Hiking with a Buddy
The bond created between dog and human has extended for many millennia. From the days of nomads who traveled great distances across the lands to modern-day, weekend hikers who like to have a faithful companion by their side, the dog has been there all along the way.
Today, many find that great companionship blossoms while taking in some of the trail systems all over the state of Pennsylvania.
Having a dog as a hiking partner can create a wonderful experience for both owner and animal.
Missy Black, of Montoursville, has an energetic 4-year old German shepherd named Jade. She needs plenty of exercise every day and usually serves as Black’s running partner. Jade loves and excels at the activity, but Black was looking to do something different.
After an avid hiker, fellow dog owner and friend Denise DeArment, of Williamsport, asked Black to go hiking and to bring Jade, both owner and dog were hooked.
“I love hiking with Jade. She is so happy when we are out in the woods, and water is her favorite thing in the world, so I usually try to hike where she can get in the water, all year round,” Black said.
Carmen Danley, owner and groomer of Furry Friends in Jersey Shore, hikes with her dog, a golden retriever named Razz.
“I love hiking with my girl ’cause I feel like it is a good bonding experience for us. I even find myself talking to her like a best friend,” Danley said. “I just love being out there with Razzy girl. I cannot put in words how it makes me feel, other than true peace.”
Black said hiking gives her a chance to take a break from her crazy, everyday life
“Being with her is easy. She loves me no matter what,” Black said.
Every other weekend, Eric Beiter, of Williamsport, heads out with his 6-year-old Airedale terrier, Link. They hit the trails of the Loyalsock State Forest.
“You have an endless trail system, really,” he said. “You can pick a new spot every time you are out there. I enjoy being able to take my dog with me. Friends aren’t the most reliable, sometimes, or enthusiastic.”
“Jacoby Falls is a favorite just because I know the trail good and Razz seems to like it, as well. It’s not too long for her … she is getting old,” Danley said.
The falls trail also is one of Black’s favorites.
“Jacoby Falls is one of my tops. It is beautiful any time of year, but spring would be my first choice as the falls are the prettiest that time of year. (And) Jade can swim in the water,” she said.
Danley often seeks out smaller trails and hikes them solo before bringing her dog.
“I hike them first to make sure Razz can make it with her hips – and I can make it with my back – then if it is a safe trail for her, I take it. If there is too many rocks, I make sure to keep her close so I can watch out for snakes,” Danley said.
She also uses the trail system in and around Rauchtown, extending out of Ravensburg State Park.
A challenging trail Black likes to take is a portion of the Loyalsock Trail coming out of World’s End State Park. She said there is water for the dogs there.
“I only take Razz ’cause she listens well and I can off-leash her. She will go so far ahead of me, then stops and waits for me until I catch up before she continues,” Danley said.
Well trained dogs that keep close and do not chase wildlife make ideal hiking partners, especially for state forest trails where having a canine off its leash is OK.
“Consider what breed of dog you have and if it’s going to stay with you,” said Jim Hyland, forest program specialist with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Bureau of Forestry’s Recreation Section.
He said some breeds may take off after wildlife and may have to stay on leash during a hike.
“On state forest land, you can have your dog off leash, but you have to have control of your dog at all times,” Hyland said.
Recommendations to break wildlife chasing is to use a correction collar, known as an e-collar or shock collar. When a dog breaks away in pursuit of a rabbit or the scent of a deer, a small correction to the collar can be made and the dog will start to know it can not chase the wild animal.
“They should have very good recall, especially if you let the dog off leash and they get a whiff of something. You could be dog-less. Start training early when they are pups. It takes constant re-enforcement,” Beiter said.
Sometimes Beiter keeps Link leashed so the dog understands he doesn’t get free rein all the time.
“Take a leash (with you) for areas you are not sure of. Do not off-leash if you do not trust your dog. Make sure that they listen to commands before you take them out,” Danley said.
“Hiking with a dog that is responsive to its owner is a very important part of your adventure. Recall is one of the first things you need to teach your dog,” Black said. “Dogs can get very distracted when a new smell comes along and safety should always come first. Recall is one of the first things I taught my girl for her safety.”
All dogs, by state law, must be licensed and properly vaccinated.
“It’s always good to have ID on your dog, whether it’s an internal chip or external tag, or both. Should the dog get away for any reason (either method can help it be returned),” Hyland said.
In addition to a state license, a dog should carry a tag with its owner’s name and phone number.
Owners who have dogs that may be not social with other dogs or people should think about picking trails less traveled to avoid any conflicts.
“I always make sure I know the area. If there are any mountain roads to cross, make sure you know big trucks are not flying through when you cross,” Danley said.
“Jade alerts me to things in the forest that might be harmful to me and she is always at my side. She may run ahead a bit but always comes to check in to just make sure I am still moving along,” Black said.
“A big issue you should really prepare yourself to deal with is porcupines. Some dogs will attack porcupines and, of course, end up with a face, and sometimes a mouth, full of quills. In my pack right now, I have a pair of needle-nose pilers. If the dog gets into a porcupine, I would be able to remove the ones I can,” Hyland said.
The dog’s condition will warrant owners to either deal with the quills or take the dog to the vet for medical treatment.
Snakes also are a concern for which both owner and dogs need to watch.
“A lot of people are very fearful of snakes, but there are only really timber rattlesnakes in the region, and copperhead to the lesser extent,” Hyland said.
Be on the lookout for movement of rattlesnakes from the third week of April to the third week of October.
A spot check for ticks is recommended by all hikers. Check during the hike and always after – and remember to check yourself, too.
“I always spend the money on the more powerful tick (topical) treatment,” Hyland said.
He recommends checking the dog for lumps or ticks crawling on its fur. Look around the face and ears very carefully, because ticks commonly are found there.
Hikers are warned to pay attention to their dog’s behavior and keep an eye out for injuries and heat exhaustion.
“When the weather is really hot, I generally only hike with him where there is water nearby, like along here there is a creek,” Hyland said. “They can suffer from heat exhaustion pretty easily.”
Most of Pennsylvania’s trail systems run along some type of water. This is a great way for dogs to get a drink and jump in to get refreshed and cooled down.
“You need to provide water for the hike and maybe a treat or two, but dogs just love being outside so usually they could care less about a treat. They have so many different new gadgets to carry water for you and your dog that you should never find yourself without water,” Black said.
Shanna Klucar, program administrator of the Keystone Trails Association, said hikers with canine companions should practice the “leave no trace” principle – meaning clean up after your dog.
“Pennsylvania offers so much in terms of outdoor experiences,” Black said, “and I wouldn’t trade Jade for any other hiking partner.”