Colorado's mountains pose many dangers to hikers, but also to their canine companions. It's crucial for dog owners to keep the safety of their pup at top-of-mind while entering the backcountry in the Centennial State.
Search and rescue crews in Chaffee County recently responded to a call for help that involved an exhausted dog on Mount Yale. While this isn't a call that search and rescue officially responds to, team members were happy to help haul the dog to safety two miles away using a standard rescue litter basket.
The incident prompted the group to remind dog owners to make sure their pups are prepared for mountain conditions prior to embarking on a hike.
If hiking with your dog, it's important to take several things into consideration:
Mountain temperatures can change drastically throughout the day and while you might be able to layer up or down accordingly, dogs can't. Sure, it might be a cool morning when you start moving at the trailhead, but that doesn't mean it won't be significantly hotter when you return. Don't just look at the start-time temperatures you'll be encountering, make sure to check for the full day.
NOTE: Some factors can impact how quickly your dog heats up. More on this is detailed in point four.
2. Length of the hike
Don't let your dog's first hike be a fourteener. It's important to always be aware of your dog's stamina and make sure they're physically fit for a long hike prior to hitting the trail. The recommended length of hike can vary greatly by dog, but prior to any strenuous hike, a number of easier hikes should have taken place already. These other hikes can provide a nice baseline that can help allow an owner to properly access their animal's abilities.
3. Watch out for terrain hazards
Dog owners should watch out for several things while hiking with their pups. If terrain is rocky, special footwear may be needed. Rocky and sandy terrain can also get extremely hot, also something that might require special footwear (especially during afternoon summer temperatures at places like the Great Sand Dunes). It's also important to watch out for cacti in Colorado. Keeping the dog on-leash and avoiding off-trail travel can be a good way to lower some of these risks.
4. Not all dogs are created equally
Dogs come in many shapes and sizes, making some of them better to bring along on the trail than others – especially when it comes to extremes in conditions. Long haired dogs tend to get hot quickly, with their hair trapping heat close to the body. Short-haired dogs can get sunburnt easily, especially at elevation. Dogs with short legs are closer to the hot ground, making them likely to get hotter quickly – plus, they might be working harder to keep up. Dogs with short noses can have difficulty breathing, especially when under strain. Know your dog and know its limits. Build confidence in your dog's hiking abilities over many progressive hikes instead of risking it on a big hike early on.
5. Bring extra supplies
Bring extra water. Bring food. Bring healthy treats that your pup may be more likely to eat if appetite is lost. Make sure you've got some sort of packable bowl and ALWAYS BRING EXTRA POOP BAGS. Yes, these items will add weight to your bag, but if needed, you'll be thankful that they were brought along. And for real, always bring extra water.
6. The back-up plan
Sometimes, things just won't go as planned. Dogs are animals that can act unpredictably even when typically well-behaved. Sometimes, it's just not their day. Because of this, it's crucial to have a back-up plan in place for getting your dog off the mountain. Even if your dog weighs 10 pounds, carrying that weigh in your arms for an extended period can get exhausting fast.
One great 'back-up plan' option is to get a carrying device that will help you self-rescue your pup. Ruff Rescue Gear offers several options, including front and back carriers that allow you to carry your dog in way that's safe for you and the pup.