By: Effie Drew, Long-distance Adventurer and Member of the VetriSquad
I went over some training basics for your trail dog in my previous blog post. In addition to training, there are a few extra factors you should take into consideration for keeping your dog healthy if you’re frequently hitting the trails together.
Gradually Increase Distance and Difficulty
Start small and work your way up by gradually increasing the distance you cover with your dog. If your goal is to have a dog that is fit enough to do 8-to 10 miles (or longer) hikes with you on the weekends, start with 3 days during the week with shorter walks or hikes, and one longer one on the weekend followed by a rest day. If your short distance was 2 miles and your long distance was 4 miles, work up in 1-mile increments.
The same applies to terrain difficulty and how many vertical feet you are covering on the trails, how rocky they may be, or other challenging factors like lava rocks or snow. Whatever the activity you may be doing with your dog – hiking, trail running, mountain biking – the same guidelines apply. Just because they can do those bigger miles on a given day, doesn’t mean they aren’t sore and tired afterward. If your dog isn’t playful or won’t get out of bed the next day, that’s an indication it was too much too quickly. The best way to sustain long-term fitness is to focus on the progression itself.
Extra Calories In
An active dog is going to burn more calories daily than the food label recommends. Talk to your vet about how many calories they should be eating based on their size and activity level. My favorite ways to add extra calories and nutrition are by drizzling a little oil on top (fish, olive, or coconut), adding Greek yogurt (adds probiotics as well), or scrambled eggs.
Be Aware of Ticks
Depending on where you live, ticks may pose a substantial threat to you and your dogs. It doesn’t need to deter you from getting out in the woods, though. Make sure your dog is on a regular tick preventative medication and consider doubling up with a topical spray like Flea+ when you arrive at the trailhead (that’s what I do during the peak seasons here in Maine). When you arrive back home, bust out the brush and do a thorough tick check before letting your dog inside.
Take Good Care of Their Joints
Exercise is good for your dog if it’s within their ability. A little extra something for the joints will help improve strength and durability, along with recovery and any soreness in an active dog. Look for ingredients like glucosamine and MSM in a joint supplement. I give my Australian Shepherds a daily dose of GlycoFlex Plus along with their fish oils, which helps maintain their strength and aid in a quicker recovery.
Get to Know their Bodies
In the evenings when you may be snuggling up with your dog, feel over their entire body. Just like we look in the mirror and can spot something that looks “off”, it’s helpful to be in tune to your dog’s curves and bumps. You can gently rub their muscles and feel along their spine for spots that might be hot to the touch or cause a jumpy reaction from them. These may be sore spots that you can pay extra attention to. When you are familiar with their physical body, you can more easily identify an injury that they can’t necessarily tell you about.
If your pup is participating in your trail activities, they are an athlete too! Cross-training with different activities works for various muscle groups and helps to prevent injuries. If your dog runs the trails with you a few times a week, mix in easy walks and swimming. Change up the tempo whenever the opportunity arises.
Do Your Research
Before heading to a new trailhead, do some research so you know what to expect and can set your dog up for success. What are the leash laws? Is this place super busy on the weekends? What’s the terrain like? Get reliable information from resources like maps, trail apps, USFS or state park websites, local gear shops, etc.
Make sure you and your dog have the appropriate skills for the place you’re going (say, if it’s busy and your dog gets overwhelmed and unfocused in crowds, pick another place). Please always pick up your dog’s waste by bagging it and carrying it out or burying it in situations when you may be backpacking for longer periods of time.
Effie Drew is a member of the VetriSquad, a long-distance adventurer, certified Wilderness First Responder, and founder, owner, and managing director of Maine Outdoor Kids, an outdoor-based adventure program. She has two Australian Shepherds that accompany her on her various adventures. Some of her noteworthy adventures include the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Follow along on Instagram @babygotbackwoods_