rainfall. Always check ahead regarding river levels.
- Follow the trail blaze. Some lesser used tracks can become overgrown and hard to navigate.
- Poison ivy, nettles and burrs can be a skin hazard on Florida trails. Toxic plants can ruin your trip. Wear long pants and gaiters if you think you’ll encounter this type of vegetation. Keep your dog away from anything toxic.
- Walking poles are great for navigating rough areas and swamps.
- Thunderstorms are common. Look for a ditch or a shrubby area to take cover in. Take your pack off if it has any metal in its construction. If your dog has a metal collar, leash or harness on, remove them.
- Check your dog for ticks and grass seeds every day of the hike, more often if you’re walking in long grasses.
- Dehydration can occur if you don’t have enough water for you and your dog. You can never have enough.
Leave the trail as you found it. Remove all your trash, including dog poop bags. Take lots of pictures, and go home to plan your next hike!
Laura Horton, MSc. is founder of Hound101.com, a website which helps you to be your dog’s best friend. She is also a registered clinical health professional with many years’ experience in diagnostic imaging, teaching and health research.