Get ready for a day in the woods!
Time spent in nature is never time wasted, especially when your dog comes along for the adventure! Before your outing, take the extra time to prepare properly. A few minutes of prep can prevent or mitigate a whole host of issues on the trail.
1. Be sure your dog is physically capable of hiking/long walks.
If your dog is not used to being out for long stretches of time on uneven ground, you may have to gradually work up to longer walks over time. Keep in mind that if your pet is older, has health challenges, or is a brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed, longer walks could be more difficult for them.
Do a quick once-over of your pet before hitting the trails. Be sure your dog is generally healthy and in good shape. Check for limping, signs of soreness or anything else out of the ordinary. Always check their paws and nails to be sure they are not too long. They could get caught in something, or tear on rough terrain. Using a moisturizing paw balm regularly on your dog’s paw pads can help prevent chafing and irritation while out on the trail/in colder weather.
2. Plan/research your destination.
It’s always a good idea to have your route planned ahead of time. Do a little research once you have decided on some potential destinations. A great place to start is at their website. There will usually be “dog rules” for bringing pets to the area.
If you know the potential hazards, you will know what to bring. You can usually download a trail map to your phone, and/or print one out before you go. You can sometimes grab a trail map at the trailhead or parking lot of your destination as well. If there are no portable options, you can take a picture of the map at the trailhead so it is with you on your trip.
If you would like to download our Dover Area Dog-Friendly Trail Guide before you plan your next hike, visit this link: www.linktr.ee/naturecallsnh
3. Check the weather.
Check the weather forecast to determine whether to bring a raincoat or warm coat for your pet. A raincoat can help longer-haired dogs remain more comfortable. Short-haired dogs tend to be more sensitive to cold, and would benefit from a coat in colder conditions.
4. Check to see if hunting season is in effect.
Visit the websites below to check the hunting seasons in our area:
- NH: https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/hunting/hunt-dates.html
- Maine: https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting-trapping/hunting/laws-rules/season-dates-bag-limits.html
If it is hunting season, use a high visibility collar, harness or jacket. Honestly, it’s a good idea to use one anyway. If your dog gets away from you, they will be much easier to spot.
5. Prepare for ticks.
Lyme disease is definitely a concern for people and pets here in Dover. In 2023, about 1 in 10 dogs in our area tested positive for Lyme disease. Ticks also carry other diseases in addition to Lyme. If it’s tick season, be sure that you are using some sort of protection on your dog, be that prescription tick preventatives, essential oil sprays, or other tick repellent.
Some dogs are sensitive to prescription tick preventatives. You can use essential oil sprays on your dog, or you can spray it onto a bandana and put it on the dog. There are hi-vis vests available that are impregnated with tick repellent as well.
6. Make sure your pet has proper ID.
Be sure your pet is wearing a collar with ID tags, and current rabies tag. If your town/state requires a dog license, be sure it is also attached. A microchip with current registration is also a good idea. If he does get lost, these things can help him get returned to you safely.
Another great idea is to attach a bell to your dog’s collar, especially if you plan on letting him/her off leash. This way you can hear him if he gets out of sight.
GPS collar trackers are a new high-tech way of keeping track of your dog. A variety of products are available. Some use their own cellular signal, and some use the Bluetooth function on your phone. Check out the Whistle, the Tractive, or you can look into using your Apple AirTag for this purpose.
7. Gather your supplies.
No matter how short you think your walk will be, you never know what could happen. You should always carry a pack with safety items, snacks and water for your dog (and you) in case of the unexpected.
What to pack:
- Bottled water
- A meal for your dog in a ziplock baggie
- Dog water bowl/food bowl
- Extra slip leash
- Trail map
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Dog first aid kit
- Safety scissors
- Saline (for eye wash, rising wounds)
- Antibacterial ointment
- Cotton balls or clean bandana to wipe wounds
- Gauze pad (nonstick)
- Vet medical wrap
- Wound cleaning solutions like alcohol wipes, hydrogen peroxide or betadine wipes
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergic reactions from insect bites or stings
- Tweezers or Multitool to remove small thorns or ticks
- Muzzle (dogs in pain are unpredictable)
You can make up your own pet first aid kit, modify your human first aid kit to include the pet-specific items or buy a pre-assembled pet first aid kit. Be sure to check them routinely for expired items.
