by Beth McEwen
Spring has sprung, and we West Michiganders find ourselves looking for excuses to get outside. The mild temperatures of late spring and early summer make for the perfect time of year for Fido to join us in our outdoor activities. Whether you’re walking, hiking, camping or running with your pooch, here are a few safety concerns to keep in mind.
First Things First
Be sure your pup is physically prepared for his outdoor adventures by getting medically cleared for activity. Your annual trip to the vet may include vaccine boosters that will protect Fido from communicable doggy diseases, as well as testing for internal parasites, such as heartworms or roundworms. Stool and blood samples will likely be taken to rule out any unwanted internal bugs, and preventative medication will be prescribed to keep intruders out. During this exam, let your vet know what sorts of activities you and your pup will be enjoying this year. If you are traveling to certain parts of the US, additional vaccines may be in order. If you plan on hiking in the wilderness, a Lyme vaccine might be suggested.
Your doggy doctor may also discuss any physical limitations you may need to keep in mind. If Fido gained significant “winter weight,” marathon training might be too hard on his joints at the moment — start slow and work off that weight first. If Fifi is a dachshund, basset or another long-backed breed, jumping activities may be discouraged. Seniors and adolescents may be advised against strenuous or high-impact activities. As with any new exercise, give your pup time to acclimate so that he or she has the best possible experience.
“Be sure your pup is physically prepared for his outdoor adventures by getting medically cleared for activity.”
Any time dogs are out and about, there is the potential for them to get lost. A collar and ID tag are the quickest and easiest way for Fido’s finder to get in touch with you.
Modern technology has even developed smart tags that can help you find your pooch on your own; however, if your pup slips his collar, the tag only serves to let you know “Fifi was here.” A microchip implant, available at your vet or during special clinics at the local pet supply store, is a low-cost and permanent way to identify your pooch. This miniature identification chip is implanted in the soft tissue between your pet’s shoulders by way of a syringe (no surgery needed!) and can be read by special scanners at your local veterinary office or animal shelter. Should your pup find his way to animal control, they will scan for that chip and track you down. It is imperative that the chip’s registration information is accurate; talk with your vet about the registry service they use so that you may update your contact information as needed.
The Right Tools for the Job
While out and about, leash laws require that our furry friends be tethered to us in some way. This is not only for the safety of the community at large but for the safety of Fido himself! Imagine taking a leisurely stroll when, suddenly, a squirrel darts in front of your pup, and he takes chase toward the busy road ahead!
Even the best-trained dog may falter when their prey-drive kicks in. A solid 4 or 6-foot leash and a flat, buckle collar with reflective elements are the best general-use tools for safe outdoor adventures.
Flexi-leads may be tempting, but my professional advice is to steer clear. The constant tension produced by the flexi’s recoil actually encourages pulling. Additionally, pulling may be exacerbated by traditional-style harnesses, which have a solid strap across the chest and clips on the back. Canines have a strong oppositional reflex, meaning that they tend to enjoy pulling into the pressure. If Fifi pulls on the leash while wearing a flat collar, perhaps a no-pull harness may help. With these harnesses, the leash attaches to an o-ring in the front, right over the chest of your pup. When properly fitted, the physics of this configuration result in an inability to pull directly ahead. Instead,
the pulling pooch will find himself turning back toward his owner, giving you a chance to try to redirect
Another great option is a head collar. Similar to a halter on a horse, the head collar has a band that goes over Fido’s nose and a band that fits behind his ears. The leash connects beneath his chin. Once again, if he tries to pull, it effectively turns his head back toward the owner. Proper fit is extremely important to the success of this too, and it is an excellent option for urban dogs who like to pick up random items as they walk. Pair the head collar with their favorite small toy to hold, and your trash-grabber can successfully keep his oral fixation satiated and avoid unsafe items on the ground.
Take advantage of all the amazing recreational resources we have here in West Michigan to get out and get healthy with your pooch. Whether walking your senior dog on trails, camping with your new puppy or exploring one of the many dog-friendly beaches with your young-adult pooch, remember to keep the safety of your pup (and the community at large) at the top of your mind.
And please, on behalf of all our community members, pick up after your dog.