TAILS & TRAILS: essential things to consider before hiking with your dog.
Whether it's the Höhenweg Höhbalmen or the Lac de Louvie, Switzerland is a hiker's paradise and involving your dog is a wonderful experience - if it’s not too hot! Your dog probably loves nothing more than walking or hiking with you but there are few things that you should remember and prepare before setting off on your wonderful adventures together.
- Dogs make the perfect hiking and walking companion if they are physically fit. Make sure that you prepare your dog physically before going on a long hike by taking them on long walks or jogs to get them into shape and so that they can handle the distance. Remember to be realistic about the fitness of your dog and what they can achieve.
- Portable or collapsible food and water bowls are ideal when hiking as they are light and easy to pack or clip a drinking bottle especially designed for both you and your dog to share on to your backpack. If you are walking past a river or a lake, make sure that the water is clean if you want to let your dog drink from it. During summer, lakes can be contaminated with cyanobacteria (blue-algae), which can make your dog very sick and can even be fatal. Information if the lake you are visiting is contaminated can usually be found on the internet or at a local tourist information office, however, to avoid possible intoxication it’s best to always provide your dog with tap or bottled water. Take plenty of water to cover the length of the trip, for both you and your dog!
- Don’t go walking with your dog during the hottest periods of the day and ensure your dog has access to shade. If the weather is hot, always keep an eye out for signs of heat exhaustion or exhaustion. Each dog is different, some dogs will plop down when they start to get worn out, but others will play until you make them stop, even when they are exhausted or over-heating. It’s better to be safe than put your dog in danger, so learn your dog’s limits so that you can ensure they enjoy the hike.
- 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.
- Dry food and a lot of treats! Make sure that the food you bring doesn’t go off over time or in warmer temperatures, take it with you in an air tight bag or container to keep it fresh. Because your dog is exercising more than usual, they will require more food to keep in shape. The treats you can use for recall or to distract your dog when you come across some exciting smells or sights. A handy way to have treats at the ready is to carry them in a treat bag around your waist, this can even help keep your dog close to your side.
- First aid package. You never know what you might come across. Your dog can step in something sharp, get bitten or stung by an animal or trip and hurt a leg. You can usually buy a pet first aid kit at your local veterinary clinic and sometimes even at a chemist. They typically come with an antiseptic, gauze rolls, tape, tweezers and some other useful things. They are usually equipped with a booklet on how to perform first aid for your pet. Reading up on pet first aid or even taking a course before you go on a trip is highly recommended and make sure you know who to call (don't forget your mobile phone!) if something serious happens.
- Master the “come back” call. This is the single most important command a dog can learn. 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. Practice your recall capabilities in an enclosed area, before allowing him to be off-lead in hiking areas. You should also avoid letting your dog roam loose in regions known for having venomous snakes.
- When you are walking in warm weather, it is a good idea to bring something to cool your dog down, overheating is a serious case which you want to prevent at all costs. There are special cooling vests which can keep your pet from overheating while walking and lots of dips in the lakes whenever possible are highly recommended. Take a few hardy floating toys which are perfect for fetching in the water. If you have a dog with ears that flop down it’s a good idea to rinse out their ears or at the very least make sure you dry them out to help prevent any infection or irritation.
- After a long walk on rough terrain paw pads can get a bit dry and sore, and in the worst case even cracked. Paw balm helps to prevent cracks, but also keeps the pads soft and protected against heat, cold and salt.
- Normal lead and a longline lead. Even if your dog is good off lead, you might come across hikers who don’t particularly like dogs or you could encounter a busy road where you have to keep your dog close. The waist attachment of a longline lead can keep your hands free to take nice pictures of the surroundings, hold your bag and sweep annoying insects out of your face.
- Your dog can make the challenges of the great outdoors even more fun if they are obedient. It is essential that your dog responds to your commands. Make sure they can heel, sit, stay and are comfortable on and off the lead. It is also important that they have been socialised with other dogs and humans – just because you are half way up a mountain doesn’t mean you are alone, trails are narrow and you need to know that your dog will behave when meeting others.
- Follow the “leave no trace” philosophy. Pick up after your pet with bio degradable eco poop bags, and dispose of the waste properly.