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Companion Hiking

What a beautiful Saturday without a cloud in the sky and the high temperature is expected to be 72 degrees. For hiking it just doesn’t get any better, but a sunny and cold or snowy winter adventure in the woods is just as invigorating.

So, you’ve decided to hit the trails—but there’s just one problem. In this last-minute decision you can’t get anyone to go with you.

As an avid hiker myself, I recommend taking a companion who never says no—your dog. My golden retriever Toby and I have traversed so many trails I’ve lost track of them. He gets his needed exercise and I’ve got a set of canine senses by my side that put mine to shame. Why is this important to me? It’s just nice to know that he knows what’s going on around us long before I do.

If I’m in black bear country, Toby can sense the bear and alert me before there is a close encounter. At this point, I’ll pull the pepper spray out of my pack just in case, and then I’ll start singing while he’s barking. This frightening noise will almost always drive the bear out of the area. It would drive humans out of the woods, too, if they heard my singing.

However, it’s not a good idea to take Fido along without some knowledge and preparation. First, find out if the public land you are on is dog-friendly. Some areas, especially those with endangered plant and animal species, are not. And even where they are allowed, many agencies require that dogs be kept on a leash. I found out the hard way that my laid-back lazy dog will somehow find the energy to chase deer and other wildlife. Now I always keep him on a leash.

And speaking of bears, if Toby were loose he would likely chase after a bear until it finally turned on him. Then I would see Toby running back toward me—with a bear close behind. That’s not good for old Dave.

It is likely that your dog is not in the greatest shape, by dog standards anyway. Fido spends most of his days relaxing in the back yard or the living room, so he’ll need to stop and rest periodically along the trail. Also, I’ll bring along a couple of extra bottles of water and a water bowl in my pack. With all this being said, I can enjoy my hike and he can too.

When I think about it, I realize it’s darn-right amazing that Toby and I, two different species, are hiking together in the first place—and that his loyalty is unconditional. My hiking partner is truly my best friend.

Insider Tips
-Make sure your dog is allowed on the property, public or private, and take a leash.
-Bring water for your dog if there is no good water source along the trail–put bottles in your daypack and more waiting in the car for the end of the day.
-If it’s a long hike, bring along a small sealed container of dry dog food, as Fido is burning a lot of calories just like you.

DAVE SHUFFETT is a public speaker and host of Kentucky Life on KET, airing Saturdays 8 p.m. ET and Sundays 4:30 p.m. ET.

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