My new best friend has sketchy bowel control, is banned for life from national parks and I’ve caught him in bed with my wife.
But, he’s an excellent hiking partner.
Shaped like a loaf of bread, he’s tireless and cruises uphill with ease. But he’s never too rushed to stop and smell the flowers — right before he pees on them.
Largent is a 17-pound part bichon frisé, part poodle and probably part terrier who, four months ago, was found roaming the mean streets of Chicago.
My wife was smitten from the moment she spotted a picture of the 1-year-old dog on the website of a rescue organization. After a ream of paperwork and phone interviews (we did this, not him), Largent was jetting west.
When I first saw Largent in action, a white streak blitzing up and down our street, I immediately envisioned us taking long, challenging hikes. And while I was excited to get going, instead we started with a simple 5-mile stroll.
A test hike. He passed, and now we’re on to something a little tougher.
This, said veterinary physician Coe Lindner, is a good approach. “You need to bring them along slowly.”
Not only do dogs need to get into shape, but they need to toughen up their feet to handle the rigors of longer and tougher trips.
Your dog probably loves playing in the outdoors as much as you do, but just like hiking with your two-legged friends, things can get ugly if you aren’t prepared.
Here are some recommendations:
CONSULT A VET
You’ve heard the disclaimer: “Consult a physician before starting an exercise program.”
That’s good advice for Fido, too.
A visit with the vet can help on many fronts. The vet can help you compile your emergency kit, talk to you about what your dog’s actions mean and determine if your dog is fit enough for exercise.
“We can say, ‘Hey the dog is about 10 pounds overweight and is not ready for certain athletic activity,’ ” Lindner said. “We can listen to its heart. We can check for arthritis. We can talk to you about how far you plan to go and whether or not your dog can handle that distance.”
CHOOSE THE RIGHT LOCATION AND SPORT
There are some places you just can’t go with a dog.
National parks don’t allow dogs outside of parking lots, and most wildlife refuges also ban pets. But most state parks in Idaho and national forests allow dogs.
And not all activities are suitable for dogs. Scrambling up rocky slopes can tear up their paws. And while you don’t have to look any further than the Boise Greenbelt to find somebody riding a bike while tethered to a dog, Lindner says this is a recipe for disaster.
“If you need to get someplace quicker with your dog, use a (bike trailer).”
PACK A THERMOMETER
The hiking safety “10 Essentials” don’t say anything about a rectal thermometer, but if you’re hiking with your dog it’s a must.
Overheating can be a problem when your dog is hiking and a thermometer can tell you how much your dog is suffering.
A temperature of 102-103 degrees Fahrenheit is normal for a dog, Lindner said. If the temperature climbs to 105 or higher, you need to get your dog to the nearest vet, he said.
Dogs transfer heat by panting and through their foot pads. Walking on a hot surface like asphalt or rock could cause your dog to overheat.
Lindner said look for signs that your dog is distressed, panting excessively or drooling from its nose and mouth. The dog may also become unsteady on its feet.
Check your dog’s gums. If they are blue, purple or bright red, the dog is overheated, Lindner said.
Cool the dog down by putting wet — but not ice cold — towels behind its neck and on its paws, groin and armpits. Get the dog in the shade and off of hot surfaces such as asphalt. Give the animal water and electrolytes to drink.
In addition to your own first aid kit, there are certain things you should carry for your dog.
Lindner recommends Steri-Strips, antibiotic ointment and bandage material in case the dog cuts itself.
Ask your vet about an antihistamine to use in case of bee stings and an anti-inflammatory. A squeeze bottle with water is helpful for cleaning your dog’s eyes.
A flea and tick collar can help keep ticks away, but carrying a tick puller is a good idea, Lindner said.
And don’t forget sunscreen. SPF 30 should be applied any place where you can see skin and on the nose if the dog has a pink sniffer.
Down jackets, booties and personal floatation devices aren’t just cute accoutrements, they can help your dog stay comfortable and safe.
“If you can think of it, it’s probably out there,” Lindner said.
There is a plethora of options for booties and they’re worth exploring for your dog if you plan to take it hiking, Lindner said. Not only do they protect the feet, but they help the pet from getting too hot or too cold.
Lindner sometimes recommends a product called Pad-Tough, essentially a liquid skin for dogs’ pads. This can help protect paws while they toughen up. But don’t try to apply this after the dog hurts its pads or it will sting, Lindner said.
Not all dogs like wearing coats while they’re moving. If they don’t, on cold days it’s good to bring the coat anyway for when the dog isn’t moving. Bright colors are good for both you and the dog during hunting season.
And a personal flotation device should be a must when heading out on the water, Lindner said. “For you and the dog.”
In addition to carrying an emergency kit, food and water for your dog (or having them carry it themselves. Dogs can carry 25-33 percent of their body weight), you should know how your dog is going to react to your commands.
“If you are going to take your dog off-leash, that’s fine but the dog has to be obedient,” Lindner said. “They better know to come when you say ‘come.’ If not, that’s when they get lost, fall off the cliff or tangle with a raccoon.”
You might be hitting the gym to stay in shape during the winter, but odds are the dog isn’t doing exercise videos while you are gone.
Be mindful that your dog needs to get back into shape when you head back outside in the spring.
Lindner says to keep walking your dog through the winter so they get some exercise. It’s good for both of you.
Then when it’s time to hit the trails, he said, “you’re both in good shape and you are going to have the time of your life.”