There are so many things to do and places to go with your dog in the great outdoors, it’s hard to know where to begin!
Let’s start with the simplest activity: walking. Walking is one of the healthiest, most age-friendly and enjoyable forms of exercise you can find. All you need is a good pair of shoes and comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing. Your dog doesn’t really need anything except a leash.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to include hiking with walking here. The main difference between the two is usually distance, and as a rule, hiking requires a bit more planning than just taking a walk: you’ll want to carry more water, food and perhaps some miscellaneous supplies. And if you’re taking a longer hike, keep in mind that your pup can help share the load with a dog backpack: healthy dogs can carry about one-quarter of their own body weight in a dog pack.
When hiking away from home, always tell someone where you’re going and plan out how long it will take to get to and from your destination. Don’t wind up like me, only halfway down Lake Tahoe’s Mt. Tallac Trail on an 87-degree afternoon and almost out of water. Pure stupidity.
Keep in mind my caution from last month about the less-than-dog-friendly rules at many state and national parks; before you head to one of these places with your pooch, do your homework and see what is and isn’t allowed. Here in California, for instance, your dog can hike off-leash in the Desolation Wilderness; but less than a mile away on the shores of Lake Tahoe, you’ll find only a tiny handful of public beaches that allow dogs and only one or two where your dog can be off leash.
Something you may not know is that most national forests are much more dog-friendly than national parks. (Don’t ask why … it’s like asking why Arizona has a law prohibiting the hunting of camels.) Often, your dog must be leashed in developed areas of the national forests but can be off leash on trails.
One important warning: if you’re out in the country during warm months, be alert for rattlesnakes. Snakes prefer warm, sunny spots like exposed rocks and will strike at anything if they feel threatened — which includes your inquisitive dog who has no idea that this curious thing making that weird rattling noise can mean death.
Remember: a rattlesnake bite is always an emergency. If your dog is bitten, it’s critical that you get him to a vet immediately since rattlesnake bites are about 25 times more fatal in dogs than in humans.
The best preventative is the rattlesnake vaccine, which can protect dogs against all rattlesnakes except the Mojave rattlesnake.
This vaccination could mean the difference between life and death for your dog, so if you regularly walk or hike (or live!) in areas where rattlesnakes are common, I strongly recommend that your dog be vaccinated annually.
Finding good walking and hiking spots for you and your dog takes a little time and dedication, but thanks to the Internet, it’s much easier to know before you go. For instance, HikeWithYourDog.com allows you to search for dog-friendly trails in every state as well as Canada. Alternatively, there are state-specific sites like NatureDogs.com, which lists trails just in California.
You can also find some great books on the subject, including a whole series of Best Hikes books covering the entire U.S. Check with your local library or bookstore, or go to Mountainpathfinder.com for an excellent booklist.
So, what other outdoor activities can you do with your dog? What about dog scootering, skijoring or canicross? Never heard of them? I hadn’t either!
Dog scootering is a lot like dog sledding without the snow and with humans on scooters instead of sleds. Skijoring is a winter sport combining cross country skiing and dog mushing, where a cross-country skier is pulled by a dog or small dog team.
Canicross is the snowless, runner’s version of skijoring: your dog is in harness with a line attached to your waist, and the pulling action adds distance to your stride and helps you on the uphill climbs.
You can also bike with your dog by adding a Springer, which keeps your dog at the side of your bicycle via a short leash and spring mechanism attached to the bike.
These are only a few of the dozens of activities that have been invented to involve dogs and humans in mutual sport. Sites like DogPlay.com and DogFun can give you many more ideas.
If your dog is a swimmer (and no, not all dogs can swim, although most can learn), head to your nearest lake or river for a cool way to combat the heat. Some dogs, like Casey, don’t even care whether it’s hot or cold outside — give ‘em water, and they’ll be in it!
Speaking of cold weather, one of my favorite winter activities is snowshoeing —since most dogs love the snow, it’s a perfect outing for them as well.
And don’t worry about little Fifi freezing her furry feet: recent research has proven that a dog’s paws contain a complex network of specialized blood vessels that makes them as equally suited to withstand cold and icy conditions as the extremities of penguins and arctic foxes.
We’ve talked about activities on land and water, from spring to winter … yet even then, we’ve barely scratched the surface of all the wonderful things you can do outdoors with your dog.
Grab your leash and head for the great outdoors!
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her golden retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at email@example.com. And if you’re looking for a golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.