What a long, unrelenting winter we’ve had this year. Dogs I know can’t wait to get outdoors with their folks for some fresh air and exercise – not to mention opportunities to sniff and roll in all the lovely substances that have been ripening under the ice for months.
If one of these eager canines is at your feet right now, here’s a heads-up: He is NOT patient about preparation, nor is she likely to exercise restraint when you hit the trail together. You’ll have to be the parent and make sure your pup avoids excess, injuries, conflicts with wild critters and other disasters that can put him on the sidelines for the whole season. Here are some tips.
• Work in some conditioning before that first long hike or camping trip. Your furry couch potato may be a bit soft – and can easily injure himself by overdoing it. Feet, especially, need to be toughened up gradually, because injured pads are hard to heal.
• Check your dog’s gear for damage and fit when you inspect your own. If he has put on a pound or two, make adjustments. It doesn’t hurt to have the dog wear them on shorter walks to re-accustom him to the feel. If you’ve got new gear, stuff the packs with newspaper so he learns how wide he is in it, before you add weight.
• Black dogs, chubby dogs, and dogs with short noses all need extra protection from the sun and heat. There are products to help with cooling, but definitely increase the exertion gradually.
• Check the supplies in your first-aid kit, and always carry it.
• Know the rules before you set out. An excellent resource is the website hikewithyourdog.com. It is a database listing national parks, national forests and state parks by state, giving the relevant guidelines.
• Be cautious about water. Rivers and streams carry lots of debris when running high, and you may not see snags below the surface, which can catch on your dog’s gear. Currents may be too strong for your dog. It’s safest to wait until spring runoff is past before letting dogs swim in our rivers. Never let your dog drink if thick blue-green algae is present near the shore. This can be lethally toxic.
• Now is the time to help your dog – and cat, too – shed all that winter undercoat. Once you see those telltale tufts poking out, start brushing until they are free of dead hair. Stick wads of combed hair in shrubs for the birds, who will take it up to line their nests.
• Refresh your dog’s trail manners. If he is ever fearful or aggressive, don’t let him off leash. An encounter with another dog, a wild critter, even a bicycle can cause big problems in the blink of an eye. He may have a rock-solid recall under most circumstances, but if something scary confronts him, all bets are off.
• For those walks around town, be aware of the toxic chemicals used in spring on lawns and gardens. Don’t allow your dog to roll unless you are sure the grass isn’t sprayed, and a foot soak or wipe on return is a good habit to get into.
• Are you or your dog uncomfortable when strange people or dogs approach him? There is a new movement afoot to address that. The website is yellowdogproject.com , and it suggests attaching a yellow ribbon to the dog’s leash and collar/harness when out in public. The meaning is simply, “give me space.” Always ask first before approaching a strange dog, and if yours is one of those who rushes up to greet everyone, maybe work on more controlled greeting behavior.
Laurie Raymond has spent 55 of her 66 years living, working and playing with animals of all kinds. For the last nine years she’s been the owner of High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
“Do work in some conditioning before that first long hike or camping trip. Your furry couch potato may be a bit soft – and can easily injure himself by overdoing it.”