June 2020 - Hot Diggity! Dog Walking + Pet Sitting

In his younger years, my Australian Shepherd Koda and I enjoyed our fair share of long beautiful trails together. At his prime he’d happily climb mountains all day long – I was always the one trying to keep up with him! Even at 13 years old, Koda is still convinced he’s up for the task, but his heart and legs just can’t keep up anymore. He still begs to get outside and go exploring with me, and I’m never one to say no to my baby boy. Over the years I’ve learned some useful ‘hiking with dogs’ tips and tricks, and learned to adjust based on Koda’s skill and needs. If you’re thinking of taking a four-legged pal on a hike, here are some things to keep in mind that will keep you, your dog, and other hikers happier.

Is hiking right for YOUR dog? 

First things first is to make sure your pup is even up for the task! Most dogs, regardless of size, make excellent hiking companions as long as they are physically fit for the level of hiking that you plan to do, if they are obedient, if they are socialized among people and other dogs, and if the weather is not too hot. These are important “ifs”! There are adjustments that can be made however, to make sure pups of all sizes and ages can enjoy the outdoors!

Fitness Level

Hiking is more strenuous than walking. The terrain is uneven and usually involves vertical gain. If you spend more time lounging around than exercising, chances are good that your dog does too. Likewise, if you’ve mapped out a 10-mile hike but your daily dog walk consists of a casual stroll around the block, you may be carrying your pooch for the second half of the hiking route. Before you load up your dog in the car, make an honest assessment of your dog’s fitness level to be sure it can comfortably go the distance.

Health

In addition to its fitness level, your dog may have other health considerations that affect its ability to hike. Take these seriously! For example, brachycephalic (flat faced) breeds can have trouble breathing, so the temperature and length of the hike need to be taken into serious consideration. Koda now has a little arthritis, as well as heart disease so ANY kind of strenuous exercise or hot weather is strictly off the table for him. In order to compensate, we may simply drive to a trail I know is short with no elevation gain at all, on a cloudy and cooler day. Otherwise if i’m feeling up for something longer, I’ll load up his all-terrain stroller or grab my dog-carrying backpack! There are so many products on the market that make getting your dog outside possible, despite whatever health concerns they may have. These are our favorites: Dogger Stroller & K9 Sport Sack Backpack

Behavior 

If you feel your dog is fit enough, then ask yourself whether they are sufficiently well-behaved. Hiking may take place in the wild, but that does not mean you will be alone. Be sure they can heel, sit, stay, and come at your verbal command. Your dog should also be comfortable on a leash with polite leash manners. As importantly, your dog should be completely socialized among other dogs and humans. Trails are narrow, often with dense undergrowth on either side. You will be close to others when you pass on the trail or at the top of a popular mountain. If your dog is aggressive or overly protective, it will not be a good hiker-dog. Ditto if it’s prone to barking, which disturbs the quiet that so many people value on their hikes.

Size & Age

Assuming your dog is in shape and well-mannered, most dogs over 30lbs will make a great hiking companion, which is not to say that small dogs cannot trot down the trail just fine. An energetic Pomeranian can out race a lazy Labrador if the trail is relatively smooth and short. However, small dogs have to take a lot more steps to cover the same piece of ground, and they cannot jump as far up or down a rock, so they may need a lift where a larger dog would not. For my little Pomeranian, I always bring along my K9 Sport Sack backpack for when he gets tired!

Personally I feel like age is actually more of a factor than size. Old dogs, like old people, have stiffer joints, arthritis, and other ailments that reduce their physical abilities. Be gentle with puppies too. Lack of obedience training aside, hiking up and down steep, uneven trails can adversely affect the development of a growing puppy’s hips, shoulders, and other joints, which are not fully formed.

Keeping Your Dog Safe

So you’ve determined your pooch is up for the task! Even though they may be physically capable, it is still up to you to keep them safe. Not every hike is dog-friendly, and those that are might still have elements that seem attractive to you but that could pose a danger to your dog. 

Leash your dog

There are many tempting smells and critters out in the wilderness. Squirrels are all too fun to chase, but we are also sharing the world with other animals who could prove to be a dangerous advisory to your pup. There are also cliffs and other rough terrain you wouldn’t want your dog to fall down. Even if your dog is impeccably obedient at following commands and friendly with other people and pets, you can’t always trust OTHER people’s dogs if you’re on a busy trail. To avoid any scares—or worse—be sure to put your dog on a leash. 

