On the trail with Fido
Erik Boe of Ketchum pauses during a run to do a little training with his dogs, McGee and Blue, using pieces of hot dogs as treats. Boe’s trail running and cross-country skiing has been motivated by his dogs’ need to exercise. ARIEL HANSEN/Times-News

Before he got dogs, Erik Boe’s favorite exercise was fast: mountain biking, downhill skiing.

“But because of the dogs, it’s gotten me into the trail running and skate skiing,” said Boe, who lives north of Ketchum. Now he gets out on the trails almost every day with his 8-year-old English golden retriever, McGee, and his young Pyrenees-springer mix, Blue. “Some days I really don’t want to go, but they need to go, they need the exercise, so we motivate each other.”

Exercising with dogs — whether walking, hiking, biking or running — is motivating, say many owners, but it’s more than that. It lets them share valuable time with their pets, provides safety and companionship on the trail and shows them the world through eyes that see so much more than what’s in front of the next footfall.

“You watch what the dogs are doing, out investigating then checking back in with you,” said Barb Williams, owner of Dog Play N Train in Hailey. “If we could be that exuberant, how much fun would we have?”

She has incorporated her dogs’ training into her own exercise, by adding to her usual run short windsprints (50 to 100 feet) in random directions. This encourages the dogs to keep an eye on her — if they never know where she’ll head next, they stay closer and listen more carefully for commands. If they’re not paying attention, she’ll take a short break and hide behind a tree; as she catches her breath, the dogs realize they’ve lost her and come looking.

Meet and greet

Although some jurisdictions have laws relating to dogs — check with your local law enforcement department to find out whether your city requires leashes, voice control or anything else — there are also unwritten rules of etiquette.

“If you’re walking with a dog, you and your dog get off the trail if others are walking by,” said Dr. Connie Rippel, veterinarian at Magic Valley Veterinary Hospital, describing what she has seen on the trails around College of Southern Idaho. “Anybody who does take their dog along with them, they either need to have them on a leash or a very good voice command over them.”

Rippel said it’s generally not OK to let your dog approach other people or dogs on the trail without first asking the person or owner, even if your dog is extremely friendly. If you get approval to let your dog approach, do so carefully, as the situation could change in a heartbeat. Watch the dogs’ body language, and if it is anything other than relaxed and pleasant, keep the pets apart.

On backcountry trails, be aware that not all horses are comfortable with dogs, and vice versa. “If the dog … has never seen a horse, it can be scared of the horse, and the horses can be scared of the dogs,” said Bruce Weber, store manager at Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum, which sells products designed for dogs on the trail. If you hear or see horses coming, get your dog under your control and move off the path until they pass.

Safe, not sorry

One of the biggest safety concerns for exercising dogs isn’t other dogs, or even other animals — although porcupines, rattlesnakes and other critters do occasionally injure dogs on the trail.

Instead, it’s your dog’s tendency to push herself to keep up with you.

In hot weather, canines can quickly get dehydrated and overheated, and their paws can bruise and blister on hot pavement or rocks. “Dogs often don’t show they have any issues,” Rippel said. “If they’re running trying to get off of the road and onto the grass or dirt, that’s a good clue they might be burning their feet.”

And in cold weather, snow and ice can damage their pads. Energetic dogs can break a leg stepping into a crevice or a hole in the snow.

Products are available to prevent paw injuries, but the best thing to do is just keep in mind that the dogs aren’t wearing shoes; any terrain that would cause you concern if you were barefoot could be concerning for your dog as well.

You might also bring along a bandanna — it’ll sop up your own sweat, and if your dog gets dangerously overheated, you can soak it in water and lay it on the dog’s paws and belly to cool her down.

Most dogs like to run ahead, sprint back and check out something off the trail, so they’re using a lot more energy than you are. Be sure to keep them hydrated, either by taking breaks at streams or lakes or by carrying plenty of water with you. Bring a little bag of kibble or treats to replenish the dog’s energy if you’ll be out for a while.

These treats can also come in handy if you need to do on-the-spot training, or to get the dog’s attention away from carcass-sniffing or squirrel-chasing.

“Every 10 minutes or so, I’ll say (Blue’s) name, give her the command, and if she turns and looks at me I’ll praise her and have her come back to me. Then I’ll give her a little piece of hot dog,” Boe said. “The hard part is running with a baggie of hot dog pieces; it’s kind of gross.”

If you are near a stream or lake, be aware of the water levels and speeds, especially if you have a dog that likes to get wet. With this year’s heavy spring runoff, a dog could get swept down a river before you even notice she’s leapt in.

Ariel Hansen may be reached at 788-3475 or ahansen@magicvalley.com.

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