Ruby is your basic couch potato, not lazy, just chill. As a rescue pup with a troubled past, she likes to remind us that now is her time to relax and live stress-free in a safe place (AKA the couch or our bed).
She enjoys walks around the neighborhood, but longer hikes in unfamiliar locations make her nervous as do new people. But she also has some abandonment issues and hates being left out. We have slowly been exposing her to new people and places (sometimes rescue dogs need a little extra encouragement). Fresh air, exercise, and new experiences are good for her health and confidence. We take things slowly and always have a back up plan in case she gets anxious.
This weekend we took a trip to Starved Rock State Park, a wilderness area on the Illinois River. It’s known for its steep sandstone canyons formed by glacial water and waterfalls. One of the few places in Illinois with hills.
Ruby is occasionally reactive with certain men and also doesn’t like when people approach her from the side. Fortunately she is small enough that I can scoop her up and move her if I sense trouble. Saturday was a big step for Ruby (and us) as the park was crowded with people and other dogs. She was relaxed and confident and there were no incidents. We have definitely turned a corner!
Hiking With Couch Potato Dogs
Here are some basic tips that have helped us reach this milestone.
1. Select Your Location Carefully.Pick a destination that matches your dog’s personality, stamina, and comfort level. We choose locations that offer short and longer trail loops. You end up where you start and never risk going too far or having to carry your tired dog back to the car. For anxious or reactive dogs, find a quiet trail with space to let others pass.
2. Be Prepared.Make sure your dog is protected against fleas and ticks, and tags are current. Bring a basic first aid kit (or keep one in the car) including antiseptic wipes, antibacterial ointment, gauze, scissors, tape, rubber gloves, and basic grooming wipes. Obviously always consult the weather forecast and take appropriate precautions.
3. Pay Attention. Be aware of your surroundings and watch for any triggers that might stress your dog out. Be ready to step off the path and wait for other dogs, kids, etc. to pass. Do not force your dog to do anything that would frighten them. Stay off your phone, stay in the moment, and stay in control of your dog.
4. Follow The Rules. Read and obey all trail regulations regarding dogs. Check leash length regulations as many locations have limits. Keep your dog leashed at all times and never leave them unattended. Dogs should have some basic training under their belts and know how to sit, stay, and come.
5. Stay Hydrated and Well-Fed. Pack water, collapsible water bowls, treats for your dog, and snacks for you. It won’t be nearly as much fun if someone (you) gets hangry!
6. Slow Down and Enjoy The Scenery. Take it easy and don’t rush your dog. Stay in control, but also let them set the pace. Smelling trees, fences, rocks, and trails are like reading a book for your dog. Let them see they story through to the end.
7. Remember, It’s Not a Competition. There will always be smarter, faster, stronger, more playful, or better trained dogs out there. Be friendly and courteous, and when appropriate, move off the trail to let faster dogs (and humans) pass, and then continue on at your own pace. Don’t compare your dog to other dogs – all dogs are different
8. Enjoy Some Good Old-Fashioned Bonding Time. Stop for breaks, games, picnics, and naps. Turn off your phone and focus completely on the magic and wonder that is your rescue dog!
9. Double-Check For Unwanted Guests. Always double-check your dog for ticks, burrs, and other unwanted guests. A post-hike bath is always a good idea especially if your dog has any skin sensitivities or allergies.
Most importantly, stay calm and have fun. Your dog will look to you for emotional cues and be happier and more relaxed if you are as well.