Summer is in full swing, the trees are full and green, and you can hear the woods whispering your name. So dig up your hiking boots and fill your canteen- it’s time to go hiking with your best buddy! One of our favorite places to recommend in St. Louis is Castlewood State Park.
There’s nothing better for an active dog than an adventure with their favorite companion by their side. And the woods have so much to offer: smells, textures, and endless stuff to discover and learn. It’s stimulating physically, mentally, and socially. It’s a great way to bond. And it’s good for the human, too! But a long trek requires some preparation, starting from the inside out.
One drawback of the woods? They’re full of bugs. Make sure, before you go, that your pup is up to date on flea & tick and heartworm preventative. On top of just being really itchy, those creepy-crawlies can carry harmful parasites and diseases that can seriously impact your pet’s health. If your pet swims a lot or is near due for their next dose, talk to your veterinarian about giving them their next treatment a bit early if you’re planning a hike.
When the weather is hot, it’s important to be conscientious about your pet’s response to the heat. Hot pavement, rocks, and sand can burn their paw pads, so pay attention to walking surfaces and consider skipping paved trails. If you’re not sure if it’s too hot, hold the back of your hand against the pavement. If it’s uncomfortable for you, it’s uncomfortable for your dog! Keep in mind that senior dogs and short-nosed breeds such as shih tzus, pugs, and bulldogs of any nationality may have a harder time handling the heat in general and should, unfortunately, probably skip long summer hikes altogether. Even with more athletic breeds, heat can become an issue. Keep an eye out for signs of heat stroke: excessive panting, disorientation, vomiting, dry or red gums, and labored breathing. Your hiking kit should include both clean water for your dog (as well as yourself) and a collapsible bowl, dog water bottle, or some other way to allow your dog to drink. This will allow you to keep them hydrated before a problem arises, but will also be good in an emergency. If your dog is showing signs of heat stroke, pour lukewarm or cool (not cold) water over them or cover them with wet cloths, particularly in thin-haired areas. Get them somewhere cool as quickly as possible. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, so don’t hesitate to address it.
If you’re hiking near water, swimming in rivers or lakes can be fun and help you and your pet both cool down, but it’s not a good idea to encourage your pet to drink that water. Make sure to offer your dog plenty of clean water before approaching the lake or river. Let’s be honest: dogs love puddle water- the dirtier, the better- and will still give it a taste. I have no idea what’s so attractive or exciting about it (doggy boba tea?). But at least if they’re not thirsty, they’re not gulping huge amounts of it. If you’re swimming or hanging out near water, exercise the same vigilance with your dog that you might with a toddler. Rivers in particular can be more powerful than we give them credit for and dogs are not always excellent at risk assessment. It’s best to keep your dog on a leash, even if you’re pretty comfortable with the specific area and body of water you’re visiting.
What about the rest of the hike? They’re safe on land, right? I’m ashamed to admit that I once made a regular habit of taking my dogs to semi-secluded trails and letting them off the leash to just zigzag through the woods. Apart from not being super safe overall, it’s terrible trail etiquette. Your dog is the best dog ever, of course, but other people walking dogs or just walking alone may not appreciate having a muddy, gormless, overeager dog run up to them and they have as much right to use the parks and trails in peace as you.
Any time you take your dog away from familiar territory, you should be prepared for the possibility that accidents may happen. Even if you do have them on-leash, there’s no such thing as foolproof. Hike prep is a good time to make sure your pet’s ID information is up to date. Is their microchip registered and current? Are their tags up to date and readable? If you’ve moved or changed your phone number, make sure to call and update your veterinarian and whoever implanted the microchip: breeder, rescue, or vet’s office. Make sure you take a current, clear photo of them before you leave, especially if they’re a quickly-changing puppy or a dog who gets haircuts and may look different from one month to the next. You can also get GPS attachments for their collars, which can track their locations and movements. This is one that many use in the pet industry Tractive. Some of this may seem like overkill, but pets can panic, get disoriented, and get completely lost in unfamiliar settings. Multiple layers of protection can be the difference between a quick reunion and never seeing your beloved dog again.
There’s a lot to pay attention to in the great outdoors, but getting to spend a day in nature with your best pal is totally worth the preparation. Have fun, be safe, and stay cool!
Are you more of an indoors-and-A/C sort of person with a dog who wants to explore the world? Let us do the sweating! Book your dog for an extended walk with one of our experienced dog walkers- a tired dog is a good dog!
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.