Edited by CeDIS (Centre of Scientific Information and Documentation) Italia
A holiday in the mountains with your dog can be the perfect vacation, and a truly unmissable opportunity to unwind, immerse yourself in the harmony of nature and, last but not least, "stretch your legs" and strengthen your bond with your four-legged friend. A wonderful plan, then, but only if you follow a few basic rules to safeguard your six-legged health and wellbeing as you stroll together alongside the mountain rivers and lakes or tackle the beautiful yet challenging mountain trails.
Rule 1. GO TO THE VET!
It's always a good idea to take a trip to the vet and make sure that your four-legged friend's health is compatible with a mountain holiday. A general check-up just before you set off is an absolute must in order to ensure that your dog is not suffering from any serious illnesses, to check his heart and lungs, as these organs are indispensable for dogs to adapt to elevation change without developing "mountain sickness" or, to find out if you need to plan an easing-in period to help your dog acclimatise to the mountains and the fatigue of regular hiking. Your vet will also be able to advise you on the best parasite protection. Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and sand flies are always lurking somewhere, including in the mountains. To remove the risk and keep your dog safe from the unhappy consequences, always make sure that his anti-parasite protection is up to date.
Rule 2. PROTECT YOUR DOG'S JOINTS
Strong, healthy joints are the only way to experience the mountains in full risk-free liberty. Given that dogs have "four-wheel drive," so to speak, they are better equipped to deal with the mountains than we are; they walk with a wide, relaxed gait and a high head, and their propulsion is distributed over all four legs. This is why it is important to strengthen our dogs' joints, even if they are perfectly healthy. High-altitude excursions are the best time to give your dog extra energy and stamina support to help buffer the effects of physical exertion and reduce muscle fatigue. A thorough check-up at the vet is also vital, to rule out orthopaedic problems and ensure that we don't make our four-legged friends follow us, with painful, stiff joints, just for the pleasure of being with us.
Rule 3. TAILOR EXCURSIONS TO THE BREED, AGE AND PHYSICAL CONDITION OF YOUR DOG
Not all excursions are good: That goes for our dogs as well as for ourselves. There are some breeds which are naturally inclined towards activity (the super-fit sheepdogs, for example) who have no problems in running along any kind of trail or rocky crag. And then there are our more sedentary "couch buddies" who go for a ten minute on-leash walk in the neighbourhood park every day and are in no way prepared for gruelling high-altitude hikes. If there is really no way to plan another kind of holiday, we must at least attempt to transition these dogs gradually so as not to put them in the position of lacing up their hiking paws and scaling the Dolomite peaks from one day to the next. Watch out for "long" dogs (basset hounds, for example) whose physiognomy makes them prone to back injuries; gentle slopes and flat, even terrain are best for these breeds of dog. Finally, take "extreme" ages into account. Puppies, especially in breeds that have a tendency towards orthopaedic problems (dysplasia), and slightly older dogs, need suitable trails for their ages. For young pups, this means trails which do not strain their joints too much during this delicate phase in their development. For older dogs, trails must be relaxing and not overly challenging, due to the normal problems that come with age and the fact that they need more time to adapt and recover.
Rule 4. STROLLING THROUGH THE WOODS? MODERATION IS KEY!
An environment filled with stimuli and smells, like unfamiliar trails or high-mountain woods, is a dog's idea of heaven. However, avoid letting them run free off-leash so that they don't run into the countless dangers lurking in the mountains: Viper or insect bites, accidents, encounters with wild fauna or other dogs which may not be particularly friendly, predators that may chase our dogs far from us, unexpected or hidden crevasses or ravines which can pose a serious risk to a dog's life. Controlled freedom is perhaps the best approach: Off-leash time to roam around and savour the taste of freedom in the woods, and on-leash in inaccessible, less-safe or particularly busy areas.
Rule 5. YOUR BACKPACK IS FOR BOTH OF YOU!
Lead, harness, collar (possibly with GPS or, at least, a name tag), raincoat and shovel. These are the indispensable items that you need to pack, along with your own mountain clothing. Constant access to fresh water and a travel water bowl are also vital. Our dogs can drink from rivers and springs, but it is not a good idea; rivers and animal troughs may well be contaminated with bacteria which is innocuous to wild or farm animals but could cause gastrointestinal problems in our travelling companions. A first-aid kit is also essential and should include everything you need to disinfect and bandage wounds or bites, remove ticks and treat wounds, especially on the paw pads. Don't forget to pack combs and brushes to clean off twigs, leaves and thorns which may have made their way into your dog's ears, hair and paws during your hike.
What about high-value, tasty treats to spur them on for the home stretch of a steep hike? They're always a good idea, particularly if, in addition to rewarding your dog for his high-altitude efforts, they are healthy and good for your dog's teeth. Naturally, treats should be an in-between snack before a proper meal to reward your dog for his exertion along with cuddles and special attention from you.