April 26, 2018
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A guide to hiking with dogs

By Karen Douglas, Special to the BDN

Summer brings visitors from all over who come to hike Maine trails. Many will bring along their canine companions. Maine is a pet-friendly state and visitors will find dogs are welcome on most trails as long as owners follow posted rules.

The key to a successful hike with your dog is taking care to plan ahead and prepare for the unexpected. Nothing ruins a hike faster than a lost dog or an emergency visit to the veterinarian. I’ve been hiking with my dogs for a few years and I’ve compiled some tips to help make a hike with your dog a safe one.

It is the unexpected roosting bird taking flight in a sudden flurry of wings and feathers or the rabbit darting across the trail ahead of you that can incite even a couch potato of a dog to give chase.

An excited or frightened dog can back itself out of a poorly fitted collar or harness. A collar should be snug enough to fit two fingers between the dog’s neck and the collar. A nylon harness discourages pulling, is washable and dries quickly. There are also a number of hands-free leashes on the market that are great for hiking. They keep your dog securely tethered to you by means of a belt system.

If your dog does get away from you, don’t leave the marked trail to search for it. It is easy to become lost in the Maine woods. I recommend carrying a dog whistle. My own lost pet story began when my basset hound caught a scent she was determined to follow. She ran off, and I searched the woods frantically for her.

By the time I gave up my search and headed back to my car, she already had been given some water and was taking a nap in a horse trailer, courtesy of a kind stranger. Lesson learned. And make sure your dog is wearing identification tags that have your current contact information.

One of the greatest threats to dogs in the Maine woods is the porcupine. This slow-moving creature is plentiful in the Northeast. The porcupine protects itself with loosely rooted quills that have backward-pointing barbs that detach on contact. In my first encounter with a porcupine, my dogs — tethered to their leashes — spotted movement in a culvert and went in for a curious sniff. Both emerged with a muzzle full of quills. It was a miserable hike back to the car with the dogs stopping every few feet, futilely trying to dislodge the quills.

Another lesson learned. Give porcupines plenty of space. The porcupine is essentially a docile creature and will climb a tree to escape a threat. It is a myth that porcupines can throw their quills, but they will turn their back and thrash their tails. Be wary of allowing your dog to explore places that might serve as a porcupine den such as caves or hollow logs.

Sometimes getting to a veterinarian is just not possible. You should always pack a pair of pliers just in case. If you can, see a veterinarian who will sedate your dog before removing the quills. If you are vacationing with your dog it is important to plan ahead by investigating where you can go for emergency care for your pet and carry the contact information with you.

Don’t count on the idea that if your dog has gotten into a porcupine once, it will never do so again. Some dogs never learn. One veterinarian I spoke to said the record for his practice was a dog that had run-ins with porcupines three times in the same week.

Heatstroke can be a life-threatening risk to your dog and prevention is the key, especially in the summertime. Dogs don’t sweat like humans. They release heat by panting. When hiking, it’s important to allow time for rest in a shaded area. My favorite trails have small ponds or streams where my dogs can swim, which is a welcome break on a hot day.

I plan my hikes for the morning when the temperature is lower, and avoid strenuous exercise on hot and humid days. Remember that dogs need to stay hydrated when they are active, so don’t forget to bring drinking water for yourself and your dog and pack a nylon collapsible dog bowl. Don’t assume there will be drinkable water along the trail.

Another threat to dogs are insects, particularly the deer tick, which can carry Lyme disease. Make sure your dog is up to date on flea and tick prevention and remember to do a tick check after a hike. You should pack a pair of tweezers or a tick-removing instrument. Mosquitoes and black flies can be a nuisance for dogs, but I have found that dog-safe insect repellent works well to manage those pests.

The insects that give my dogs fits on the trails are deerflies and horseflies. Their bite is painful and can leave a dog vulnerable to infection. Deerflies and horseflies are attracted to dark-colored moving objects. DEET repellents may inhibit a fly from biting but not from landing.

I’ve tried putting a white cotton T-shirt on my dogs as well as using a product called “Flys-Off,” one of a number of products on the market specifically formulated for flies. Another tip is to coat vulnerable areas on the dog such as the tender parts of the ear with petroleum jelly. Some dogs can have an allergic reaction to insect bites. I recommend carrying Benadryl just in case.

Remember to plan ahead and prepare for the unexpected, so you and your dog can relax and enjoy the trails. Just Google “Dog friendly hiking, Maine,” and you will find a ton of resources. One site I particularly like is www.downeastdognews.com, which has a guide to dog parks, beaches and trails in Maine on the website and in print. Happy hiking!

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