Water

Always bring fresh water for your dog. Yes, your dog will want to drink lake or river water but he’s safer drinking water that you bring from home. Do all you can to discourage drinking any water you encounter on your hike. You’ll not only reduce his risk of running into potentially bad bacteria and parasites like giardia but also reduce the chance of minor tummy troubles.

Watch out for blue-green algae. Hot weather also means a bloom of blue-green algae on many lakes and ponds. This algae is toxic for dogs and can be fatal. If you suspect that your dog has swallowed blue-green algae, it’s important to get him to the veterinarian immediately. No antidote for the toxins exists, but supportive care may help your dog survive.

Essential Items for Hiking with Dogs

Leash: Avoid long leashes. A better choice is either a short heeling leash or a moderate leash under 10 feet long that you can quickly shorten to heeling length. There are even nice hiking specific leashes that are completely hands free! 

Tick Removal Tool: Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to tick-borne diseases. I always make sure to carry my handy “tick key” for easy removal for my pup or myself.

Collar and Identification: Make sure your dog has a well-fitting collar or harness with your telephone number and your dog’s name, rabies tag, and license on it.

Water: Always make sure to bring enough water for yourself and your dog. I’d recommend about 8oz per 10lbs of pooch. 

Collapsible water/food dish: Make sure to bring your pup his own water dish. Drinking straight out of the bottle can be incredibly messy and wasteful. I like the lightweight, collapsible kind that can hook right to my backpack. Like these!

Dog food/snacks: Bring actual dog food and/or dog treats, which are nutritionally balanced and easier for dogs to digest than human food.

Poop bags, plus extras: “Leave no trace” is the name of the game. It’s no fun carrying poop for an entire hike, but you need to pack it out. I bring extra so I can double bag them! 

Dog first-aid kit: Basic components should include the following, but you can also purchase pre-made kits for convenience! 

  • Bandage scissors
  • Dog toenail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Cleansers and disinfectants such as hydrogen peroxide and Betadine
  • Topical antibiotic ointments such as Bacitracin or Neomycin
  • Gauze pads 
  • Gauze roll
  • Non-stick bandages
  • Adhesive tape (1- and 2-inch rolls)
  • Muzzle: Even the most passive dog can get snappy when stressed due to injury

Non-essential Item Suggestions

K9 Sport Sack – If your pup may not be physically up for hiking, but still wants to enjoy the fresh air. I can’t recommend these backpacks enough! At 30lbs, Koda is a little heavy to carry in one of these for long distances, but I use one for my 8lb pomeranian ALL the time! He absolutely loves it. 

Hiking Boots – If you’re worried about your pups feet – hiking boots might be the solution! Koda once had a small cut on his foot, and I had him wear just one to keep it clean while we went for our hike. It worked wonders! Folks seem to love the RuffWear brand booties. 

Cooling Vests – These are magic! On hot days, you can really do your dog a favor by bringing along a cooling vest for them. RuffWear makes my personal favorite.

Packable Dog Bed – Since both of my pups are now “seniors” I always bring along a packable dog bed so we can stop and rest along the way. Bonus points if the bed is weather resistant and machine washable like these Kurgo brand ones!

Every cat and dog owner has a list of go-to items that they would recommend to their fellow fuzzy-loving friends – and this week, two of us – with two pups and four kitties between us – decided to combine efforts to put together five recommended items each based on our experiences raising floofs. While we don’t (necessarily) claim that these items are absolutely required for a better woofer or meower experience overall, we do think that their presence may improve at least a small element of your experience being owned by a cat or dog. 

For Our Kitties 

Corrugated Cardboard Scratchers

Cats have a natural need to exercise their claws; however, many cat towers are quite expensive for an item that will ultimately have a somewhat short life. For a household with multiple cats, corrugated cardboard floor scratchers are an inexpensive way to ensure that cats’ paws get the exercise they need, at an affordable price. Corrugated cardboard pieces are easy to flip over, maximizing their lifespan, and are easy to move in order to clean. Once both sides of a corrugated cardboard scratcher are exhausted, simply order a replacement pack. I highly recommend the extra-wide version of these scratchers, as they have more longevity than regular-sized pieces. 

https://www.chewy.com/fat-cat-big-mamas-cat-scratcher-toy/dp/40040

Sturdy Teaser Toys 

There are so many teaser toys on the market, the process to find the best is a bit overwhelming. Having a household full of cats has given me a little bit of clarity in terms of which toys are the most effective to play with, and the most fun to use. I generally recommend you stay away from teasers that only have feathers at the end – one good play session will usually be all it takes to bring their life to an untimely end. Similarly, teasers with hard toys at the end are a little less recommended – part of the fun for kitties is to be able to dig their claws into the soft toys as they play, and especially if a big human is tossing the toys, hard plastic can make injury more likely! My recommendation is to pick a longer wand with a sturdy stuffed toy at the end, and feathers attached to the stuffed toy, for the best of both worlds.
https://www.chewy.com/pet-fit-life-2-fish-feather-wand-cat/dp/136706

