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Going the Distance: Building Your Dogs Endurance

Going the Distance: Building Your Dogs Endurance

Panting Pals and Powerful Paws: The Joys and Challenges of Hiking with Canine Companions

As an avid hiker and devoted dog mom, I’ve had the privilege of exploring some of the most breathtaking trails with my furry sidekicks by my side. From the lush forests of the Appalachian Trail to the rugged peaks of the Rockies, I’ve learned that there’s nothing quite like the bond you forge with your pup as you conquer one adventure after another. But let me tell you, building your dog’s endurance for those long-distance treks is no walk in the park (pun intended).

When I first decided to tackle the iconic Long Trail in Vermont with my two rescue pups, Mika and Lucy, I knew we had our work cut out for us. As a veterinarian, Dr. Gina Roberts warned me that not all breeds are created equal when it comes to endurance activities. “Some breeds are not as well suited to hiking, or endurance activities, as others may be,” she cautioned. Luckily, my husky mix and Labrador mutt were up for the challenge, but getting them trail-ready took some serious preparation.

Building the Foundation: Conditioning for Canine Endurance

Like any athlete, our canine companions need to put in the hard work to build their stamina and strength. As Dr. Roberts advised, “Start with short distances and slowly build up the distance and intensity. For example, start with 10-minute walks several times a day, and build by 5 minutes weekly. Train on similar geography as to where you will be hiking to acclimate the dog to changes in elevation.”

I took this advice to heart, gradually increasing the duration and difficulty of our training hikes. Mika and Lucy had to learn to navigate the rocky, steep terrain of New England, and it took time for them to develop the coordination and confidence to tackle these challenges. But with each outing, I could see their endurance grow, and by the time we set out on the Long Trail, they were seasoned hiking veterans.

Fueling the Furry Adventurers

Proper nutrition is crucial when it comes to sustaining your dog’s energy levels on the trail. According to Dr. Roberts, “During endurance activities, such as long-distance hiking, a dog may need anywhere from 2-5 times their resting energy requirement.” That’s a lot of calories to keep those four-legged feet moving!

I knew I couldn’t just toss my pups a few kibbles and expect them to tackle the 273-mile Long Trail. Instead, I carefully planned out their dietary needs, incorporating high-quality, energy-dense dog food into our resupply boxes. Dr. Roberts recommended a “performance diet that is more energy-dense, highly digestible, and higher in fat,” like Purina Performance 30/20 or Hill’s Science Diet Adult Active.

But it wasn’t just about the quantity of food – the timing was crucial too. “Do not feed a large meal prior to activity. It would be best to feed your pet at the end of the day to avoid hiking with a full stomach,” Dr. Roberts advised. Mika and Lucy learned to happily wait until our daily mileage was done before digging into their meals, ensuring they had the energy to keep going strong.

Navigating the Trails: Overcoming Obstacles

As we hit the trail, Mika and Lucy faced their fair share of challenges. One of the most daunting sections, affectionately dubbed “Ladder Ravine,” required navigating a metal rung ladder just north of Burnt Rock Mountain. “Most dogs cannot climb it and must be carried up or down,” the Green Mountain Club warned.

Luckily, my pups were up for the task. With a bit of coaxing and the occasional boost, they conquered the ladder, their wagging tails a testament to their adventurous spirits. But not every obstacle was so easily overcome. The forehead of Mount Mansfield posed another hurdle, with multiple ladders that would have been a challenge for even the most athletic canine. Thankfully, we were able to take the “Bad Weather Bypass Trail” to avoid that treacherous section.

Throughout our journey, I kept a close eye on Mika and Lucy, reading their body language and energy levels to ensure they were thriving, not just surviving. “It is important that both dog and human enjoy the experience,” the article reminded me. And that’s exactly what we did, pushing our limits but always keeping our pups’ wellbeing as the top priority.

The Rewards of Hiking with Canine Companions

As we neared the end of our 21-day trek on the Long Trail, I couldn’t help but reflect on the incredible bond I’d forged with Mika and Lucy. Sure, there were moments of exhaustion, both physical and mental, but the joy of sharing this adventure with my furry friends far outweighed the challenges.

By the time we reached the finish line, my dogs were seasoned hikers, navigating the rugged terrain with ease and confidence. And I? Well, I was a proud dog mom, in awe of the strength and resilience my pups had shown. It was a reminder that with the right preparation and a whole lot of love, you and your canine companion can go the distance, conquering any trail that lies ahead.

So, if you’re dreaming of hitting the hiking trails with your four-legged bestie, don’t be deterred. With patience, determination, and a little guidance from the experts, you too can build your dog’s endurance and embark on unforgettable adventures. Just remember to keep that furry friend close, and the rest will fall into place.

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