Teaching a puppy to hike takes patience and a leash
The wooded hill rose steeply in front of us. Lined with pine needles and moss, this presented a challenge for my pup, Juno, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Pulling on her leash and harness, she walked higher and higher to the top of Baker Hill.
As we stepped out onto long granite ledges, a small blue butterfly floated past. There, in the sun, the path was bordered by pale green reindeer moss, black lingonberries and highbush blueberries. To our right the view opened – a landscape of dense, bright forest with spring growth, and beyond, the ocean and mountains of Acadia.
It was the perfect hike for my young canine companion. We slowly progress through the difficulty, with the hope that one day soon she will join me as I climb mountains.
Choosing the right trails for my new hiking buddy is something I take seriously. A husky-boxer mix, Juno naturally seems to love being outdoors, but that doesn’t mean she’ll necessarily love hiking like my previous dog, Oreo, did. And that’s OK. I am determined to offer him the best possible experiences by making him discover the activity.
If she looks like she’s getting tired, we turn around. If she’s panting a lot, we stop so I can pour water into her collapsible bowl. And if she’s planning on sniffing a mossy tree stump, I stop and give her time to do so – within reason.
Hiking with a puppy takes patience.
When we brought Juno home last December, she was just over 8 weeks old. It was my first time taking care of such a young dog, so naturally I had a lot of questions. And being an avid hiker, one of my first questions was: how much should a puppy walk? I was taken aback by the responses I received.
Only 10 minutes? Seriously? It wouldn’t even get us to the mailbox. (Okay, our mailbox is at the end of the 0.3 mile dirt road we live on.)
I passed my findings on the internet in front of my vet, and she confirmed that puppies need to relax. Short periods of exercise are preferable. In fact, according to an article published by the American Kennel Club, taking puppies on too strenuous walks can cause bone and joint problems as they develop, especially in larger breeds.
Since I learned all this, I have been very careful with my “Sweet June”. As she gets older, so do our daily walks, from half our route to our entire route – to the mailbox. Our first hikes were on short trails on flat ground. And now that she is 8 months old, I am starting to introduce her to hills and small mountains.
Fortunately, Maine has plenty of them.
Rising a few hundred feet above sea level, Baker Hill is the culmination of a 58-acre reserve in Sullivan, owned and maintained by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy. A 1.6 km loop trail passes through mossy, rock-strewn forest to an expanse of exposed granite at the top of the hill. For plant lovers, this is a great place to enjoy woodland flowers such as pink Lady’s-slipper, berries, and flower stars. The property is also filled with interesting lichens and mosses.
Other easy hikes I’m considering for Juno include Pigeon Hill in Steuben, John B. Mountain in Brooksville, and Flying Mountain in Acadia National Park. All include a few steep inclines and rocky terrain, but these are fairly short hikes.
As we continue to explore the wilderness together, I plan to keep Juno on a leash. I wish I could let her run free sometimes (in places where it’s allowed and appropriate), but I’m afraid we’ll lose her. Juno especially enjoys following animal tracks and scents, and she has a stubborn side unlike anything I’ve seen.
A few months ago, I accidentally dropped her leash while hiking with her at a local reserve. We were navigating a long stretch of bog bridges through a swampy area. Well Juno’s gone, deep in the mud, and my boy did she love it. After many failed attempts to remind us of her, my husband and I had to wade knee deep in standing water and peat moss to retrieve our soggy dog.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the different opinions about owning a dog. To put it simply, I just listen to my vet and the dog trainers we work with in Bangor. Very early on, they stressed to me the importance of keeping my puppy on a leash. Dogs don’t understand the dangers of getting lost, they said. And at a young age, dogs usually don’t have the discipline to always come when called out, especially if there’s a squirrel mocking a distant tree or a fresh deer path with a scent ( or a bog full of water that is fun to splash in, apparently).
I also have to watch her to make sure she doesn’t dig up moss or pull up saplings along the trails. Around our house, that’s okay, but on public trails it’s important to leave everything as you find it so that other visitors can enjoy the seemingly unspoiled wilderness.
Also, I carry a few extra items in my backpack, such as treats, extra water, and dog poop bags. But it’s all worth it. Dogs are the most enthusiastic hiking companions. By introducing Juno to the activity early in life – with easy, short hikes – I hope it helps him feel more comfortable with the whole process. She does not yet know the word “hike”. But it is only a matter of time.
Aislinn Sarnacki is a columnist for the Bangor Daily News. She can be contacted by email at [email protected]