Travel-Ready Shoulder Cat Carrier

After many years of travel with cats using bulky plastic carriers, I made the switch to an easier-to-use shoulder carrier (that has the added benefit of being travel-ready for airport carry-on requirements). In addition to easier transport, these carriers still feature sturdy bases, and can be solidly secured in a vehicle for trips to the vet. Pro-tip: line the carrier with a towel lightly sprayed with Feliway on-the-go to help your kitty reduce stress during travel!

https://www.chewy.com/frisco-basic-dog-cat-carrier-bag/dp/171841

A Well-Designed Play Tunnel 

Play tunnels are an entertaining way to give your kitties a playspace and hideaway, without taking up much space in your home or making a significant cost investment. I suggest investing in a crinkle tunnel, as cats are attracted to this sound, and ensuring that your tunnel is extra-wide for maximum play capabilities as your kitties grow, or if you have a multi-cat household. My personal favorite is the Frisco 47-inch Crinkle Play Tunnel, which features two observation windows, the crinkling sound that kitties love, and a comfortable suede fabric, good for a secluded nap.
https://www.chewy.com/frisco-47-in-foldable-crinkle-play/dp/167104

Safe Hair Tie Toys 

Anyone who has spent much of their life in the company of a cat with a long hair situation knows that even when your home is a vast landscape of cat-specific toys, your hair ties will invariably vanish from wherever you last set them down, only to reappear in a stash under the couch a few months later. However, hair ties themselves are not recommended to be used as toys, as they can be dangerous if accidentally swallowed. However, through rigorous research for a toy that can replace hair ties, I finally stumbled upon an excellent one – the Fat Cat Crazies Playrings Cat Toy, which bounces in entertaining ways during play, and is easy to toss around for fun.  

https://www.chewy.com/fat-cat-crazies-playrings-cat-toy/dp/53473

For Our Pups 

Puzzle Feeders and Treat Dispensers

Puzzle treat dispensers are amazing tools to keep your pup entertained and their brain occupied! Personally, I like to take some yogurt or peanut butter, put it in a kong, and freeze it overnight. Not only is it a nice summer treat, but being frozen keeps your pup occupied for a super long time. Puzzle feeders are amazingly helpful for dogs who gobble their food too fast and make themselves sick. You can even make your own puzzle treat dispenser at home: take a tennis ball and make a 1 to 2 inch slice in it, fill the ball with treats, and that’s it! Endless entertainment for your pup.

Here is a helpful article: https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/the-best-interactive-toys-and-food-puzzles-for-your-dog

Soft Vest Harnesses

Having experience with nearly every harness contraption out there, the soft vest types are my ALL time favorite. They’re super easy to get on, really secure, don’t pull harshly on the dogs neck, and are comfy for the doggos too! The “Plush” brand ones are my favorite – while not available online they’re usually at your local boutique dog store. But Puppia makes good ones too, that are more widely available:

https://www.chewy.com/puppia-soft-vest-dog-harness/dp/132260

Dog Beds for the Car

Bolster seats are great for tiny dogs, and keeps them safely in place instead of running all over your car! But for larger dogs, a bed that simply stays securely and safely in place can be incredibly helpful. One of our pups is an anxious boy in the car, and without a secure place to lay down he can get incredibly stressed out. We’ve tried simply laying a dog bed on the seat, but it slips around and makes things worse. His personal favorite is this PetSafe Happy Ride Car Dog Bed:

https://store.petsafe.net/happy-ride-car-dog-bed-bucket-seat

Pet Hair Removal Rollers 

I am obsessed with these “ChomChom” hair removers! They work like MAGIC to remove hair from any fabric, even those pesky embedded short hairs. They’re much more environmentally friendly and work better then sticky rollers, too. I’ve had mine for 2 years, between 2 fluffy dogs and a wildly furry cat, and it’s still going strong!

https://www.chewy.com/chomchom-roller-pet-hair-remover/dp/163270

Hide and Seek Toys

Whether young or old, all pups need mental stimulation! Both of my dogs are 13yrs old and they aren’t able to exercise as much, these kinds of toys have been invaluable. Plus, even if your pup destroys the “large” part of the toy, the mini toys are great for playing fetch! 

https://www.chewy.com/frisco-hide-seek-plush-volcano-puzzle/dp/179588