Unless you’re one of those lucky folks who live somewhere warm and sunny all year long, there’s a good chance you’ve been in hibernation mode since the temps dipped below 50 or 60 degrees. Which probably means you’ve not only packed on a pound or two (Hey! We need the extra insulation…or something), but you’ve gotten a wee bit out of shape. Like, huffing-and-puffing-walking-up-a-flight-of-stairs out of shape. And the sun? Yeah, the last time you got a good dose of vitamin D in your life was probably way back in 2014.
Same goes for your dog! After months of being cooped up in the not-so-great indoors and in honor of sunshiny-er spring weather, consider this the ultimate tip-list that’ll have you hitting up dog-friendly hiking trails in no time—and saying adios to pooch-pounds.
There are plenty of hiking trails for dogs, but before you take on the great outdoors, make sure you’re fully prepared.
- First thing’s first: Get the clear! At your dog’s next check-up, ask the vet about a healthy workout plan, and make sure there aren’t any underlying health issues that could make exercising hazardous to your furry friend. This is especially important considering elevation gain.
- Make sure your dog’s ID tag is updated and his collar is nice and fitted. It’s advised to keep your dog on a leash whenever you’re in a shared space with other dogs and humans, but once you hit the off-leash park, it’s extra imperative that your contact info is available and current, just in case!
- Invest in a pair of booties or paw wax to save your dog’s delicate paws from hot or icy terrain, extremely rocky trails, thorny brush, etc. Happy feet are key!
- Fresh water and a collapsible bowl make all the difference in the world while exercising. Even the best hiking dogs would struggle without. Look for one that’s lightweight and comes with a carabiner so you can attach it to the leash. Bring a treat or two, too—an energy burst is always good, and it always doubles as incentive just in case Spot parks his booty halfway through.
- Have a teeny first-aid kit on hand—sometimes it’s hard saying just what sort of trouble your dog’ll get into, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. And speaking of first aid, stay away from poisonous plants and wild animals.
- Bring poop bags! Nothing’s worse than stepping in dog poop on a hike. Don’t be that person—clean up after your dog!
- If you reach a point where all-day or even overnight hikes are a thing, consider training your dog to carry a pack of small items, such as food and water.
et’s be real: If you’ve lived life on the couch the last six months and up and decided you were going to run a marathon—heck, even a 5K!—in one day, there’s a good chance you’d fail, immediately. Building up the strength, and maybe more importantly, endurance, to head out on a miles-long adventure takes time.
Same goes for your dog. Muscles are tight, joints are creaky, and that lung capacity? Yeesh. Start slow to avoid injuries, and be patient. Head out on a paved trail that’s easy on the body, and take your time—you’ll be bounding up mountains soon enough.
Once you’ve worked a walking routine that’s become doable for your dog and are ready to take the next challenge, simply move the routine off the, er, paved path.
Rocky terrain is inherently more difficult—it forces us to not only work to keep our balance, but leap and bound and step over all sorts of obstacles in our way.
Beyond that, hiking in nature is visually stimulating. It’s a great opportunity for dogs and humans alike to take in beautiful views, and experience new (or long-forgotten) senses, like the smell of a certain flower. The key starting out is, again, not to overdo it—a brisk 20 minute walk is a good place to start.
Based on the shape of your dog (and the energy level!), start taking on more vigorous but still dog-friendly hikes. Turn that 20-minute trek into a half-day adventure. Then, turn that half-day adventure into a day-long excursion.
Switch up scenery if you can—a rocky mountain one day and sandy beaches the next will work different muscles and stave off a short attention span.
And as always, the name of the game is baby steps, and making sure you’re constantly staying in tune with the needs of your dog and offering water and rest along the way.