Rambling Rovers

Hiking with Dogs is Great Fun, but be Prepared

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Like any self-respecting Labrador Retriever, one-year-old Bear is happiest playing fetch in a natural body of water. Lucky for Bear, his partner in crime, Gary Harr, is also at his best on a river or lake.

Harr, who leads dog-friendly hikes for the social networking group Meetin Portland (MIPL), frequently takes Bear for five-mile jaunts in the Columbia River Gorge, and on the Clackamas, Sandy and Willamette Rivers. Last spring he led MIPL hikes at Triple Falls in the Gorge and at Oaks Bottom/Sellwood Park. His weekend haunts also include the Sandy River Delta (exit 18 off I-84), where Bear can roam off leash and splash in the river, always in sight. 

According to Ellen Bishop Morris, in her book Best Hikes With Dogs Oregon, Harr has mastered a critical component of hiking with dogs: obedience. An aggressive, disobedient or absent-minded dog has no place on the trail, writes Bishop-Morris, citing stewardship of nature and wildlife as primary responsibilities of humans hiking with dogs. 

Unlike Harr, Portland realtor Tamara Smith does not let her eight-year-old Basset-Lab mix Katie run free. “If she sees a squirrel, she’s outta there,” says Smith, whose favorite hikes include Cape Lookout and Falcon Cove at the coast. “There are a lot of steep ledges (on those trails),” says Smith, “or maybe I’m just an overprotective mom.”

Or not. 

Leash love is hardly the sign of a helicopter mom, say the certified veterinary technicians who manage the PCC Veterinary Technology Program under the direction of Dr. Brad Krohn. 

“We’re the ones who see dogs come in sick and vomiting, with diarrhea, paw pads worn off, and covered with ticks (from off leash nature hikes),” says Nicole Papageorgiou, CVT, a part-timer at PCC. 

The leash, says PCC full-time Certified Vet Tech Dolores Galindo, is the ultimate preventative measure. 

Some of the horrors she has seen include lost pups, meet-ups with predators, impalements from jumping over downed tree branches, broken bones, ruptured ligaments, and intestinal parasites (from drinking bad water or eating dead animals).

“Hiking with your dog should be interactive and fun,” says Galindo. “It should not end [up at] an emergency hospital.”

Before even broaching the leash conversation, Papageorgiou stresses preliminary vet visits to determine the best kind of outings for Fido. She recommends a full physical and blood work, as well as flea, tick and worm treatments. “And rattle snake vaccines if you’re going to Eastern Oregon,” she adds.

Galindo touts conditioning as the next step. “Don’t start with a five-mile hike,” she says. “Start with longer walks in the neighborhood.”

Galindo learned this lesson firsthand when she took her young Lab to the Sandy River Delta.

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The author, Meryl Lipman, hiking near Breitenbush“We had him on a 30-foot lead. We got to the water and he kept going in, going in, going in,” she recalls. “After awhile he got out to the middle of the river and just started sinking.”

Galindo and her husband had to reel him in like a fish, she remembers. The incident is funny now, she says, but she decided then, “At the end of a hike, a dog should be content, not exhausted.” 

Along with conditioning, acclimation is key. A trail dog should be comfortable with all kinds of wildlife. Otherwise, says Galindo, “you’re standing on a ledge and a flock of geese fly by and now you and your dog are both going over the ledge.” 

Galindo and Papageorgiou both recommend canine first aid knowledge and supplies. The kit should include vet wrap, gauze, eye wash (in the event of a skunk spray), antibiotic ointment, and peroxide “in case the dog ingests something and you have to make him vomit.” One of her dogs ate its leash during a long boring ride in her camper. “We had to find a drug store in this little tiny town. Then we drove up a forest road, I gave my dog peroxide, and he threw up little pieces of leather for eight hours,” she says. 

Though Papageorgiou’s late Greyhound camping buddy Sylvie used to sleep with her in her sleeping bag, heat stroke is a greater risk than hypothermia for dogs. Finding shade on the trail is important, she says, “even in the mountains on a sunny day.”

Another critical piece of trail health, says Galindo, occurs after the hike. “Do not let a dog engorge himself on water while he is panting,” she warns.  “Bloat is a veterinary emergency.” 

After a serious romp in nature, she recommends pet parents “give a little bit of water initially and then wait until the dog stops panting.”

Galindo has four canine companions, a Lab, a Pitt Bull mix, a 7-lb. Chihuahua, and a Sheltie mix “with short legs.” She says they all enjoy the beach and the Sandy River Delta, and they are all “good for an hour or two.” 

While retrievers, hounds, and herding breeds do well on longer treks, Galindo gauges her hikes to her little one, which includes watching for predators in the sky. “For a hawk, that’s a food source,” she says.

Papageorgiou jokes about “matching your hike to the weakest link,” but she quickly turns serious. “We [tend to] forget how domesticated dogs are, that they can’t fend for themselves” she says. “Think of it as . . . hiking with a three-year-old.” 

Indeed, Gary Harr’s Bear acted like a happy three-year-old at a recent snowshoe event on Mt. Hood. He found sticks and begged for game after game of fetch. He outlasted the entire MIPL crowd on the wooded trek at 5,000 feet. The, when the humans hit the pub post-snowshoeing, Bear curled up in the back seat of the car, where he snored, barked softly, and ran in his sleep,  dreaming of Northwestern trails.

Ellen Bishop Morris’ 10 canine trail essentials

  • Snug-fitting doggie pack. 1:20 ratio – one pound of pack weight for every 20 lbs of dog. Get the dog conditioned and used to the pack with short walks. 
  • Canine first aid kit and knowledge of canine first aid.
  • Enough food and trail food for two extra days of hiking. Like humans, dogs burn more calories when hiking and should nosh at intervals. 
  • Water and collapsible or lightweight titanium bowl. Keeping Fluffy hydrated with safe water will minimize the risk of her drinking from streams, which can carry disease. 
  • Leash and collar. Many parks require dogs be on leash. When hiking on shared-use trails with horses or mountain bikes, a leash is imperative.
  • Insect repellent. Touted by Bishop Morris as defense against ticks and lyme disease. But she warns owners to spray a test patch and to avoid spraying places a dog can lick.
  • Identification tags and microchip. 
  • Booties. Paw abrasions are among the most common trail injuries for dogs. Papageorgiou says a good rule of thumb is, “If you’re going up in your Tivas, your dog can go with (bare) paw pads. If you’re wearing [hiking boots] then the dog should wear booties.”
  • Compact roll of plastic bags. Avid hikers follow the adage “Leave no trace.” That includes poo. 
  • Successful obedience training. The dog should be able to stay in sight of the owner and come when called.

Meryl Lipman has an MA in Writing from PSU and works as Community Relations Manager for PCC Rock Creek. She used to hike in Russia and the Northwest with her late, great Spaniel Katya.