Arizonans love our mild winters. Its the prime time for those of us living in or visiting the Southwestern desert to enjoy as many outings as possible with our dogs, before the mercury rises.
Hiking with our dogs is a great deal of fun, but it does involve some risks, and the stakes are very high. A few years ago, a colleague lost his dog Sheba to heat stroke because they were unprepared for their outdoor activity, and he didnt recognize signs of heat stress until it was too late. Sheba alternated between seizures and coma for days; despite his best efforts, Shebas vet couldn't save her. This didnt happen in high summer--it happened in March. Both Shebas distress and her untimely death were preventable.
Here are a few things to keep in mind so that you and your dog can enjoy hiking in our beautiful state for many years to come.
- Conditioning your dog for physical activity is a must. Dogs are no more naturally athletic than humans. Most of our trails have at least some rocky patches and decent elevation change, so work up to that pristine mountain vista and avoid panic training.
- I cant say enough about the importance of planning. From June through September, avoid low-elevation Sonoran Desert trips. Instead, head for the local hills, explore the beautiful Mogollon Rim country, seek out forests and springs around Flagstaff.
- Take along maps and a compass and know how to use them! Bring enough water for you and your dog. Find out where the nearest emergency vet clinic is to the area where youll be hiking and have a mobile phone and an extra car key with you so that you are never stranded.
- Bring the appropriate gear, such as doggy sunscreen and a hat for your dog (childrens hats work great), and of course doggy bags to pick up waste.
- Its worth repeating: dont skimp on water. Dogs get dehydrated on car rides, much less hiking, so get used to carrying water and a collapsible bowl with you at all times. I cant tell you how often my dog and I come across other dog-hiker teams who arent carrying any water at all. This is irresponsible and unfair to the animals who love and trust us to care for them.
- Allow time for frequent rest and water breaks, preferably in the shade, no matter how well-conditioned your dog is.
- Dogs cannot clearly communicate physical distress until the situation is serious, so careful observation is critical. If your dog is seeking shade or plopping down at every opportunity, stop! Shade her, and give her as much water as shed like to drink. If the hottest time of the day is still before you, turn around. Start your hike earlier next time.
- Flexibility is a virtue drop any idea you have of being goal-oriented when hiking with your canine family. See #7 above.
- The best dog-hiking trails are all about location, location, location. Your dog will be much less likely to undergo heat stress if you hike where there is shade and some water along the trail so that she can cool her pads occasionally (check with the agency managing the trail to ensure that driving and hiking conditions are safe after rains). Do some research and enjoy exploring new places!
- Make sure before hitting the trail that your dog is well-trained and able to be under control whether shes on- or off-leash (and follow any leash rules for that area). Besides being a courtesy to other trail users and wildlife, this protects your dog. How better to keep her curious nose away from our 17 species of rattlesnakes, porcupines, bear and mountain lion caches, than by having her at heel?
- Review canine first aid cautions and procedures. Better yet, take a Humane Society or hiking safety course before setting out, and have a basic first aid kit with you at all times when hiking with your dog.
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Renée Guillory is author of Best Hikes with Dogs Arizona. She has lived and hiked in Arizona for 20 years. She and Artemis, her female Great Pyrenees-Akita mix, live in Phoenix with their cat, Puckish Sprite.