Arizona for a Perfect Hiking Day

Tucson in Arizona offers lovely paths for hiking with your dog. Author Kelli Donley of azcentral writes about tips and tricks on hiking on a perfect day in Arizona with your dog.

The weather is right, and you aren’t the only one itching for some outdoor therapy. Your dog is ready to hit the trail, too. With just a little preparation, you and your dog can be ready for a hike in town or on a more adventurous rural route.

“Good leash manners, a strong ‘come’ command and a well-tested ‘sit-stay’ are the absolute bare-minimum obedience skills a dog must have before hitting the trail,” says Jamie J. DeBenedetto, a dog trainer, hike leader and founder of the Canine Hiking Club of Arizona.

DeBenedetto recommends starting with shorter, easier trips to build up your dog’s stamina, as well as its footpads. Keep in mind temperatures, terrain and total distance when planning your animal’s preconditioning. As your furry partner gains strength and you learn what is normal and within his abilities, you can venture out for longer periods,” she says.

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Know the dangers

Tucson hiker Andy Flach says it’s important to understand your environment and potential dangers.

“Depending on where you hike in Arizona, you could unexpectedly encounter mountain lions, bears, coyotes, deer, wolves, cattle, horses, javelina, etc.,” he says. “If you have your dog off-leash, an encounter with one of these animals might go worse than if your dog had been on-leash.

“At the very least, you should have some kind of game plan for animal encounters and be comfortable with the risk involved.”

In Best Hikes With Dogs: Arizona (Mountaineers Books, 2005, $16.95), Renee Guillory lists essentials for hiking dogs, including obedience training, a backpack, a first-aid kit, food, water and identification tags.

DeBenedetto advises getting your pooch used to hiking gear before hitting the trail.

“If you plan to have your dog wear a pack, booties or other gear, these items need to be introduced to the preconditioning regimen,” DeBenedetto says. “Use the short trips as test runs to evaluate fit and performance of these items.”

Flach stresses that water is the most essential component for both two- and four-legged hikers.

“Bring something to use as a water bowl for your dog, and bring plenty of water for both of you,” he says. “Collapsible fabric water bowls (are) sold for this purpose. You can also just bring along a light plastic bowl in your pack. In a pinch, and if you are careful, you can use a quart-size freezer bag as a water bowl, but it is less than ideal.”

Use a leash

It may be tempting to let your dog off the leash, but unless you’re familiar with the terrain and those you’re sharing the trail with, it’s not recommended.

“The cacti are mean, and the snakes are meaner,” says Phyllis Ralley of the Arizona Trail Association. “Keep your dog close and on a leash.”

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Flach says hikers with dogs must be mindful of those who aren’t so keen on canines.

“Unless you can reliably and instantaneously call your dog to your side in all circumstances, you should consider keeping your dog on a leash, unless you are on a real remote trail with no traffic,” he says. “Some people don’t like dogs, or they have small children with them, and they can get scared or upset if they turn a corner and some strange dog runs up to them.

“Also, if your dog is 50 yards ahead of you and someone comes along with an aggressive dog that’s also off-leash, you could end up with an unpleasant situation.”

The golden rule

DeBenedetto says good hiking manners are a must.

Nearly all Arizona trails are canine-friendly, she says, but that could change if hikers with dogs aren’t on their best behavior. At the very least, she advises dog owners to obey all posted rules, such as leash laws, picking up and disposing of pet waste, not allowing dogs to chase wildlife or livestock.

“Beyond that, I encourage keeping in mind that not all other trail users love dogs,” she says. “Stepping off the trail and giving the right of way to all other users is a very nice gesture and usually goes a long way in the minds of your fellow outdoor enthusiasts.”

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