The "Hiking With Your Dog" group has moved their hikes farther north to enjoy the cooler temperatures. Last week the group explored trails up on Milk Ranch Point Road and further exploration of that picturesque area is planned.
E-mail is the means of communication among group members, and meeting places are announced in advance. If you do not have e-mail, you can still join the group.
Any of the hikers can suggest a trail. From the meeting place, the group might carpool to reach the beginning of the trail. Hikes usually last an hour or two.
The length and difficulty of the hikes depend on the hikers and the dogs. If a few are getting tired and the others want to go on, a couple may turn back, but no one goes back alone. The terrain is a factor in choosing trails. Some like harder trails and some just want to walk along and enjoy the scenery. There is some talk among the hikers of doing an overnight outing.
Some hikers prefer to hike alone with their dog and others like to have company. Dogs love the company of other dogs. Either way, there are some guidelines. Dogs and people need to get conditioned for a hike. If you are a regular walker, the transition to a hike on a trail will be easy. However, if you and your dog are fellow couch potatoes, you need to start out slowly. Gradually increase the length of your walks as your endurance increases. Once on the trail, keep in mind that how ever far you walk, you may need to walk back. Don't over extend. Injuries are much more likely to occur when you or your dog are tired.
"The cardiovascular system and musculoskeletal system respond better to slow introductions and gradual progression of exercise," said Steven Marks of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana.
At the beginning of every hike, allow about 10 minutes for you and your dog to warm-up. Then you can pick up the pace. As you go along, watch for signs that your dog needs a rest, such as excessive panting, lameness or lagging.
You never need to worry about running out of new trails. The National Forests have more than 130,000 miles of trails throughout the country. Local trail maps are available at ranger stations and at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce both in Payson and in Pine (at the Pine Museum). These maps rate the trails for difficulty and state their length. Elevation is a factor. A 1,000-foot climb in elevation is comparable to walking an additional mile. The maps also state who can use these trails; horseback riders, off-road vehicles, mountain bikers and whether dogs are allowed. On most trails, dogs must be leashed.
"One of the primary reasons for the leash rule is it puts you in charge of the situation," said Paul Marusich, park ranger at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills. Encounters with wildlife can injure or kill your dog. Skunks, raccoons, coyotes and javelina as well as snakes are some of the wildlife that can be dangerous.
If you are going to be out in the wilds with your dog, provide protection from mosquitoes, fleas and ticks. Dogs are inclined to get into some rank water in stock ponds and standing pools. Preventive heartworm treatments are recommended. Talk with your veterinarian and get the recommended immunizations.
Mike Spaulding from Gila County rabies control has seen several cases of raccoons with distemper this year. All dogs should be vaccinated against distemper.
The proper equipment must be part of every hike. A fanny or backpack will have space for the essentials. Each hiker should carry an adequate supply of water for himself and his dog and a small bowl. A few first aid supplies might include some antibiotic ointment, bandages, a bandanna and tweezers or needle-nose pliers. If you are out alone, you should carry a compass and some sort of flare or marker.
Specially designed doggie backpacks allow your dog to carry his share of the supplies, but he should not carry more than 15 percent of his weight. An extra leash and proper identification on the collar are very important.
Wherever you hike, whether alone or with a group, be courteous. So many trails and public places have been closed to dogs because people do not follow the rules, keep their dogs under control and clean up after them. Do not let your dog bother horseback riders or other hikers.
Shelter dogs would love a little hike. If you want to borrow a hiking partner, call the shelter at (928) 474-5590 and leave a message for Margie. She regularly works with dog walkers and instructs on the basics of dog walking. Some shelter dogs are not well leash trained. She will give you some tips on how to handle the dog and keep him under control so that he is safe and the experience is a pleasant one for both of you.
If you want more information about the "Hiking With Your Dog" group, call Lori Chandler, (928) 476-2633, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(One source for this column was "Your Best Hiking Buddy" by Maryann Mott, AKC Family Dog, fall, 2004.)
Christy Powers is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.