Keep your dog safe on the trail
Stars and Stripes
It’s very common to see people with their dogs on volksmarches. While we have never taken a dog on a volksmarch, our good friend and former Volksmarch columnist Jennifer West rarely walked without one of her four-legged friends. She wrote a guide to volksmarching with your canine companions and we would like it to be a permanent reference here at stripes.com.
We have only one thing to add to this article. On rare occasions you will find a start hall that does not allow dogs inside. You might have to tie Fido to a tree for a few minutes while you go inside to register and when you return from the walk to get your books stamped.
-- Bob and Lorraine Huffaker
Assure safety and comfort for your dog on the trail
By Jennifer West
Past Stripes Volksmarch columnist
Here are some tips to make your pet’s volksmarching experience safer and more enjoyable, and to give you peace of mind when taking your dog on the trails.
• Watch the temperature. Just like humans, dogs need to be conditioned to walk long distances. Build-up your dog’s stamina before taking him (or her) out for that first 10-, 20- or 42-kilometer trail. Additionally, dogs must be acclimated to hotter weather. If the weather is extremely warm and your dog is not used to the heat, consider leaving him at home for the day to prevent the risk of heat stroke.
• Carry plenty of fresh water. If you’re chugging water in between control points, just imagine how thirsty your dog is. Remember, if you have a smaller breed dog, his legs are working harder and faster than yours just to keep up with you.
• Bring food for your dog. If you eat food along the trail, imagine how hungry your pet is. Carry dog snacks or a zippered baggie of food especially on those longer trails, as your dog must keep up his strength, too.
• Use a leash for safety. While dogs should be on a leash at all times, some people remove them in open areas so their animals can run free. Upon seeing another walker and dog, replace the leash immediately. While you know that your dog is friendly, the other owner doesn’t and would feel much more comfortable, and safe, knowing your pet is under control.
• If children are handling your dog, be sure they are old enough and strong enough to cope if he should get anxious, excited and/or uncontrollable.
• Check your dog’s feet for cuts or other injuries, especially if you’ve been walking through rough terrain or on trail sections consisting of large, sharp rocks. If feasible, carry your dog over these dangerous areas. If he is too heavy or the area is just too large, slowly navigate a less injury-prone path. Speaking from experience, it’s a terrible feeling to see your dog leaving traces of blood each time he takes a step because of a cut foot.
• Carry a small pet first-aid kit with you consisting of at least non-stick pads, gauze, cotton and a bandage. You can find more information about pet first-aid kits in Pet First Aid, published by the American Red Cross. The Red Cross Dog First Aid manual is available at www.redcrossstore.org/Shopper/Prodlist.aspx. See a clip at www.redcross.org/flash/StayWell/whatsnormal.html.
• Check your dog’s entire body for insects/ticks and burrs if you have been walking in tall grass. Keep him well-groomed to reduce the chance of ticks and fleas and to maintain his health.
• Keep a spare towel or blanket in your car in case of inclement weather; these will help keep you from having to clean the inside of your car when the wet and muddy pooch decides to shake himself clean!
One last piece of advice that I cannot stress enough:
• Be constantly aware of your surroundings. In the past several years I have seen hundreds of dogs on the volksmarching trails. I have rarely encountered a walker’s dog that was not well-mannered and under control, and I have always felt very comfortable. It’s the dogs running free in the towns and surrounding areas that concern me the most. Several times I have placed myself between one of my dogs and another dog that was running to confront her while we were on a walking trail. After a German shepherd charged from his yard to attack her (while the owners and I were screaming to no avail), I began to carry a retractable aluminum walking stick — not to help me navigate the trail, but to protect my dog. While we were on a marathon in France, a Rottweiler tried to bite my youngest pup. The Rottweiler, too, had escaped from his yard. Awareness of your surroundings will help prevent problems with other animals and children. Be proactive!
• Get your dog to safety at the first sign of distress: I once received feedback from walkers about two retrievers that suffered through the heat of a volksmarch; one of the dogs suffered a stroke soon after returning home and died. Then there was the German shepherd, slowly making his way along the trail, with two worried owners coaxing him back to the start hall. I’ve seen dogs struggling on the trail myself. Which is more important, your dog’s well-being or completing that volksmarch? If you take Fido walking on a hot day and you carry no water, or if you drag him behind you for 10- or 20-kilometers because he’s out of shape, you run the risk of injuring or worse yet, killing him. Can you reconcile that in your heart? Are you willing to take that chance?
If you’re like me, your dog is a valued member of your family, a responsibility that you accepted when you brought him into your home. To express his love and gratitude, he will faithfully follow you to the ends of the earth. As his guardian, you have to make those tough decisions and sometimes say, “You have to stay home today.”
I hope these tips will help keep your four-legged family member healthy and happy and keep you from making the mistakes that some of us have made in the past. Enjoy our volksmarching sport, and to you and your dog, my four-legged volksmarchers and I say “Gut Fuß!”