Dog lovers hit the trail with their best buddies

Arizona Living

Brian A. Barbour

The Arizona Republic

Ellen Bilbrey, spokeswoman for Arizona's State Parks, nearly all of which allow dogs, as long as they are on leashes. "You can't let them dehydrate. Indeed, heat and dehydration are top dangers dogs face on the trail, according to Kristen Zimmer, of Petsmart. "Early morning is the very best time to hike with your pet," she says, before the rock or pavement has had a chance to heat up. DeBenedetto, of Phoenix, started the canine hiking club in 1999 so she could hike with other dog lovers. "The club is designed for fun," says DeBenedetto, who often hikes with Dottie, a Labrador mix. "It's a good feeling of community, being with people you have at least two things in common with--a love of the outdoors and a love of dogs. The camaraderie is great. You have your buddy with you, and other people around you who appreciate dogs and won’t freak out if one grabs a Cheeto off their plate."

This club plans three to five events a month, many in the Valley, and others all over Arizona. About half a dozen dogs and owners show up for an event, DeBenedetto says, although as many as 25 have attended some outings. If you're thinking of doing a hike with your pet, don't expect too much at first. "You can't take a couch potato dog, used to living in a house and running in a yard, and go out and do 14 miles," DeBenedetto says. Think conditioning. Rand Hubbell, spokesman for the Maricopa County Park and Recreation Department, reminds hikers to be mindful of their dog's physical condition. "Don't overtax the dog. If you're in good shape but the animal hasn't been out of the backyard much, give it a chance to get in shape too."

Hubbell urges hikers to take the same precautions with their dogs as they would for themselves --- take plenty of water (keeping in mind that dogs are sloppy drinkers) and be aware of the heat. REI, Petsmart and other retailer’s stock lots of gear for hiking with dogs, everything from booties to protect paws to saddlebags, flotation devices and power bars. ("Dogs eat 'em up," Reinshagen says.) And there are plenty of doggie toys, from collapsible Frisbees to rubber chews. "One thing to remember about taking dogs to the back country," Reinshagen says, "is that if you don't want them just to run loose, you've got to entertain them." The Canine Hiking Club usually does easy to moderate hikes, says DeBenedetto, who tries to select scenic, not-too-crowded trails, mostly for the benefit of the two-legged hikers. "Dogs don't really care where we go," she says. "They find fun with everything we do."


Thinking about taking your dog on a hike? Experts make these recommendations:

Bring plenty of water. Dogs need it as much as you do, and not just in summer.

Don't overdo it. Your dog needs time to get in condition.

Stay on the trail and keep your dog on a lead. Not just so they don't bother other people, but for their own protection. There are snakes, cactuses, coyotes and other nasties out there that can catch a dog unawares.

Protect Paws. Rocks and pavement can get blisteringly hot, especially in summer.

Scoop their poop. Nuff' said.

Yield to horseback riders and other hikers. Dogs can easily spook livestock and some hikers, too.

Use caution around cyclists. Bicycle riders are supposed to yield to all other users. Most do, some don't.


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