In addition to your first aid kit, have the phone number for your dog’s regular veterinarian and emergency veterinarian saved in your phone. If you are traveling far from home, it is a good idea to preemptively search out the nearest emergency vet to your location and have that in your phone as well.
8. Leave a note
Always let someone know where you will be headed if you go out alone. Leave a note, tell a friend/family member, write it on your whiteboard, etc. If you do get stuck or lost, at least someone will have an idea where to start looking.
Out on the trail
1. Follow all the rules regarding dogs on the trail.
Follow all rules regarding leashing your dog. Most trails require that you use a 4-6 ft leash. Retractable leashes are not recommended. Rules for dogs on the trails are usually posted on the website and at the parking lot/trailhead, but not always.
2. Be sure to carry out all your dog’s “business”.
Just as when you walk your pet in your neighborhood, please clean up after your dog on the trail. Things you can get to carry dog waste:
- Sealable bags or pouches
- Poop bag holder that can attach to leash or pack
If you forget a poop bag – it happens occasionally, even to the best of us – use a stick to flick the poop off the trail so no one steps in it.
3. Give other parties the right of way.
As people with or without their own dogs are passing you, find a good place to pull yourself and your dog off the trail and let them go by. This may not always be possible, depending on the location and conditions, but it gives you the best control over potential interactions with other people and dogs as they pass.
4. Communicate with other dog owners on the trail.
If your dog is not too friendly with other dogs, be sure to communicate that to other dog owners as they approach, especially if they are off-leash. Tell them that your dog does not like other dogs and they will need to leash their dog to pass.
5. If you are approached by an off-leash dog:
Immediately leash your own dog if she is not. Place yourself between the dog and your dog. Make yourself big and tall and yell in a stern voice “No!” or “Go home!”. This usually works. Deterrents you can carry with you in case this doesn’t work:
- Air horn or deterrent spray
- Personal alarm (may scare your dog too)
- Walking stick or hiking pole
Keep in mind that you may have to desensitize your dog to the air horn, deterrent spray, and/or personal alarm, or they will scare him away, too. He will be leashed, so that should mitigate his instinct to run, but be sure to hold on firmly to the leash before using your deterrent.
6. If you decide to allow your dog some off-leash activity:
If you are allowed, and your dog will reliably come to you when called, you may choose to take your dog off-leash with you. Please keep in mind:
- Some people don’t like dogs
- Some people (especially children) are afraid of dogs
- Letting your dog approach other people or dogs can be dangerous
- Letting your dog approach other people or dogs is rude
Do not be playing on your phone, taking photographs, etc. Pay attention to where your dog is at all times. Scan ahead for other people or dogs constantly.
Keep your leash easily accessible (over your shoulders) so that it is ready when needed. Don’t put it fully around your neck. If you see other people or dogs coming towards you, call your dog to you and attach the leash.
7. Don’t let your dog drink dirty water.
Water in lakes, ponds, or streams could be contaminated with bacteria or parasites that can make your dog (and you) potentially very ill. Don’t let them drink from unclean water. Be sure to have bottled/filtered water and a bowl with you. Take periodic breaks so your dog can get a drink of clean water. This way, he won’t feel the need to drink from the potentially hazardous water source.
8. Be prepared to respond to injuries.
Accidents happen! Carry your First Aid Kit, and know how to use it. Common injuries that occur out in the woods/nature are:
- Porcupine encounters
- Broken bones
- Eye injuries
- Heat stroke
If you are interested in learning how to respond to these types of injuries, there are numerous books and online courses available on first aid for pets. It’s a great idea to keep a field copy of an emergency guide with your first aid kit. Online courses include the Red Cross and ProPetHero, but there are many others as well.
After your adventure
Be sure to do a good once-over of your dog after your trip. Check to make sure his paws are in good condition and that there are no cuts or abrasions to the pads. Check for minor cuts or scrapes on his legs, body and face.
Check for ticks and debris stuck in his fur. Ticks like to go to the face, ears, neck, belly, and armpits, but they can be found anywhere. Pull any leaves, sticks or burrs from your pet’s fur. If your dog is dirty enough, he may need a bath. Give him a good fluff and dry – they love it!
Reflect on your awesome day in the woods with your dog. Get a snack and a drink for the both of you. Time to sit back, relax, and plan your next day on the trails!