Our dog, Ruby, is your basic couch potato, not lazy, just chill. She loves walks around our neighborhood but gets tuckered out and sometimes anxious on longer walks in unfamiliar places. But she also loves being included in family adventures so we are slowly exposing her to new activities outside her comfort zone.
Fresh air, exercise, and new experiences are good for her health and confidence, as well as deepening our shared family bond.
We keep things easy, takes things slowly and always have a back-up plan in case she gets tired or nervous (kind of like with little kids). Here are a few tips that have helped build Ruby’s confidence and stamina on longer walks and nature hikes.
1. Select Your Location Carefully
Pick a destination that matches your dog’s personality, stamina and comfort level. We choose locations that offer short and longer trail loops. You end up where you started and never risk going too far or having to carry your tired dog back to the car. For dogs on the anxious side, finding a quiet trail (without many humans or dogs) is also important.
2. Be Prepared
Make sure your dog is protected against fleas and ticks and their tags are current. Bring a basic first aid kit (or keep one in the car) including antiseptic wipes, antibacterial ointment, gauze, scissors, tape, rubber gloves, and basic grooming wipes. Obviously, always consult the weather forecast and take appropriate precautions. Mild temperatures in the 50s, 60s, and 70s are perfect for dogs especially seniors and those not in tip top shape.
3. Follow the Rules
Read and obey all trail regulations regarding dogs. Check leash length regulations as many locations have strict limits. Keep your dog leashed at all times and never leave them unattended. Dogs should have some basic training under their belts and know how to sit, stay, and come.
4. Stay hydrated and Well-fed
Pack water, collapsible water bowls, treats for your dog, and snacks for you. It won’t be nearly as much fun if someone (like you) gets hangry!
5. Slow Down and Enjoy the Scenery
Take it easy and don’t rush your dog. Stay in control, but also let them set the pace. Smelling trees, fences, rocks, and trails are like reading a book for your dog. Let them see the story through to the end.
6. Remember, It’s Not a Competition
There will always be smarter, faster, stronger, more playful or better trained dogs out there. Be friendly and courteous, and when appropriate, move off the trail to let faster dogs (and humans) pass, and then continue on at your own pace. Don’t compare yourself or your dog to others. We are all different and that’s perfectly OK.
7. Enjoy Some Good Old-Fashioned Bonding Time
Stop for breaks, games, picnics, and naps. Turn off your phone and focus completely on the magic and wonder that is your dog.
8. Double-Check for Unwanted Guests
Always double-check your dog for ticks, burrs, and other unwanted guests. If you find a tick, contact your veterinarian. A post-hike bath is always a good idea especially if your dog has any skin sensitivities or allergies.
Most importantly, stay calm and have fun. Your dog will look to you for emotional cues and be happier and more relaxed if you are as well.
Kristin Avery is a writer and photographer with an extensive background in philanthropy and a life-long passion for animal welfare. Her blog, The Daily Pip, is an award-winning, lifestyle pet blog providing resources, support, and humor for rescue families. She was recently honored with two BlogPaws Nose-to-Nose Social Media Awards this year: Best Cause Blog and Best Written Blog Post.
Kristin received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she studied creative writing as well as installation and visual arts. After graduation, she was a founding member of Red Door Animal Shelter, a no-kill shelter for cats, dogs, and rabbits in Chicago. She enjoys working with local Chicago shelters and also recently spent several days at Best Friends Animal Society volunteering at Quincy House with cats with severe special needs including paralysis. Through her blog and volunteer work, she encourages and advocates for rescue and adoption, especially for those animals considered less adoptable. She currently shares her home with one dog, one rabbit, two cats, a husband and 10-year-old daughter.