If you were a Girl Scout or Boy Scout, you are familiar with the phrase “Be prepared.” If you are prepared, you can enjoy a fun, healthy outing with your dog. Basic supplies and knowledge will help to assist you. Here are some recommendations to assure that you have a safe and healthy trip:
- Find out in advance which parks are dog-friendly. Many towns have dog parks, including the Duck Pond in Ridgewood. For real hiking, one of the biggest parks in our area is Ramapo Reservation in Mahwah, which allows dogs. For a list of other parks in New Jersey, click here or visit the state parks website. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a website with valuable information and trail locations. An app called New Jersey State Parks & Forests has detailed information about all the parks, and has an alert system in case you need to call for help.
- Is your dog current for all vaccines? Parks will expose your dog to other dogs and wild animals. Be sure to protect him from Distemper, Rabies, Bordetella, Canine Influenza, Lyme Disease, and Leptospirosis, as well as fleas, ticks, and Heartworm. Consider a microchip ID as well, just in case he gets frightened by an unexpected noise or perceived threat.
- Have a good, strong leash to maintain control of your dog. Remember that other dogs and people may not behave the way you want them to behave around your dog so you may need to get your dog away from others in a hurry. Retractable leashes can malfunction, break, get tangled, cause neck and spine injuries, and allow your dog to get too far away to help him in an emergency. A good strong collar (or harness) and leash enable the best protection for immediate access to him in case of unleashed dogs or wild animals. If your dog likes to go into the water, this will prevent him from swimming too far out of reach. Equipment specifically for hiking with your dog is available online, including leashes (even hands-free leashes), backpacks, booties, and water and food containers. Collars with LED lights are a good idea. While most parks close at dusk, a collar that lights up will help you find your dog in the darker, tree covered areas if he gets away. You will also need containers for discarding fecal matter. Ridgewood Veterinary Hospital carries Poop Bags, a biodegradable earth-friendly plastic bag. The parks require that you leave nothing behind, including fecal matter. Cooperation helps insure that the parks will continue to allow dogs.
- Supplies should include water and a water bowl. Pet stores have a wide variety of containers, such as water bottles with a bowl attached and collapsible bowls. Be sure to have some food or treats. Just as you might need a granola bar for low blood sugar during exercise, your dog will need a snack as well. You can choose his regular diet or something you can share, such as apples or carrots (unless he is on a restricted prescription diet). Always have something he really loves to get his attention or to get him back if he gets away from you. Have enough water on hand to drink and to cool down your dog if he gets overheated in warm weather. You may want to carry a cooling blanket or a piece of fabric you can soak. It’s also a good idea to have a first aid kit; here are some items that should be included, and some items can be used for you and your pet. If you don’t want to be bothered putting one together yourself, L.L. Bean has one available for pets, and includes a first aid book for use in the field. If you get this one, glance through the book. If your dog is injured, you will want to administer immediate assistance and may not have time to read the book. Learn the basics for treating minor abrasions, lacerations, torn nails, etc. until you can get to your veterinarian.
- Keep your phone with you at all times. You may need it to call for help or to get advice from your veterinarian. Have a picture of your dog on your phone, in case he escapes and you need to show it to hikers or rangers.
- Plan your walk in advance. Based upon you and your pet’s age, health, endurance, and physical fitness, decide how far you think you both should walk. Don’t walk until you are tired or your dog is panting, only to realize you were overzealous and struggling to return. Consider the type of route as well. After a lazy winter by the fireplace, don’t try to climb the highest hill on the toughest terrain. Start slowly, and build on the length of your walk a few times a week. Most injuries occur to “weekend warriors.” Be especially careful with dogs prone to orthopedic problems. If he struggles to walk around the block, it will do more harm than good to start a long hike the first time out. Never take a lactating mother or nursing pups hiking. The pups need their mother nearby, and the mother has enough stress caring for the little ones. If both you and your dog are in good shape, take note of the time you started so you can be sure to give yourself enough time to return before dark, considering that you will probably be slower on the return trip.
This is Part 1 in a 3-Part Series. Continue reading Part 2 - During Your Hike: Garbage and Snakes and Bears, Oh My! here.