Just because you live near a trail doesn’t necessarily make it the right trail choice for you and your dog. When considering where and when to go hiking with your dog you need to make some thoughtful choices.
Well meaning friends and family might ask you to come hiking with them, always consider what’s best for you and your dog.
- Buy a good guide book for your area. Day hiking books should offer information on; how to get to the trail head, the difficulty of the trail, the length of the trail (intended hike) a small map, any special considerations. Bozeman Book, Western Montana Book
- Know you and your dogs physical capabilities. If either one of you is not in the best of shape, take it easy and start with shorter and flatter trail choices. Get in shape together.
- Age is also a consideration. If you’re at the peak of health but your dog is twelve years old, please be honest in your trail choices. A short hike with your dog, then home for a long afternoon nap for your furry friend, while you go and bag a peak with one of your friends.
- If you are visiting a new area please consider the elevation, and the elevation gain during a specific hike. Again, a good guide book will point this out for your safety. Spend a couple of days hiking flat in a new area, and then go for the big elevations once you have acclimated.
- Know your trail choice from the ground up, literally. Your dog is going to be intimate with the surface and you need to know if it will work for them. Scree, dirt, ice, cacti, post hole deep snow, water, thick gombu mud, etc. Consider paw/leg health as part of a trail choice.
- Busy verses the path of least resistance. Know your dog and how much traffic they can handle on a trail. Sometimes the most popular trails are the least successful for young dogs or easily aroused dogs.
- Consider the weather seasons – what is best for you and your dog. Cold, hot, dry, wet, storm cycles. Weather is ever present and you have to be honest about what you and your dog can handle. A black Newfoundland is not going to do well in the middle of summer on a seven mile hike, and conversely a Greyhound isn’t going to appreciate back country skiing in -10 degrees. A sound sensitive dog that panics at thunder is not going to be successful on a trail during certain storm cycles. Check the weather before you leave the house.
- Consider other seasons – besides weather it’s important to know what is going on in your area during certain times of the year. Hunting season, when does it start and end. If you truly want to hike when there are people stalking animals and shooting then please dress yourself and your dog in bright orange from head to toe, no joke! I believe it’s best to stay on front country trails during hunting season. Wolf, bear, elk, moose, and coyote denning/mating/rutting season is usually spring and fall, not a good time to hike in those areas, especially with a dog. Check with your local FW&P for more information on those areas.Fire season is so specific to an area, so please know your area and your typical fire seasons. You don’t want to be caught in the deep back country during a big blaze. Air quality alone can be dangerous, but so is the reality of getting caught in a no exit area. Again, a great time to stay safe in the front country trail systems. Snake season is a biggy for anyone hiking with a dog. If a guide book says anything pertaining to ‘snake area during the summer months, carry a snake bite kit’, consider the translation to be “STAY AWAY DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS IF YOU ARE HIKING WITH A DOG”. Bug season unfortunately comes at the peak of wildflower season. If you or your dog has a problem with stinging or biting bugs, this is not a good time to go hiking. An allergic reaction in the back country is not something you want to risk.
Happy Hiking, Nancy