Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Benefits of Hiking With Your Dog

By Linda Cole

To me, spring and fall are the best times of the year to go hiking with your dog. Spring breathes new, fresh life into trees and wildlife. The land is once again colored with green grasses and spring flowers. Autumn gives us beautiful colors in different shades of orange, golden yellows and reds that enhance a hike through the woods or along trails. A change is in the air. Gone are the sticky, hot temperatures of summer! Fall is a great time to head out to your favorite trail and enjoy the benefits of hiking with your dog.

Even the most hardened four legged couch potato loves to get outside for much needed exercise. The problem with taking your dog on the same walk around the same neighborhood is that it's the same old routine morning, noon and night. Your dog needs some variety – new scents to smell and investigate; hills and valleys to race up and down; and grass, dirt or mulch to walk on instead of cement. Just like us, dogs need stimulation and a little excitement now and then. Hiking with your dog gives him a mini vacation from his daily routine.

Hiking is a great way to get rid of boredom. This is one reason why dogs dig in the yard and chew on furniture or rugs. If your dog is sleeping all day, a hike is just the activity he needs to perk him up and run off pent up energy. You can see a spark light up in his eyes when he sees your backpack, hiking boots, water bottles and his leash because he knows he gets to go with you to a place with lots of interesting sights, smells and things to do.

One of my favorite places to hike is a trail that winds up and down gentle hills and goes through a small grove of trees, a clover filled meadow and ends at a small, fast moving brook. Not a long trail, but long enough to give my boots a good workout as well as my dogs. Along the trail, we see mainly rabbits shooting out from their hiding places, birds, lots of butterflies and a hawk every now and then floating in the sky above. Occasionally, we'll run across other hikers and their dogs. Hiking with your dog gives you an opportunity to meet other people, and your dog gets a chance to meet other dogs. Plus it's one of the best ways to bond with your pet.

Hiking also provides you with benefits. It's a great way to reduce stress, get rid of your own boredom and get away from the noise of the world. A solitary trail with trees dressed in their best fall coats of color and fresh air all around make it hard to carry the day's burdens in your backpack. Hiking with your dog is just a fun thing to do anytime of the year. It's healthy and adds stimulation to your dog's life as well as your own with a good work out that doesn't feel like exercise. It also helps you and your dog maintain a healthy weight and keeps muscles toned and strong.

There are a few things to remember, however. Know your trail and the animals or snakes you may encounter while hiking. It's also important to know your dog. How well does he respond to you when you call his name if he's excited? If he takes off into the wild spaces and you have to run him down or you spend hours frantically listening for his bark, don't take him off leash. He can still benefit from a hike at your side safely on his leash. Don't forget water for both you and your dog, and it's good to carry a small first aid kit in your pack. Other useful items include a wind up flashlight (no batteries needed), emergency blanket, ace bandage, wooden matches, hunting knife, a compass, a good length of rope, sweatshirt or jacket, a pair of jeans or sweat pants, hat, some food and extra water. I seldom have to use any of the items I carry in my pack when I'm hiking, but it's always best to be prepared and not need them, than wish you had taken the time to plan in advance.

Don't forget your camera for capturing those unique moments you can only find on a beautiful day along a trail. Fall colors will soon begin replacing the greens of summer with signs of the coming winter approaching just around the corner. Go for a hike! It's fun, exhilarating, healthy and time well spent that will benefit you and your dog in more ways than one.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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